Off Center
This month’s Contact Centerfold features an interview with renowned contact center expert Tim Montgomery, Managing Partner of the uniquely though aptly named contact center outsourcing firm Culture.Service.Growth (CSG). Tim shares what sets CSG apart from other customer care organizations, and why agents, customers and corporate clients keep smiling and sticking around.

(In the Q&A session below, “GL” is yours truly and “TM” is the one and only Tim Montgomery.)

GL: CSG prides itself on “managing people rather than efficiency”. Could you please briefly explain what that means and why it’s important?

TM: Prior to starting CSG, we worked with hundreds of contact centers to help them improve service and efficiency. In most of the companies we advised, the real opportunity was to refocus the leadership team from managing by the metrics to managing to agent behaviors.

This is a lot more difficult than it sounds, as the leaders have to spend time understanding the drivers behind metrics in order to have an effective behavior-based conversation with agents. At CSG, we train all of our leaders to focus on the person first and understand the "why' behind the metrics. 

The real difference is seen in the feedback we get back from our agents, who tell us how their experience in our contact center feels very different than their experience in other contact center environments they have been in.

GL: Could you please provide a few specific examples that clearly illustrate CSG’s progressive management style?

TM: Sure. Our philosophy is simple – treat every agent as an adult and assume everyone wants to do their best every day. We limit the amount of formal policies we have in place and focus more on the expected outcome. For example, we don't have a formal attendance policy other than we expect you to come to work on a regular basis.  Same with quality – it's not about a score on a form.  We focus on continuous improvement on every interaction. Our lack of formal policies expands to our dress code. We ask our reps to look in the mirror and if they'd go to dinner with their grandmother dressed like that, then they can come to work dressed like that. In two years, we've never had to send anyone home because of dress. We spend all our time focused on what agents do and no time on what they wear.

GL: How do agents feel about the contact center’s unique approach? What are engagement and retention levels like?

TM: We believe a strong indicator of employee engagement is the percent of new employees that come from internal referrals. About 60% of our current staff was hired as a result of another employee referring them to this ‘great place to work’, with many being family members and close friends of existing agents.   

GL: To succeed as an outsourcer and get clients to trust you with their customers, you obviously need to have a highly experienced management team. Can you talk a little about the collective experience of your leaders?    

TM: Quite simply, we know contact centers and world-class service better than anyone. Our owners and leaders have more than 100 years of experience running contact centers for USAA – the world's most celebrated contact center organization. Our core team members at CSG are experts in contact center leadership, operations and improvement. We are trusted advisors to some of the world's top brands. We've taken the lessons learned from decades of running and improving contact centers to create the core of what will become the new standard in contact center outsourcing relationships. 

GL: I’ve heard you mention – and seen you write about – something you call ‘Service 1st’. Please tell us what that is in a nutshell. 

TM: ‘Service 1st’ is based on a call reduction philosophy that generates improved customer experiences. Driving improvement from the frontline is the foundation of a world-class organization. This frontline-driven approach allows us to provide continuous feedback to our clients to adjust areas of their organization that may be generating unnecessary customer contacts. Such an approach not only saves money; it directly impacts the customer’s perception of the organization. One of our driving principles at CSG is to help clients continually reduce operational defects, and we do this one call at a time. 

GL: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

TM: Our value is based on the fact that we don't see a call as merely a transaction or a number. We see every contact as an opportunity to gather intelligence. From day one, our agents are taught to think of their role as ‘process engineers’ and to look for ways to help the company they're supporting get more out of every contact. By focusing on the total cost of ownership, clients incur lower support costs (fewer calls) and improved customer loyalty (fewer defects). 

CSG – the Big Picture

Contact center location(s): Two locations in San Antonio, Texas.
Hours of operation: 24/7
Number of agents employed: 250
Products/services supported/provided: Outsourced contact center support for a wide variety of industries and client types.
Channels handled: Phone, IVR, email, chat, web self-service and social media
What’s so great about them? They pride themselves on a unique contact center culture where efficiency never comes at the expense of quality, and where people are viewed as more important than metrics.     

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