Off Center
When the economy went south a few years back, many organizations started focusing on employee layoffs. At Comerica Bank’s call center, the focus was more on employee engagement and empowerment.

Comerica realized that great customer service is never as important as it is during volatile times, and that such service isn’t possible unless the call center’s agents feel respected and valued. Today the folks on the frontline at Comerica’s centers in Dallas and Detroit are viewed less as customer service agents and more as customer service consultants.

“We wanted to get agents more involved and concerned with the day-to-day operations of our company,” explains Patrick O’Shea, Senior VP of Comerica’s Customer Contact Center. “Agents are the workhorses and the engine that keep every contact center running, yet they are often viewed as expendable. We did not want that culture in our center, so we partnered with the very people who could tell us best how to achieve more – our own agents.”

The overall result? A lot of Comerica customers and employees who have no plans of leaving the company anytime soon.

“Once we started working with our agents as consultants, we moved more quickly toward customer satisfaction and engagement,” O’Shea says. “This metamorphosis has led to agents becoming more engaged, as they’re now empowered to advise us on how to better operate.”

Giving Agents the Gavel

One way Comerica empowers the frontline is via the use of an “Agent Council.” The council is made up of one peer-elected delegate from each team in the call center. These delegates meet with one another and O’Shea once a month to discuss issues of interest or concern and come up with solutions that are good for agents and the business.

“The Agent Council is our ‘congress’, if you will,” O’Shea explains. “We review whatever is important to the agents, and then what is important to leadership. For instance, we may spend 25 minutes discussing dress code for the agents, followed by a 25-minute discussion on goal attainment. The benefit of the council is that we collaborate together as we forge what is best for the company, the customer and our culture.”

The council isn’t the only way that Comerica actively involves agents in continuously improving processes and the customer experience. Agent also participate in focus groups, where they are asked to provide comprehensive and candid feedback on key topics presented by management. “The focus groups are specific agenda-lead meetings for the sole purpose of information-gathering on a particular topic,” says O’Shea. “Often, results of a focus group are brought to an Agent Council meeting for review and to determine next steps.”

The council and focus groups aren’t in place just to make agents feel like they have a say; rather, real results are achieved – and the call center’s culture is strengthened, says O’Shea.

“I think we – leadership and the frontline – now have a much better understanding and appreciation for each others' duties and workload due to the council and groups. We have re-written such things as attendance policies, dress codes and escalation processes.  Each rewritten policy and procedure not only serves the company and the culture better, it always results in improved customer engagement.”

And agents certainly don’t seem to mind the extra responsibility.

“I love the Agent Council,” says one Comerica agent, Michelle. “I’ve never worked somewhere where I actually create the rules and have the ability to vote on how we run the call center.”

An Ever-Expanding Library of Service Excellence
Adding to Comerica’s culture of empowerment and continuous improvement is an innovative “exemplary call” initiative that is driven by the center’s agents. Any time an agent completes what they feel was an excellent call in which they provided great service and truly connected with the customer, the agent can send an email containing the call time and date to their supervisor. The supervisor locates the recording of the call in question, listens to it and, in many cases, “adds it to the ‘superstar great call’ library, which can be accessed by the entire contact center,” O’Shea explains. He points out that such calls have helped to enhance agent training and development throughout the center. “These calls can be played during training as well as team meetings and town hall events.”

The calls also lead to rewards and accolades for the agents who “star” in them. “Agents can receive prizes as well as recognition in the form of certificates to be placed on their cubicles,” says O’Shea.

The recognition that agents receive for their top calls doesn’t come only from their supervisors. Occasionally, members of senior management who have listened to an exemplary call will send a praise-filled email to the agent involved.

While the emails sent by senior management are highly coveted by recipients in the call center, the folks on the frontline are hardly blown away by such personal attention from Comerica execs. Agents are, after all, pretty used to a high level of senior management support and involvement.

“A great culture starts at the top,” say O’Shea. “Our senior management team visits our contact centers, they meet our people and they celebrate victories with them. Contact centers are a full engagement sport.”

Comerica – the Big Picture:

Location: Dallas, TX; Detroit, MI
Hours of operation: 8 am-10 pm CT
Number of agents:  285
Products/services provided/supported: The sales and servicing of all Comerica financial products.
Channels handled: Phone, IVR, email, online banking (web self-service)  
What’s so great about them? Their dedication to agent engagement and empowerment has led to notable increases in employee retention and performance, not to mention customer loyalty. 

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