Salt River Project – one of Arizona’s largest utilities – has long engaged agents (and customers) with its positive and powerful culture of service. I recently had the honor of interviewing SRP’s Director of Residential Services, Yolanda France, who was gracious enough to share many of the practices and approaches that drive the contact center’s high employee satisfaction and performance.
(In the Q & A below, “GL” is me and “YF” is Yolanda France.)
GL: I hear that at SRP, rewarding & recognizing agents is a high priority. Please describe some of your rewards/recognition programs and practices, and the impact they have had on agent engagement.
YF: We value our representatives and know that they have a very challenging job – perhaps one of the most complex in our company! We want to let them know that being here and doing a good job assisting our customers is very important and that we really appreciate them.
We have an award given monthly for the best call for a specific topic. An example of a specific type is a high bill call. The winning call is chosen by a committee of fellow phone reps who listen to the call and decide if their peer was able to help out the customer. Prizes include movie tickets, lunch with a supervisor, the rep’s preferred schedule for one week, and an extra-long lunch hour.
All of our reps can also qualify for the “Perfect Attendance” award. Being tardy or absent disqualifies a rep for that award, which is given out on a monthly basis – we randomly choose three winners among those who qualify each month. So, it pays to come to work, literally!
Here’s what a couple of our contact center supervisors have to say about our employee rewards and recognition practices:
Gene Gerhart, Supervisor: “We hear all the time that reps like to be recognized. The opportunities and rewards we provide them motivate them – and a happy employee stays.”
Frank Garshak, Supervisor: “We want to let our reps know that we appreciate their effort because without them we would not be able to have a world-class organization.”
GL: How do you balance individual awards and team awards to ensure that not only the “stars” get recognized? Do you do any “recognition for recognition’s sake” types of things to keep center-wide morale up?
YF: We like to recognize people for their strengths. They don’t have to be the star, but we really concentrate on finding out what they do well and maximizing that talent. For example, if we have a person who is technically inclined, we may have them help with testing of new functionalities of our customer relationship management system. We also have a whole team devoted to doing fun events. They are called the “SWAT” (Spirit Work Activities Team). They plan events for various occasions throughout the year for holidays and Customer Service Week. The team also coordinates things like pot-lucks, games, parties and salsa challenges as well as holiday food drives, Adopt-A-Family volunteering, and many other activities that support SRP’s community involvement. You say you’re having a "lack-o-fun" emergency? Call in the SWAT!
GL: Do agents have a say in the types of incentives and awards that are provided? Do you seek their feedback to ensure that the various rewards & recognition programs are effective?
YF: Absolutely! In fact, many of our current awards programs come directly from feedback given by reps. Call Center management meets monthly with reps to update them on various projects throughout SRP. These meetings also serve as a forum for reps to provide feedback on what is and what isn’t working in the Call Center. We have sessions with the Senior Director of Customer Services, Renee Castillo, known as “Rappin’ with Renee.” And myself, the Director of Residential Customer Service, have meetings called “Yappin’ with Yolanda.” See a pattern here?
GL: I understand that agents have ample opportunities for cross-training and other development initiatives to add diversity to their core job function. Please provide some examples.
YF: Reps are often selected by their supervisors for opportunities to cross-train in other functional work areas within Customer Services, such as Billing, Accounting, Research & Communications Services, and Field Services, just to name a few. Reps can also participate in a variety of special projects and teams. As I mentioned, they participate as user acceptance testers for new software releases and upgrades to our customer relationship management system. They are the primary users and know when things work and when they don’t. These activities do not come with pay raises but build a knowledge foundation and provide networking opportunities when our reps feel they are ready to become Lead Customer Service Reps or move on to other departments within SRP.
GL: Is there a clear career path in the contact center (i.e., various agent levels, team lead/supervisory opportunities, management training, etc.)?
YF: Many of our reps are promoted up the Call Center ladder, so to speak. The traditional progression is to start as a rep, then progress to a Lead Customer Service Rep, and then possibly to Call Center Supervisor or Call Center Analyst, and then to Manager. As an interesting tidbit, 14 of the 19 members of the Call Center management team (Supervisors, Managers and Director) were SRP reps at one point in their careers.
GL: Your agents seem to stick around for a long time. Surely your hiring practices help set the stage for such high retention... can you share how you hire and select reps?
YF: Certainly. We have a pretty comprehensive hiring process. We ask candidates to take an assessment test. Those who pass the assessment are then invited to call for a quick phone interview. Those who pass the phone interview are invited to participate in a “speed interview.” Managers and supervisors throughout Customer Services along with members of our Training Development and Customer Interaction group interview the candidates. Each candidate gets two minutes to answer a question and then moves to another seat where another interviewer asks another question. We’ve found that candidates tend to be less nervous, and get to meet people with whom they would be working. In turn, managers, supervisors, and our Training group get to meet potential reps and, collectively, select the best of the best.
GL: Is there anything else you would like to add?
YF: I’d like to share some comments from a couple of members of my esteemed team. I think what they have to say pretty much sums up our contact center environment:
Di Witt, Supervisor: “We really feel that having a balance of fun and professionalism is important so that employees come to work and know that we want them to be happy coming to work. If they are happy, our customers will be happy too.”
Seth Bingham, Rep: “I’ve worked in customer services for over 10 years with five different companies. SRP is the best by far! The caliber of the people who work here is amazing. [Management] makes everyone feel welcome and like they are family. Work has never been so enjoyable until I started working here!”
SRP – the Big Picture
Contact center locations: Two (Arizona) locations: one in Tempe, and one in Queen Creek
Hours of operation: 24/7
Number of agents employed: 230
Products/services supported/provided: Electric utility service
Channels handled: Phone, IVR, email, web self-service and social media
What’s so great about them? The center prides itself on its excellent rewards & recognition practices, as well as its strong focus on agent development and empowerment.
Every time I talk to long-time colleague Gerry Barber – a man whose sparkling contact center management and consulting career spans three decades – I learn something new about customer care and see things from a fresh perspective.
Gerry currently directs Deloitte’s CallCenter in Nashville, Tenn., where he has used his years of expertise and insight to drive continuous improvement and help set Deloitte apart from its competitors – and most other contact center organizations, for that matter.
I ran into Gerry at a conference in New Orleans last summer, where he told me his center was – not surprisingly – doing some cool and innovative things. I told him I wanted details, and that I would likely blab about them in writing at some point. Always eager to help the collective contact center industry raise the bar and rethink norms, Gerry happily agreed to speak to me on the record.
Here’s everything I asked, and – more importantly – how he responded.
GL: Deloitte states that it aims to sustain a culture of “distinctive service”. Is this just a buzz phrase, or does it truly have teeth? What’s Deloitte CallCenter’s definition of “distinctive service”, and how is it measured and promoted within the contact center and to your internal customer base?
GB: Deloitte’s focus on distinctive service is evident and ingrained in our CallCenter vision statement, training materials and in the metrics we use to run our centers. In our CallCenter, the definition of distinctive service actually starts with the internal customers we serve. Our customers help us define distinctive service through the positive comments they provide in our customer satisfaction survey responses. With this said, to us distinctive service is the art of delivering knowledge the customer can use, providing solutions that give peace of mind, and delivering service that is beyond expectations.
GL: I am intrigued by your center’s “Wall of Distinction” that you mentioned. Please explain what the Wall is exactly, why you created it, and how your analysts get on it.
GB: The Wall of Distinction was created to recognize consistency in delivering distinctive service. The criteria for securing a place on the wall is to achieve high customer satisfaction survey scores in addition to receiving a high number of specific customer compliments. An analyst will remain on the wall for a period of six months based on their performance during the past six months. We update the wall twice yearly: in October (during Customer Service Week), and again in April.
GL: Do your analysts receive other related awards/recognition when they attain “Wall” status?
GB: We celebrate our analysts’ success in delivering distinctive service in several ways. Daily, we circulate an email to all CallCenter personnel listing all of the positive customer compliments we’ve received the previous day. In the email, we include the name of the analyst along with the customer’s comment that identifies how the analyst delivered distinctive service. On a monthly basis, we again review all of our customer compliments and I send a congratulatory note to those analysts receiving the highest number of customer compliments during the month; some analysts will receive monetary awards.
Our quality recognition program has evolved organically over time. Along the way, analysts’ comments have enhanced these programs shaping what we do today.
GL: Your center has a somewhat unique quality scoring model in place. Please briefly describe the model and explain the reasons behind it.
GB: We wanted a monitoring program that encourages continuous improvement. For our needs, none of the standard approaches seem to drive performance – not the 100-point scale, nor the “check the boxes” approach, nor averaging scores. In our model, we’ve removed the idea of numeric scores. We’ve also resisted averaging scores for the collective call. Rather we look for a set of “quality targets” across each of the four distinct and separate contact quality attributes. These four attributes include: 1) Call Ownership; 2) Communications and Courtesy; 3) Documentation; and 4) Resolution Effectiveness. Then, based on what we find within the context of the call, we determine if (in each of the four quality attribute areas) the analyst “missed the targets”, was “approaching the targets”, “met the targets”, or delivered distinctive service (exceeded targets).
Our quality team then looks at the percentage of instances, over time, that the analyst was either on target or surpassed the target. It is also important to understand and document where the analyst missed targets and where they can make improvements. Our goal for our analysts is to have 80% or more of their monitored calls “on target or above”, with no more than 5% of calls at “missed targets”. This is how we gauge individual analyst improvement.
Our analysts are coached daily but work with their team leader/coach twice monthly to review quality monitoring results. Most importantly, our analysts are given time off the phones to review their monitored calls prior to their coaching sessions.
Our analysts have bought into the process in a big way. They seem to have better insight as to what it takes to deliver distinctive service. We’ve also seen a movement on the part of analysts to do significant self-coaching.
GL: You’ve mentioned that your center has been exploring “unique ways to mix up random monitoring”. Could you please elaborate?
GB: Our quality team monitors a minimum of five random calls per month. One example I can share is that we asked each analyst to select one recent call that they felt surpassed our stated service targets. Our quality team then included this call as one of the five monthly quality monitoring calls. It was interesting to review these calls to see if the analyst had a solid understanding of what it takes to “exceed targets”. The calls indicated which analysts required more coaching and helped us better define what distinctive service looks like.
GL: What impact has your “distinctive service” had on such things as customer satisfaction, first-call resolution, analyst engagement/retention, and operations costs?
GB: On a seven point customer survey scale, we have moved the bar on customer satisfaction consistently over the past three years. First-call resolution has also significantly improved year over year.
Regarding agent engagement and retention, our analyst engagement scores are among the highest within the Deloitte US Firms.
And best of all, over the past three years while service delivery has greatly improved, our cost of delivering support service has significantly decreased. Better service at a lower cost has been the result.
GL: Is there anything else you would like to add, Gerry?
GB: Yes. One secret ingredient to our success is the collaboration and inclusion produced by our continuous quality program. In addition to the analysts’ role I mentioned earlier, our team leaders are measured on their team’s success. They are also measured on the amount of time they spend coaching for continuous improvement, which should be about 60% of their work day. And as mentioned, our analysts participate in the process by reviewing the same quality sampling as our service quality team and team leaders do.
Deloitte CallCenter – the Big Picture:
Location: Three centers: Tennessee, India, and California
Hours of operation: 24 x 7
Number of agents: Approximately 170
Products/services provided: Deliver a number of support-type services, including IT support,
business application support and HR benefits support, to name a few.
Channels handled: Phone, email, self-service
What’s so great about them? They sustain a culture of “distinctive service” – highlighted by a unique and comprehensive quality monitoring initiative as well as an employee rewards/recognition program that centers almost entirely around customer satisfaction ratings and feedback.