Off Center
There are companies that talk about being customer-focused, and then there are companies like Dealertrack Technologies that back such talk up with real action.

A few years ago, Dealertrack – a leading provider of web-based software solutions for the automotive industry – implemented a ‘Voice of the Customer’ (VoC) initiative featuring a comprehensive and dynamic customer satisfaction (C-Sat) survey process. The initiative has enabled the company to continuously drive performance improvement, elevate the customer experience and enhance the bottom line.

I recently caught up with Dealertrack’s Senior Manager of Technical Support, Dayna Giles, who was gracious enough to answer my barrage of questions about her center’s VoC and C-Sat success with much eloquence and insight.

When did you implement your current Customer Satisfaction survey process, and what was the main objective for doing so?

The Dealertrack Customer Satisfaction survey process has been in place since early 2009 and rolled out through the different solution groups and teams through October 2010. The main objective of this is to understand from our clients’ perspective what we are doing well, and what can improve on, as well as whether or not they would be willing to recommend our solution in the marketplace.

How soon after an interaction with an agent is the customer surveyed? How many questions does the survey feature, and what are the nature of those questions?

The survey is emailed to the client immediately after the case is resolved.

We have a total of six questions on our survey. The nature of most of those questions are specific to the agent and the interaction (empathy, follow-up, understanding and satisfaction with technical resolution), with the other question being whether or not the client would recommend our support team. There is additional space for clients to provide comments or feedback to help improve our product, our service, or future interactions.

Do you survey only callers, or also customers who interact with Dealertrack via email, IVR and web self-service?

Our surveys are tied to the client email address so we survey any form of client interaction based on our case-tracking system.

Who evaluates the survey data/feedback, and how often?

We have an internal team dedicated to the VoC process. We have monthly debrief meetings that involve key leadership team members where discussion occurs around all VoC metrics and initiatives to improve results.

Do you have a “customer recovery” process in place for customers who indicate notable dissatisfaction following an interaction? How soon after such customers complete a survey does your center contact them, and how do customers typically respond?

Our supervisors and managers call our clients back on all the dissatisfaction alerts or client requests we receive. Once such a client responds to a survey, they are contacted within one business day. Clients typically respond positively to being contacted by a supervisor or manager on a dissatisfaction survey.

Do you incorporate customers’ ratings and direct feedback into agents’ Quality scores and coaching?

Yes, we incorporate customer ratings and feedback into team member quality scores and coaching in a couple of ways. We have a team member scorecard – Team Member Performance Index (TMPI) – and a Service Experience Index (SEI) that includes both the Quality Performance Assessment (QPA) score and the Transactional Net Promoter Score (TNPS) to give the agent an overall grade or ranking for the month. During monthly agent review sessions team members receive feedback on the above.

How do agents feel about having the Voice of the Customer integrated with your Quality monitoring process?

When we initially rolled out this program, team members were not confident that they would be able to influence client satisfaction. Team members believed challenges with a product or other issues that were outside their control would overshadow the service they could provide. We very quickly learned this was not the case – how a team member delivers the message and manages the interaction is often the determining factor in whether a client is satisfied or not.

What other kinds of actions do you take on the customer data and feedback you receive?

We often use client feedback to improve our internal processes. For example, since supervisors or managers make the callback to our clients, they receive direct feedback they may not otherwise hear. They bring that feedback to daily meetings where we are able to discuss where we are as a team and look to make improvements. It could be a lack of training on the team member’s part, and in discussing this feedback we may find that similar training is needed across the team. We then work with our training team to provide this specific training to improve the team member’s knowledge and confidence.

I hear your center has seen vast improvements to its Net Promoter Score. Care to elaborate? To what do you attribute such an increase?

Over the course of 29 months we saw a great increase in our Transactional Net Promoter Score. From February 2011, with a score of 5%, to June 2013, with a score of 75% – that’s a 70% increase! The biggest increase occurred between February 2011 and March 2011, when we saw 15% improvement (from 5% to 20%). The second biggest increase occurred July 2012 to August 2012, when we saw a 14% improvement (from 46% to 60%).

We attribute such an improvement to team member focus on VoC. We ran a number of competitions to improve team member awareness that each client interaction could result in a customer survey. It became part of our daily language and part of our culture.

High customer satisfaction doesn’t happen without high agent satisfaction. What kinds of things does your center do to keep agents happy and engaged? 

Rewards & recognition
We have a couple of major awards that we give out on a monthly and quarterly basis, including Service Star of the Month, which is based on Transactional NPS scores and the number of positive customer comments the agent receives via surveys. We also have our quarterly Star Quarterback award, which is based on peer nominations regarding a team member’s demonstration of Dealertrack’s Vision, Mission and Values, as well as, internal and external client feedback and overall performance. 

In addition, Customer Service Week is one of our favorite weeks here. We do a number of fun free activities – bingo, funky sock day, favorite sports team day – and some pretty cost-effective activities. Cotton candy machines are around $30 to rent and the sugar is roughly $8. Minimal cost and effort but maximum results! The thing our team looks forward to the most each year is the breakfast we make – bacon, eggs, pancakes, hash browns, fruit, OJ… the works! The leadership team cooks the breakfast and serves our team members. For a couple hundred dollars we can feed over 200 people and physically serve and thank them for all they do.

We run multiple focus groups concurrently where our team members are assigned a topic and given an opportunity to provide their feedback and any potential improvements they see we could make. In order to be successful, our team members have to feel we are giving them the opportunity to do so and as leaders we don’t always have the answers. It’s great to get ideas flowing from the team and create a ground swell. The company/leadership recognizes that support team members ARE the advocates for our clients and the client experience with products and service.

Also, our Level 2 agents are encouraged and empowered to train our Level 1 agents. Each L1 agent has an aggressive goal to complete 120 hours of training per year.  L2s are encouraged to provide a vast number of those hours of training.

Advancement opportunities
Team members are often selected from the Technical Support department to move up to various roles in the company – from Quality Assurance to Installation to Product Management. We develop and encourage future growth for our team members. Many of our support teams have higher internal turnover (promotion/transfer) than external, which is rare in the contact center industry.

Work-at-home opportunities
We currently have a number of remote employees on our team. We like to give team members, based on their role, the opportunity to work from home.

Stress reduction tactics
When we have a system incident or outage, we often get the team lunch. Or if it’s a Friday, or if it’s hot, or if we simply feel like it, we’ll get ice cream or treats. It doesn’t have to be a great expense to the company to make someone smile.

Dealertrack Technologies – The Big Picture
Contact center locations: Dallas, Texas; South Jordan, Utah; Groton, Conn.
Hours of operation: Main Support Hours of operation are Mon-Fri 6am-6pm MT; Sat 7am-4pm MT; Sun on-call support.
Number of agents employed: 150+
Products/services supported/provided: Software for the automotive industry.
Channels handled: Phone, IVR, email, web self-service.
What so great about them: The ‘Voice of the Customer’ initiative they implemented in 2009 has led to huge increases in customer satisfaction and loyalty, not to mention a highly engaged frontline.

After embarking on a robust voice-of-the-customer project, Philadelphia Insurance Companies is more agile in identifying and addressing problems, leading to higher customer satisfaction.

(NOTE: This article was originally published in 1to1Magazine in August by 1to1Media, who has granted Off Center permission to use it here. The article, originally titled “Philadelphia Insurance Companies Listens to Its Customers”, was written by 1to1Media’s Senior Writer Cynthia Clark.)

It's not always simple for businesses to sift through the mountains of information that customers are providing, understand what clients are saying, and then build strategies that address problems. Philadelphia Insurance Companies wanted to find an efficient solution to get actionable data based on what its customers were saying. Although the insurance carrier was collecting feedback through several channels – including annual, transaction, and web surveys, as well as mystery shopping – the organization wanted to find a one-stop-shop solution to analyze its customers' feedback.

According to Seth Hall, the company's vice president of operations, customers were filling out surveys, and the data which was being collected failed to effectively measure performance and identify areas of improvement. "The results were objectively captured,” says Hall, “but there wasn't a lot of information as to how customers perceived the company, whether they were pleased with the level of service, and whether they would recommend us to someone."

Additionally, while the company was receiving thousands of calls every month and hundreds of emails daily, these multiple sources of customer feedback made it difficult to develop a holistic and enterprise-wide analysis of what customers were saying. On the other hand, Philadelphia Insurance Companies was putting a lot of emphasis on internal scorecards to determine whether processes were going according to established standards – e.g., the length of time it took the company to respond to a claim. Since the company was doing well and scorecard results were good, it was challenging to decide what changes needed to be made.

Making the Most of Client Feedback

Soon after joining the company in 2009, Hall noticed that the results outlined by the scorecards were not always reflected in the organization's results. He quickly realized that Philadelphia Insurance Companies was missing out on important feedback because of the lack of a reliable VOC program that could provide data on which to base decisions and to determine the success of new projects. At the end of 2010, the organization implemented MarketTools' customer satisfaction program, allowing the insurance firm to capture key data from customer feedback, which is aggregated and visible in real time. This allows the company to notice trends quickly and to be agile in taking the necessary action. Hall says low scores trigger automatic emails to the responsible person, who can then contact the customer, get more information, and resolve the issue.

The new information allows Philadelphia Insurance Companies to know exactly how it's doing in the eyes of its customers rather than depend solely on the internal scorecards. "We match our internal scorecards with external feedback," says Hall. This new strategy has led to some discoveries of problems that might have cost the organization money. Scorecards, for example, indicated the need to add more customer reps since the average speed of answer had slipped. But upon reviewing its VOC data, the company realized that first-call resolution was a much more important indicator of customer satisfaction. "This data was instrumental in us changing the metrics/goals and thus not hiring the additional staff we thought we needed," Hall explains.

Another incident that reiterated the importance of having a VOC program took place October 2011 when the company started administering a collector car insurance product. In order to cut costs, the company revised its policy of sending auto ID cards with the renewal notice. According to Hall, VOC feedback was astounding, with about 10 percent of the 130,000 policy holders criticizing the decision. This real-time feedback allowed the organization to quickly reverse its decision and just seven weeks after launching the new policy start sending out auto ID cards. "Without a VOC program, it would have taken us much longer to react, losing customers and upsetting people," says Hall.

VOC feedback has also indicated that some customers feel it can be difficult to get information from the company and contact the right person. "To remedy this we are now putting together targeted and transactional surveys to find out what exactly we can be doing differently, and obviously better," Hall says.

Although Philadelphia Insurance Companies is retaining its internal scorecards, it no longer needs to base all its decisions on these results. In fact, the scorecards indicated no major billing issues while the VOC program found there to be more negative comments surrounding billing than anything else. This is the information the company needed to start working on a new billing system that is expected to launch next year.

The impact of listening to customers has been noticeable, and Philadelphia Insurance Companies has seen an increase in NPS scores – from the mid to upper 40s before implementing the VOC program to 51 at the end of last year.

A Client-Focused C-Suite

In a bid to solidify the trust that customers have in the company and improve the one-on-one relationship, C-suite executives have been at the forefront of reaching out to clients who leave less-than-stellar feedback. According to Hall, customers are surprised to be receiving a call from the company's hierarchy.

Such a policy makes it clear that the company is not afraid to apologize for its mistakes, says Hall. "Although we do a lot of things well, we aren't perfect, but we're going to call you, apologize, and fix the problem. And we'll do it very quickly."

(Reprinted with permission by 1to1Media.)

_ A few years ago, the North Texas Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) made a strategic decision to put its money where its mission statement was – implementing a dynamic “Voice of the Customer” (VoC) initiative that has since had a Texas-sized impact on agent performance, customer satisfaction and the company’s bottom line.

“[We wanted to] synchronize with customers and measure performance through their eyes,” says John Bannerman, Assistant Director of the NTTA’s Contact Center. “Our goal was to transform our culture to fully embrace our mission statement in becoming a truly customer-centric organization. It has become more than a mission statement to us – it is the way we treat our customers and each other.” 

Turning Customers into Coaches

The key component driving the NTTA’s VoC initiative is a unique and potent customer experience/performance management solution called Customer Driven Management (CDM), developed by Tamer Partners Corporation ( Using this new tool, the contact center is able to cleanly capture and analyze detailed customer feedback across all contact channels right after an interaction, thus arming the NTTA with timely employee-specific scores and commentary that can be used to continuously improve performance.

Here’s how it works: Following an interaction with one of the NTTA’s agents, the customer receives an email asking them to provide “advice” to the agent about service they provided. The customer clicks on a link to access the survey, which features questions about things like the agent’s skills/knowledge, courtesy/professionalism and ability to efficiently resolve the issue at hand. But this is not your everyday generic customer satisfaction survey application. What sets CDM apart is its customization; the NTTA is able to create “Individual Action Surveys” that ask for customer feedback on particular areas that each agent is working on.

In essence, CDM has turned the NTTA’s customers into coaches, says Bannerman.

“CDM not only provides feedback directly to the service representative from the customer; it also adapts to the unique skills of each representative and seeks feedback from each customer to directly guide the employee on their specific opportunities for improvement. Our customers are now directly coaching employees on all areas of improvement including listening skills, empathy, call control and energy, to name a few.”

The NTTA has programmed the CDM system to provide alerts whenever a customer scores an agent either very high or very low, thus enabling supervisors to identify issues as they arise as well as to praise/recognize agents whenever they receive accolades.

CDM stores all customer responses including scores/ratings, yes/no responses, and text comments. The NTTA’s supervisors and managers can view and report on all surveys and responses for their team. Each of the center’s agents has access to their personal feedback in the CDM system, as well.

Lower Headcount, Higher Performance on the Frontline

The NTTA hasn’t handed its entire QA function over to its customers. The contact center’s internal quality monitoring staff still evaluate recorded calls to ensure that agents are providing accurate information and complying with established policies and procedures.

Still and all, Bannerman says that efficacy of the CDM solution has eliminated the need to hire four additional frontline managers. He adds that the supervisor-to-agent ratio has increased from 1:12 to 1:17 without sacrificing the level of coaching/support.

Of course, the VoC initiative isn’t all about managerial headcount reduction; it’s about providing a forever better level of service. Since implementing the initiative, the NTTA has seen agents’ quality and productivity results improve significantly. “We’ve found that the best opportunity for frontline change was putting our customers in charge,” says Bannerman. He points out that CDM scores and feedback are used not only during quality monitoring coaching sessions but also in annual agent evaluations and action plans. As much as 50% of the feedback during an agent’s annual review comes directly from customers. “Customers are effectively managing the quality of their future service experience by coaching and developing employees to meet their needs and expectations.”

And that’s just fine by the employees, Bannerman says.

Agents love the VoC initiative, particularly CDM. They get far more [positive] feedback from customers than a supervisor would have time to provide for their entire team on a daily basis. This provides encouragement and motivation [for agents] to continue doing things well, and makes them more willing to accept suggestions for improvement.”

It also apparently makes them want to stick around longer.

“As a result of consistent positive feedback from customers, our attrition rate is 12% annually, which by contact center standards is very low.”

NTTA – the Big Picture:
Location: Plano, TX
Hours of operation: Mon-Fri 7am-7pm; Sat 9am-5:30pm
Number of agents: 152
Products/services provided/supported: Account maintenance, toll tag acquisition and general customer service
Channels handled: Phone, IVR, email, web self-service, and store front
What’s so great about them? They’ve vastly improved agent performance, the customer experience and the bottom line via a highly dynamic “Voice of the Customer” initiative.