Off Center
It’s often said that small call centers face a unique set of challenges. At Albridge Solutions, a PNC company, the biggest challenge may be expanding their call center facility to make room for all the trophies and certificates they’ve been earning – and all the job applicants who are itching to get in the door.

Spend some time eyeing Albridge’s practices and tactics, and it’s easy to see why global organizations such as, IQPC and ICMI have recognized Albridge as one of the best small call centers around.

For one, few centers – large or small – compare when it comes to empowering and engaging staff. A testament to Albridge’s agent-centricity is its recent (July 2009) certification as a Contact Center Employer of Choice (CCEOC). CCEOC is a progressive certification program – headed up by a team of contact center experts, academics and analysts – to help call centers focus sharply on employee needs and satisfaction.

“Through the CCEOC analysis and review, we gained tremendous insight into the motivators that drive employee behavior," says Alex Sauickie, Managing Director of Operations and Services for Albridge Solutions. "We've implemented programs targeting critical areas, including training and development and employee involvement, and have witnessed significant improvements in satisfaction, engagement and morale across the team.”

Add to that Albridge’s ability to achieve stratospheric levels of customer satisfaction while keeping operational costs in check, and you have very good reason to continue reading.

Inspired and Empowered Agents

Becoming an official CCEOC certainly helps centers attract a high caliber of agent candidates. Unfortunately, those hoping to man a workstation at Albridge Solutions may have to wait a long time to do so – the center has had virtually no turnover among its 20 agents over the past year.

And who would want to leave when there are so many opportunities to learn new skills, participate in interesting off-phone projects, and help make key decisions that impact the customer and the business?

“Additional opportunities outside of their day-to-day responsibilities are given to our service professionals based on their interests and career goals,” says Karen Greco, the center’s senior manager of Service Quality.  “Team members may be encouraged to interact with clients at conferences, participate in improvement projects and/or train others in areas where they excel. This helps to motivate them and allows them to grow.” 

Such opportunities are provided not simply because they are motivating; Greco and her staff recognize that agents have the best understanding of what clients are thinking and experiencing. The focus groups that agents participate in enable them to use their invaluable customer knowledge to come up with better service practices and processes. “They have opportunities to participate in these projects and help make their ideas a reality,” says Greco. “Many of the web self-service capabilities on our site today were a result of team member suggestions in recent years.”

The center’s peer mentoring program is one of the most effective and inspiring employee-centric initiatives – not just for the agent mentors who get to share their expertise and develop critical supervisory skills, but also for their protégés who love to learn from and
bond with one of their own. The agent mentors work closely with new hires to help them get up to speed on key tasks and skills, and to provide general support as the rookies get acclimated to the job and the company. “The mentoring program allows the Client Service team to reduce the new hire’s transition period to become comfortable with their day-to-day activities,” says Tom Kelly, director of Client Services.    

Exposure to and communication with the company’s executives is another way Albridge keeps its agents actively engaged.  In addition to participating in one-on-one skip-level sessions with senior managers twice a year, agents are given the opportunity to ask the company’s CEO questions directly when he presents at quarterly department meetings.

And then there is the call center’s rewards and recognition program to further boost agent commitment and performance. Agents receive points for such positive behaviors as staying late to help team members, providing a training session to others, improving a process, and exceeding expectations when handling a call. Once enough points have been accrued, the agent receives a gift card that can be used at one of many locations. Gift cards are also provided as spot awards during department meetings to individuals who have gone well above and beyond the call of duty.

Agent recognition takes other forms, too. For instance, the center “spotlights” one agent every month in the department newsletter.
This allows everyone to get to know each other a little better and on a more personal level,” says Kelly. Sometimes agents even get to see their name in lights, he adds. “Our display boards show the positive client compliments that we have received so agents receive public recognition.”
Exemplary C-Sat Measurement and Management Practices

When you treat and develop agents as well as Albridge does, it gets passed on to the customer in the form of courteous, proficient service and support. Albridge further ensures positive customer experiences by focusing on the right performance metrics. C-sat and contact quality are the call center’s main KPIs, with a secondary focus on average speed of answer (ASA) and abandonment to ensure that the center remains highly accessible. The center’s objectives for these metrics are: 85% or higher for overall C-sat; 95% or higher for both call and email quality; less than a 30 second ASA; and less than a 3% abandoned call rate. While ambitious goals, Albridge meets or exceeds them on a regular basis.

The call center’s strong customer focus is evidenced by its comprehensive C-sat measurement and management practices. In addition to administering a broad-scope customer survey every six months that focuses on various factors that contribute to overall customer satisfaction, the call center conducts transactional customer surveys that gauge customers’ satisfaction with interactions as
they happen.

The transactional survey is integrated with the center’s Siebel CRM system, and is automatically sent via email to the customer following a phone, email or web transaction. To avoid customer frustration or over-surveying, surveys are not generated for customers who have opted out or who have completed a survey in the last 60 days.  All survey results are stored at a customer level that provides robust reporting at the granular level. Whenever the survey identifies a customer who is dissatisfied after a contact has been “resolved,” Albridge’s Service Quality team makes a service recovery call to the customer. Customer feedback is used as an agent performance metric as well as for determining improvement projects. 

“Satisfaction results allow us to shift focus when and where needed to make sure that driving concerns are identified as a top priority,” Sauickie says. “Recurring issues are identified and analyzed for root cause by associates trained in Six Sigma. By looking for trends and acting on them, we are able to mitigate these same issues in the future and obtain quick resolution for clients who were already impacted.”

Albridge Solutions – The Big Picture:
Location: Lawrenceville, N.J.
Hours of operation: Monday-Friday, 8 am-8pm ET
Number of agents: 20
Products/services provided: Inbound customer service and support for Albridge Solution’s enterprise wealth management services.
Channels handled: Phone, Email, Web contacts
Why I like them: High agent engagement and empowerment, with practicall non-existent "negative" turnover. World-class customer satisfaction measurement/management practices.

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