Off Center
 
If somebody were to hand you a copy of informedRx’s organizational chart, you might think that you were holding it upside-down. After all, who ever heard of a contact center organization positioning its agents at the top?

Well, informedRx, for one.

“Without them, there is no us,” says Kelli Barabasz, Senior Manager of Customer Care for informedRx, a leading provider of pharmacy benefit management (PBM) solutions. “[Agents] are the frontline for our members, pharmacies, doctors, and clients. Imagine having two call centers, a director, senior managers, managers, supervisors, team leads, an escalation team… and no agents. How successful would the call center be? The easy answer is there would not be a call center any longer.”

Placing agents at the top of the org chart is much more than just a symbolic move or a publicity play. InformedRx backs its org chart model up with employee-centric action – implementing programs and practices that foster a true culture of agent empowerment and engagement.

The payoff for such employee-centricity? How about an agent turnover rate that’s been slashed in half – dropping from 54% in 2008 to 27% today. 
 

A Finned Philosophy Has Agents Hooked

You might say there’s something fishy about how informedRx keeps its agents inspired and in place.

The agents wouldn’t have it any other way.

The contact center firmly embraces the famed Fish! philosophy, which comprises four simple, interconnected concepts and practices:

·      Be There – being emotionally present to improve communication and strengthen relationships.
·      Play – bringing a spirit of creativity, enthusiasm and fun to everything you do.
·      Make Their Day – serving or delighting people in meaningful and memorable 
ways.
·      Choose Your Attitude – taking responsibility for how you respond to challenges and how that

          impacts everyone around you.

Of course, a company can’t just command employees to embody the Fish! philosophy; managers have to live it and let employees see its powerful effects. At informedRx, it’s incorporated into everything from agent selection and development to incentives and facility design.

“To our company, the Fish! Philosophy is not just an engagement tool – it’s a way of life,” says Barabasz. “The philosophy can be embraced in many aspects in and out of work.”

So how exactly does Fish! fit into the contact center? According to Barabasz, it starts with hiring candidates who not only have the skills and knowledge for the job, but who also have the right attitude and personality to thrive in a highly team-oriented and customer-centric environment. “We make sure they are a great fit for the work they will be doing and the people they will be working with.”

There’s plenty of Fish! in agent training, too, says Barabasz. “We create a playful business atmosphere right off the bat with our training classes.” In both initial and continuous training, agents acquire key skills and knowledge via a variety of compelling learning tactics such as role-plays, games and shadowing. Agents also see early on that leadership is “there” for them. “Within the first two days of each training class, it is required for all leadership to introduce themselves to the new team,” Barabasz explains. Throughout training, they are encouraged to stop in when they walk by even if they only have time to say hi. This shows the new team members that we are here, and here for them. It relaxes them and gives them the family feel that we promote within the call center.”

The “Make Their Day” aspect of the Fish! philosophy is highly evident in informedRx’s rewards and recognition programs. Agents who exceed objectives or show notable improvement in key areas (like Quality, Hold Time and Attendance), or who go “above and beyond” with a customer or colleague, receive plenty of public praise as well as prizes likes Fish! trophies, award certificates, gift cards and tokens that can be redeemed for merchandise in the SXC store. Some top-performers have even been rewarded with a TV or an iPod.

Fish! may seem simple on paper, but as Barabasz points out, it requires a lot of effort from management for notable increases in agent engagement and commitment to occur.

“Anyone can read Fish!, show the videos and wait for results, but the philosophy has to be embraced and change has to take place in order to have success. Our leadership team spent months behind closed doors reading and talking about Fish! in order to have a clear understanding of it. If you do not truly believe in something, then how can you expect others to?”


Agent Engagement Begets Customer Sat


With leadership working so hard to “be there” for agents and “make their day”, it’s no surprise that informedRx’s agents aim to do the same for customers. And judging by the contact center’s average C-Sat rate of 88%, the agents have succeeded.    

“The impact [on customer satisfaction] is huge!” says Barabasz. “In order to have happy customers, you have to have engaged and happy employees on the other end of the phone.”

Despite it’s consistently high C-Sat results, the center hasn’t become complacent. Managers continue to carefully analyze scores and comments from customer surveys to help identify training gaps and ensure that a high level of service is provided.

“It’s easy to lose focus on the positive things you are doing and let them slip away, and then you see your C-Sat scores fall. We look at the results to formulate a game plan to improve on the lower scores while continuing to focus [on the things that drive] the higher ones.”



informedRx – the Big Picture:
Location: Lisle, Ill, & Scottsdale, Ariz
Hours of operation: 24/7/365
Number of agents: 200-300 (depending on time of year)
Products/services provided/supported: Pharmacy benefit management (PBM) support for members, pharmacies, and doctors.
Channels handled: Live phone, IVR, email, web self-service
What’s so great about them? The contact center strongly embraces the famed Fish! Philosophy to drive agent engagement sky high and deliver stellar customer experiences.

Kevin Carly
1/3/2012 12:30:08 am

GL,

You never disappoint. There are a couple of key points here that need to be emphasized.

Leadership MUST live the philosophy. Agents must be empowered, trained and trusted. I somehow survived an attempt at turning the org chart on its head, but the company President (who shall be named Satan to re-inforce her lack of innocence) refused to empower the team. "Satan" regularly jumped several levels of leadership to micro-manage individual efforts and always publicly and viciously criticized the actions of the lowest level team member. Team members then became unwilling to act, fearing swift humiliation.

Next, 27% turnover is wholly amazing in this market. In Utah, the contact center for Silicon Valley, we see 110-120% as the norm. Admittedly, I've directed a tech support contact center where we reached 7%, including both attrition and career path activities. The key to my success there, which aligns with Fish! is clear value and accountability. When I started in that role, I asked team members what their job was. Most answers ranged from accounting, phones, forms, fixed ops...not one single person stated that they were there to delight a client. Indeed, not one person used the term client.

A simple thought-changing charter document helped every agent know their role, the related tasks, and how they would be measured. Within six months, we increased CSAT by 10 percentage points. Within a year, an independent survey highlighted that not even one single surveyed client planned to switch to a competitor. In that particular niche, the average "plan to switch" value was 19%.

Finally, agent engagement must be a priority for line management, in particular. Line management must be empowered to prioritize team member needs above requests from senior leaders.

As the department head, I mentored my junior leaders in the art of one-on-one meetings. We issued a request (not a policy or mandate) that each team member was invited to schedule their leader for bi-monthly meetings and one quarterly meeting with me. I also scheduled one departmental meeting monthly. This resulted in clear understanding of performance, opportunities, closed communication gaps. Every team member had the opportunity to understand individual and team progress against stated goals. Those who chose to participate were quickly moving out of the call center or into more senior positions.

This stuff works WONDERS for a team.

Reply
1/3/2012 12:44:12 am

Wow. That's the most impressive and impassioned blog comment I've ever read, Kevin. "Comment" doesn't do it justice -- what you have written is an insightful mantra.

If only ALL contact centers were managed by folks like you -- people with a solid grasp of what truly matters and drives results in a customer care environment; somebody who absolutely "gets" the people piece.

Kudos, Kevin.

In fact, let me know if you might be interested in having me feature YOUR contact center in this column in the near future. I'm sure it would make for a captivating and inspiring article.

Wishing you and your team much success in 2012.

Regards,

GL

Reply
Kevin Carly
1/3/2012 12:59:59 am

Well, sadly we parted ways. I switched my focus to WHY clients were calling instead of things like Abandon Rate. When I highlighted the fact that numerous system incidents (it was an SaaS service we supported) were causing 30% spikes in call volume, and the VoC was expressing strong dis-satisfaction with the stability of our product, it was important to share this with our executive group...who, in turn, soundly rejected what was presented to them.

In the ensuing 14 months, attrition is nearing 100%. The company's client base has a net increase, yet they are also setting internal records for client departures. Fortunately, they have taken strong steps to minimize system incidents, and they continue to be satisfied with decent NPS without understanding or seeking out why it is not a *great* NPS.

So for now, I'm just doing a bit of IT contract work and continue to seek out more contact center leadership positions. Wish me luck!

Reply
1/3/2012 01:10:02 am

I'll do better than just wish you luck, Kevin -- I'll keep my eyes and ears open for viable job openings and let you know of any that might be a match.

And to anybody else who's reading this, if your contact center seeks a dynamic leader, seriously consider Kevin. He's the real deal.

Regards,

GL

Reply
Kevin Carly
1/3/2012 01:40:39 am

Awful kind of you, GL!

Reply
Liz Smith
1/9/2012 04:37:24 am

Great article! And I learned as much from the comments as I did from the main event!

Reply



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