Off Center
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.