Off Center
 
If the high level of job satisfaction enjoyed by agents in Scotiabank’s Toronto Customer Contact Centre ever starts to erode, they’ll likely have themselves to blame. After all, they help make many of the key decisions regarding the center’s programs and policies.

You’ll find few front-line crews as empowered as these customer care specialists. From serving critical roles on cross-functional committees to discussing ideas and concerns directly with executive level officers, Scotiabank’s agents are positively instrumental in helping to continuously improve the call center – and the customer experience.

“[They] are the lifeblood of the entire contact center – that’s why we give them the autonomy to tell us how they feel about how things should be done,” says Stephen Gaskin, VP of Scotiabank Customer Contact Centres. Having our [agents] involved and in control of these things is important in making it ‘theirs’, and ultimately it brings a very positive attitude that moves across the center every day like a wave.”

Such a high level of empowerment and respect for agents is a big reason why Scotiabank’s Toronto operation recently earned Platinum Level Certification from CCEOC (Contact Center Employer of Choice). “It’s difficult to describe in words how very important it was for us to achieve the Platinum CCEOC designation,” says Gaskin. “You could meet all the bottom lines you want, and achieve as many statistical goals as you can, but if your employees aren’t happy then you will have difficulty sustaining your success.”



Agent-Assisted Committees Elevate Performance and Engagement Center-Wide

Scotiabank’s agents don’t point fingers when they see a problem; they work together in dedicated groups to improve it. The center has a variety of committees that agents can take part in to help solve issues, enhance performance and raise the overall level of enthusiasm on the front lines.

A prime example is the Professional Development Committee (PDC), which is focused on career as well as personal development for employees. “They’ve gathered a whole treasure trove of resources that are accessible to everyone and put them all online for easy access,” Gaskin explains. “When you top all that with career fairs and learning workshops, you quickly realize their importance.”

Gaskin is equally proud of the center’s Rewards & Recognition Committee (R&R). Agents who serve on this committee help plan a special monthly activity or campaign aimed at increasing employee motivation. “It’s always something fun…and something that promotes our business objectives,” says Gaskin. “These events are fantastic: They bring people together and always cause an exciting ‘buzz’ around the center.”

One of the most popular recent events was “The R&R Amazing Race.” The committee put together a series of strategic activities, and each team had to complete one activity before moving to the next, with the winning team earning a free dinner. Says Gaskin, “It was just like the actual TV show, only every activity included a learning opportunity in addition to being fun and challenging.”



“My 15” Builds Bridge Connecting Execs and Agents

Scotiabank’s agents are fine with not being actual reality TV stars. After all, they know that 15 minutes of forgettable fame can’t compare to 15 minutes of meaningful face-time – especially when the faces involved are those of Scotiabank executives.

It’s all part of an innovative initiative called “My 15”. 

“‘My 15’ is a very popular program that allows anyone in the Contact Centre to spend 15 minutes with any member of our Leadership Team to discuss anything they want,” Gaskin explains. “In fact, it’s so popular that we’ve actually held several of them already. There are no restrictions to the type of topics [agents] can bring up.”

He adds that the leaders find “My 15” to be as valuable to them as it is to agents, and that several ideas have been put into action as the result of the meet-ups. Examples include the creation of a new Career Planning website and an increase in “green” initiatives in the contact center.  

Not that “My 15” is all about projects and continuous improvement. Often, says Gaskin, it’s simply about people.

“The program works so well in personalizing the environment in which we work. If our agents know more about their leaders and their interests, it often inspires them to go that extra mile in whatever they’re doing – and vice versa. Sometimes it’s as simple as spending 15 minutes with someone to overcome some automatic stereotypes that are often associated with leaders or executives.”

That being said, Gaskin points out that if you are an executive who is considering implementing a similar program in your center, you’d better be prepared for a little extra work. “One caution I have for anyone who tries a ‘My 15’ program is to book another two to three days after a day of My 15’s in order to meet all the commitments you might make to [agents] during their sessions.” 



“Love the One Your with”

When not busy offering valuable input and working on important projects, Scotiabank agents do what they do best: Delivering positive customer experiences via phone and email. Management has made that critical task a lot easier for front-line staff by removing what it feels is a common deterrent of good service in call centers: Electronic readerboards.

Instead of subjecting agents to the constant flashing of productivity-based stats, Scotiabank emphasizes the importance of quality and issue resolution – thus empowering staff to focus on the customer, not the queue.  

“For us, it’s about how well we’ve served our customers and met their needs,” explains Gaskin. “We don’t want our agents rushing through a call just so they can get to the next person – it’s not about that. When I speak to new hires – especially new hires from other contact centers – I emphasize this point. I say, ‘Love the one you’re with,’ meaning focus on the customer you are with, connect with them and ensure that the reason for their call is resolved.”

Gaskin adds that the call center’s dedicated workforce management analysts – not its agents – are ultimately responsible for keeping queues in check, pointing out that with proper forecasting/scheduling and intelligent routing, most of the productivity issues are taken care of.

That’s not to say that Scotiabank agents haven’t a care or a clue about efficiency. From the moment they start new-hire training, they learn “how to shorten calls without impacting quality,” says Gaskin.



Phone Pros without Pants

Adding to the perks of being a Scotiabank agent is the opportunity to handle customer contacts in just your underwear. The company recently launched a telecommuting program featuring 45 agents who work from the comfort of their home. That number will grow substantially, says Gaskin, due to the tremendous success of the home agent initiative early on.

“This is just the beginning of this innovative program. The impact is already amazing: Agents who work from home are always on time (they don’t have to travel!); we save on real-estate and parking; and [agents] are happier being where they are because they can be close to their families.  We also promote the 'green' benefits.”

Gaskin adds that embracing the virtual staffing model enables the call center to retain highly talented staff who move out of the area due to family/partner relocation, or who cannot commute for other reasons.

“Working from home often proves to be a great solution for keeping some of our best agents we would have otherwise unfortunately lost.”

 
Scotiabank Toronto – the Big Picture
:

Location: Toronto, Ontario (Canada)
Hours of operation: 24/7/365
Number of agents: Approximately 800
Products/services provided/supported:  Day-to-day banking, VISA, insurance,
investments, call redirect, disputes, credit adjudication
Channels handled: Phone, IVR, email, TTY
What’s so great about them? They have in place a number of innovative programs and policies to keep agents highly empowered, engaged and focused on the customer experience. 


4/5/2011 06:56:08 am

Greg:
Great article. I love Canadian call centers, especially Blue Ocean in Halifax. If only they can learn to spell Center correctly, it's not Centre!

Mike Pace and I could not convince NECCF to hire you as a keynote this June. Not enough board members heard of you! We'll try again next year. I pity the fool who does not subscribe to Off-Center. (Off-Centre in Canada). ake care.
JR

Reply
4/5/2011 08:28:50 am

Funny you mention Blue Ocean, JR -- they were my first ever "Contact Centerfold (Centrefold) of the Month". (Scroll down to the July 2010 post on the Centerfold page to see the article.)

I concur -- theirs is an excellent operation. (I ONLY feature excellent operations!)

That's ok about NECCF -- I have never heard of them either. ;)

Thanks for your comment and continuous support!

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