In contact centers, AHT is an acronym for a common (some would say too common) productivity metric: Average Handle Time. At Israeli outsourcing agency Call Yachol, AHT could very well stand for Average Hug Time.
Agents openly embracing one another is a common occurrence in Call Yachol’s contact center, whose “culture of warmth and caring” drives the center’s success both internally and externally. Whether interacting with one another, with management or with customers, Call Yachol’s agents’ words and deeds are guided by a strong sense of kinship, compassion and mutual respect.
Such camaraderie among peers is all the more impressive when you consider the fact that the center’s frontline is comprised of two distinct factions who have historically had their differences.
“We have 220 religious Muslims and Jews working together in harmony,” says Dr. Gil Winch, Founder of Call Yachol and CEO of the consulting firm Tandem.
While it’s nice to see everybody getting along, what’s even more notable about the people at Call Yachol is that the vast majority of them have some form of disability. That said, it’s hard to consider them “disabled” – they’re the very reason the organization is going so strong.
“Our call center representatives are all highly motivated, willing to work for many years, and exceptionally loyal to the task and the client,” says Dr. Winch. “Due to the higher than average level of job stability, we are able to reduce the costs of personnel turnover for the client and offer a high level of professionalism, thus contributing to providing excellent service.” “Able to Do Anything”
After listening to Dr. Winch describe his staff – and seeing them in action – it becomes evident why he named the company Call Yachol. “Yachol” in Hebrew means “able to do anything”.
Few of the centers agents had been given the opportunity to show their abilities prior to being hired by Call Yachol. People with disabilities are often overlooked or outright discriminated against by hiring managers – not just in Israel but the world over. Dr Winch, however, fully understands how capable such individuals are and how valuable they can be.
“There is no reason for these employees' mental or physical limitations to keep them from excelling on the job. But most have suffered from being shunned by mainstream employers, and lack self-confidence in their potential.”
This is where the hugging comes in. To help qualified agents regain their confidence, Winch implemented a parent-based management model where employees are given affection and have scheduled time for team fun. The unusual approach has been very effective – and has garnered interest from organizations in several countries looking to replicate it.
Hugs aren’t the only thing Call Yachol does well. The company’s CEO, Amir Bar-Natan, has 12 years’ experience managing service and sales centers. He and his management team work closely with clients to select, develop and manage staff.
“We recruit employees according to our customer's needs, train them to meet the demands of the job, and take care of whatever administrative and technological needs they require – such as special software for the visually-impaired – so as to create an ideal work environment,” says Bar-Natan.
But you don’t have to take his or Dr. Winch’s word for it. Plenty of praise has come from the one-of-a-kind outsourcer’s corporate clients.
“Call Yachol meets all our needs and we receive numerous 'thank you' letters from satisfied customers,” says Danny Zur, V.P. of Human Resources for Israeli cellular phone provider Pelephone, which uses approximately 130 Call Yachol agents in various areas of telephone service and sales. Zur points out that companies shouldn’t consider using Call Yachol merely because it makes sense from a social responsibility standpoint, but rather because it’s a smart business move. “From our point of view this is a pure business consideration – this is not a favor nor is it philanthropy.”
Nurit Kantor, VP of Service at telecom giant Bezeq International, will never regret exploring the untapped workforce that Call Yachol offers. “The representatives prove that nothing stands in the way of what you really want,” says Kantor. “They are optimistic, fiercely motivated, and have an excellent awareness of service. We are proud to have trained them to join our ranks.” A Proud and Fearless Front Line Glowing reviews from clients certainly speak volumes, but perhaps the best way to grasp the power of what Call Yachol has accomplished is to hear directly from its agents.
“After four years of unemployment, hundreds of résumés, and many interviews without result, I arrived at Call Yachol,” says agent Yossi Zeidovitz. “Much has already been said and written about the family atmosphere at Call Yachol, but for me, Call Yachol has provided many things beyond work. First and foremost, I can hold my head up high and have pride in my disability.”
Another agent, Limor Gotlib, credits Call Yachol with restoring her confidence and a sense of normalcy after she suffered an eye injury that severely impaired her vision and forced her to leave her previous job eight years ago. “The Call Yachol call center is a business in every respect – it does not give its employees any extra privileges because of their disabilities. This gives the feeling of being in a regular workplace, one that has given me the opportunity to realize my talents. I recommend other people, no matter what their disability, to join our family and not to be afraid of joining the workforce.”
There may soon be plenty more openings for such individuals. According to Dr. Winch, Call Yachol plans to open centers in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in the near future.
“We are already the largest employer of people with disabilities in the open market in Israel. Our vision is to employ thousands of people with disabilities in a countrywide distribution of call centers, leading a much-needed and important revolution.” Call Yachol – the Big Picture: Location:
Rishon LeZion, IsraelHours of operation:
7:30 am-10 pmNumber of agents:
Approximately 220Products/services provided/supported:
Outsourced contact center/customer care services for a variety of corporate clients.What’s so great about them?
A truly unique and successful customer care organization staffed with a culturally diverse team of agents – all of whom have some form of disability – working harmoniously in an open and caring environment. For more information on Call Yachol, visit their website at: www.callyachol.co.il (click the “English” tab in the upper-left corner to convert the site from Hebrew to English.)Also, be sure to check out this short video on Call Yachol’s unique operation:http://goo.gl/XW4bP
Back in 2008, Allianz Global Assistance (formerly Mondial Assistance) won ICMI’s Global Call Center of the Year Award (large category). I chaired the selection committee during that year’s competition, and was thoroughly impressed by how good Allianz was at customer care and contact center management.
I saw first-hand how the company backed its claims of customer-centricity by focusing intently on things like C-Sat data/feedback and contact quality; how they nailed an ambitious service level goal and other accessibility objectives without hammering agents over the head about Average Handle Time; how they created high levels of agent engagement and retention via an impressive array of rewards & recognition programs; and how they sustained such levels of engagement and retention by empowering staff to participate on teams and task forces aimed at continuous process improvement.
As a contact center, you can’t really do much better than that.
Leave it to Allianz to prove me wrong.
I recently touched base with the good folks at Allianz and discovered they have hardly become complacent since winning the aforementioned coveted award. With a new state-of-the art facility being built as we speak, a burgeoning home agent initiative in place, and a proud culture of corporate social responsibility, Allianz is redefining what it means to be a world-class customer care organization.
Moving on Up
When I heard Allianz had recently outgrown its contact center in Richmond, Va. – with its spacious workstations, ergonomic furniture, stylistic meeting rooms and ample natural light – and was planning to move at the end of this year, I felt bad for the hundreds of employees who will have to say goodbye to the impressive facility.
Until I heard about the new one.
“We have hired a team of leading designers and architects to ensure that this will be the most associate-friendly building of its kind in the area,” says Daniel Durazo, Director of Communications (USA) for Allianz. “The build-out has just begun, but we expect to have an expanded cafeteria, a state of the art fitness facility, a coffee bar, video conference-ready meeting rooms, and much more.”
Employees needn’t worry about any major changes to their commute – the new site is just a hop, skip and a jump from where they work now. “We’ll be moving into the former Circuit City headquarters,” Durazo says, “located a couple of miles from our current location. We can’t wait to move in!”
Remote Agent Program Bringing Home Results
As excited as the Allianz crew is about the new digs, not everyone will be making the move. A team of 75 agents – roughly 15% of the center’s frontline – currently handles customer contacts from home, and are more than happy to be staying right where they are.
That’s a pretty significant number of remote staff, especially considering how new Allianz is to the work-at-home model. “The Remote Agent Program was piloted in December of 2010, and then graduated to an ongoing program in July of 2011,” explains Durazo. He points out the initiative was a direct response to the company’s annual agent survey, which revealed that agents were looking for more job flexibility. “Fortunately, the initiative turned into a win-win situation by ensuring we were meeting the needs of our associates while providing for our growing workspace needs.”
Allianz will likely add more remote agents in the near future, which should come as no surprise considering the positive impact the program has had on engagement and retention throughout the contact center.
“The feedback we have received has been very positive. This role has been received as a privilege and associates look forward to being able to join this team,” says Durazo. "The home agent program is a very attractive benefit in the eyes of our new hires. It is one of the most frequently asked questions in new-hire training.”
Many agents may ask about home-based work, but only a relatively small number qualify for such popular positions. To do so, an agent must first work at least six months on site, consistently meet or exceed all performance objectives, demonstrate the ability to work independently, and be highly customer focused. Each candidate must also have a home office that is free of noise and interruptions, and that is equipped with high-speed Internet and a hard-wired phone line.
Having such comprehensive selection criteria has paid off thus far, not only in terms of engagement and retention but performance as well. As Durazo explains, “We’ve been able to achieve both a slight increase in quality as well as a reduction in unplanned absenteeism for associates working remotely.”
Not Your Typical “CSR”
More than its new facility and remote agent program, Allianz prides itself on the memorable service it provides. Not just to customers, but to the local community and beyond. Where in most organizations CSR stands for “Customer Service Rep”, the acronym stands for something different at Allianz.
“We have a comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program that provides opportunities for all associates to become involved,” Durazo says.
Among the CSR initiatives and activities that agents, supervisors and managers participate in include assembling food-kits to be sent to hungry families in developing nations, volunteering at Ronald McDonald house, painting houses for Elder Homes, and more. In addition, whenever an employee gives a donation to their favorite charity or non-profit organization, Allianz matches it.
Durazo doesn’t like to toot the company’s own horn when it comes to social responsibility, but with a program as popular outside the organization as it is inside, it’s hard not to.
“Our CSR program is well liked [by agents], and the community recognizes us as a responsible corporate citizen.”
Allianz Global Assistance – the Big Picture:
Location: Richmond, Va.
Hours of operation: 24/7/365
Number of agents: Approximately 500
Products/services provided/supported: Provide support for a number of products/services, such as travel insurance, event ticket protector, concierge and third party administrator services.
Channels handled: Phone, email, web self-service
What’s so great about them? Their focus on contact center facility design, a burgeoning home agent program, and a culture of social responsibility keep staff inspired and performing at optimal levels.