Off Center
A couple of months ago while on LinkedIn perusing an active group discussion on “call center culture”, I read a post that piqued my interest. It was written by Richard Hall, Director of Revenue Operations for Shopify – a hot e-commerce company that provides everything its customers need to create an online store. Richard wrote about how different the culture in Shopify’s contact center is from most other organizations’ centers, and provided a few examples of how empowered and valued his frontline employees are.

Me being a big proponent of agent engagement and empowerment, I reached out to Richard to learn a little more and to see if he might be interested in having me feature Shopify in my "Contact Centerfold" column. As you no doubt have already figured out, Richard was indeed interested, and was kind enough to share his insights and the secrets of his center’s success with me – and now with you.

I’ve heard that Shopify has a very unique contact center culture. Please elaborate on what makes your center stand out.

For a contact center, Shopify really isn't like many others. What sets us apart is that the ‘Gurus’ [which is what we call our agents] are in a really interesting and advantageous hybrid role of support and education. And because of the immense amount of data at each Guru’s fingertips, they're able to be much more proactive in the support that they provide, as opposed to the reactive support that you'll find typical of the industry. E-commerce is a really complex industry, and bringing Shopify to the masses makes shop owner education a priority.

I understand your agents – sorry, ‘Gurus’ – are highly empowered to take initiative and to continually improve operations and the customer experience. How do they make their improvement ideas and recommendations known?

Being a Shopify Guru really comes to 'acting like an owner' – it's one of the pillars of Shopify in general. When a Guru comes across an issue or problem, it's expected that they're going to act on it. And to back that up, we've made all of the resources and support they need available to make that happen.

Shopify is a very data-driven organization. When we come across a customer pain-point or feature request, we want to know how many people have issue ‘A’, or feature request ‘B’. We have an internal issue-tracker, where we'll log those pain-points and feature requests, and when a Guru is invested in a particular one, we'll usually have a meeting amongst a portion of our team and brainstorm possible solutions and a course of action. We'll log those in our internal tracker, and meet with our developers, designers and product managers to hammer out the details. Shopify moves at a ridiculously fast pace, so there's no single correct way to get things done, but this is a good representation of the norm.

Take me through the empowerment process. How does a Guru get his/her idea or recommendation accepted, and, once it is accepted, what steps occur in getting the idea/recommendation implemented? What roles do Gurus play in bringing their ideas to fruition?

To have a recommendation accepted is all about painting a picture of need, while considering all of the effects of the change – both in terms of development and support. The brainstorming sessions where we think of potential solutions also serves as an opportunity to poke holes in the thesis – e.g., “Do the majority of our customers really need this?” or “Would this be better served as a workflow change?”

The empowerment itself really takes place in leading our newest Gurus to sources of information. For instance, helping them learn which developer knows the most about ‘X’, which designer is working on ‘Y’. When a recommendation is seen as a global benefit, the Guru really becomes a project manager of sorts, as their insight is regarded as valuable and developers and designers will look to them for feedback as the project progresses.

Can you please provide a couple of examples of notable programs or improvements that have come about as the result of a Guru’s idea or recommendation?

Gurus have been instrumental in improving Shopify's streamlined sign-up process by providing valuable data and insight, which allowed our team to cut down on the amount of duplicate or accidental stores created by 92%.

Another that we're currently working on is the workflow around domains. How an existing domain is added to a shop vs. the purchase of a new domain through Shopify. While we don't know the full effect yet, we've worked with our Marketing team to reduce the cost-to-customer of the domain from $25 to $9 in an effort to incite more purchases within Shopify. A win-win for everyone: reduced support cost; better customer experience; no frustration, confusion, time-wasted during set up – we do this all for them.

I’ve heard that Shopify supplies employees with food, games and even some alcohol. Do your Gurus ever overindulge?   

The folks at Shopify work extremely hard, and it's a labor of love, I think. If you like to pair your tacos with a fresh pour of beer, so be it. And while we know how to party, it tends to be after hours (whenever they happen to be). Otherwise, it's all about the customer experience.

Are there other notably innovative practices and tactics that help to define your contact center’s culture?

We really get all of the fixings at Shopify. The flexibility to work from home, from cafes, from a friend's house, wherever there's wifi. Mind you, with the allure of a breakfast bar and lunches and suppers [at our facility], it's tough to stay at home all day. Some of our Gurus will work from home for the first part of their shift and then migrate to the office to catch up on meetings, and to be in that energetic team environment. We also get a gym membership to an awesome facility in the Byward Market [here in Ottawa], and a yearly "Sportify Fund" of $250 to spend on anything that will benefit your health. That's not to mention a spending account for educational purposes, the in-house cleaning service, or ownership in the company via share options – among other nice benefits.

What are the main performance metrics Gurus are measured on?  

We have a general expectation of what we call interactions. To stay on top of things, everyone is expected to complete a defined number of daily interactions with customers, whether through phone, email or live chat. The other main metrics are focused on the quality of interactions. Going back to Shopify as a data-driven company, we have a ton of data that speaks to those interactions – e.g, the time it took to respond to an email, the length of a live chat, how long it took to pick up a call, wrap-up time, etc. These are all regarded as metrics that empower our Gurus, as they can identify time-sinks and work to improve them.

With that, we've built up a culture that doesn't require a singular focus on metrics. Another thing which is kind of a hybrid of culture and metrics is our internal reward system called Unicorn – it's a system of peer-based recognition, where employees can nominate fellow employees with a Unicorn post, and where others can dedicate votes and the receivers of the votes will actually get cold hard cash. So if a Guru works on a day off writing a killer support tutorial, we'll recognize his or her efforts in front of the team.  

What impact has the center’s highly employee-centric culture had on Guru engagement and retention?

Our CEO was quoted as saying we’ve lost only like two employees in the last couple of years. And this [high level of retention] is true for our support team. We're all really stoked to be working on amazing projects at Shopify, which has really helped with our rapid growth. We can recruit, hire and grow without having to worry about re-filling the brainpower. The amount of product knowledge and support intelligence that a Guru has after a year is immense and invaluable. For a position that's been around for a little over two years, only two colleagues have moved onto other opportunities.

Can you provide some quotes from a couple of Gurus on what it’s like working in the Shopify contact center?

Rather than cite a few quotes, here's a short video [less than 3 minutes] featuring several of our Gurus talking about their experience working at Shopify:

Is there anything else you would like to add?    

The first Shopify store was our own.  Now we help people all over the world sell online. Our Guru E-Commerce team is an industry leader in e-commerce customer consultation. They provide world class service and support to world-class customers.

Shopfiy – the Big Picture
Contact center location(s): Ottawa, Ontario (Canada)
Hours of operation:  24/7/365
Number of agents employed: Lots
Products/services supported/provided: Shopify Core product, Themes and Apps, General SEO, Marketing Techniques and Strategies – Full Customer Success Consultation.
Channels handled: Phone, IVR, email, chat, web self-service and social media.
What’s so great about them? Ask just about anybody who works in their contact center, and leave enough time to hear all the reasons.