Off Center
Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada)
Hours of operation: 24/7
Number of agents: 625
Products/services provided: Outsourced customer service for a variety of clients in many different industries, including financial services, telecommunications and technology, media entertainment, transportation, hospitality, travel and tourism, services, and retail.
Channels handled: Phone, IVR, email, chat, social media.
Why I like them: A leading outsourcing provider whose success can be attributed to agent development, empowerment, recognition, and active community involvement.

Still clinging to the old stereotype of call center outsourcers as glorified sweatshops that cram butts in seats to make big bucks? If so, take a look at Blue Ocean – then think again.

Don’t let your agents take a look, though; with an employee-centric culture as alluring as Blue Ocean’s, you might soon find yourself a bit short on staff. After all, it’s tough for employees to resist the temptation of working for a call center that heavily invests in their development, actively involves them in the scheduling process, and rewards and recognizes them regularly.

“We recognize that a motivated, happy team will deliver superior service, quality
and productivity,” says Patty Isnor, senior vice president of corporate services at Blue Ocean. “And we have a number of ways we motivate employees, with supporting activities for each.”

Top-Notch Training

All Blue Ocean agents start off their tenure very well prepared, thanks to highly dynamic new-hire training programs and practices. Prior to receiving customized, client-specific training that incorporates a diverse range of modules and training methods (classroom training, on-the-job training, mentoring, e-learning, et. al.), each agent goes through an orientation and training program that pertains specifically to working for Blue Ocean. General Blue Ocean training includes an introduction to company culture, policies and procedures, telesales and customer service skills and techniques, as well as a system overview and training on handling customer email contacts.

“The advanced Customer Service training program that is delivered to agents during the initial non­project based curriculum ensures that agents are focused in building long-term relationships as they enhance the brands of our clients,” says Isnor.

All aspects of training and development at Blue Ocean are designed not only to accelerate the knowledge and performance of new-hires, but also to enhance employee engagement and retention.

“We want our agents to have fun, while learning,” Isnor explains. “Our training is interactive and hands on. It involves team exercises, group discussion, role playing, practice, experiential learning through ‘buddy on the phone’ and the situational application of skills. Agents are totally involved in the learning process.”

All training – both client-specific and Blue Ocean-based – takes place in Blue Ocean’s state-of-the art training facilities, which are equipped with fully functioning workstations for call simulations, audiovisual equipment, topical videos and an area where trainees can monitor actual calls. The outsourcer’s clients are welcome and encouraged to participate in training development and delivery.

As a dedicated learning organization, Blue Ocean views training and development as continuous activities. Throughout their tenure at the call center, agents receive ample coaching as well as complete advanced training modules to help them develop new skills and stay engaged. In addition, agents can take advantage of a comprehensive career path within the call center and the larger organization.    

Alluring Incentives Drive High Performance

Blue Ocean agents are not only trained for high performance; they are well-rewarded for it. And these rewards/recognition practices are a big reason why Blue Ocean is able to meet its ambitious KPI objectives, and why annual agent turnover remains low (around 20%).

In addition to earning a salary bump for consistently high quality scores, attendance rates and productivity, agents who perform well in the short-term receive single-pay bonuses as well as prizes like gift certificates, corporate merchandise, tickets to games or concerts – even seats in Blue Ocean’s corporate box at the Metro Center in Halifax for special events.
And rewards and recognition don’t end there; the call center’s Employee of the Month award is presented to the agent who, in addition to achieving high productivity and quality scores, has made significant contributions to the team and the enterprise. Winners have their name and photograph posted on Blue Ocean’s employee intranet, and receive a bonus of $100.

Giving Agents Scheduling and Desktop Power 

Just as impactful as peer empowerment is Pier empowerment. Blue Ocean’s Pier system is a proprietary application for agent scheduling that provides an ample amount of flexibility for call center staff.

Rather than have agents bid on shifts, which is the norm in most contact centers, agents access “The Pier” via their PC to submit scheduling preferences, request time off and trade shifts with peers. Such agent-centric, flexible workforce management practices have had a big impact on staff engagement and retention, says Isnor.

“In today’s contact center, we feel working environments tend to be more repressive as opposed to progressive. Employees are too frequently being told what they cannot do, and this social norm cultivates a culture that leaves the employee feeling less attached to the company. At Blue Ocean, we are pioneering the progressive move away from this type culture and are creating an open environment of employee engagement.”

Additional empowerment is on the way for Blue Ocean agents. Isnor reports that the center is currently implementing a program that will provide staff with what they call “Agent View” – desktops similar to iGoogle. This would enable agents to create a desktop profile unique to them – one that contains the information that is most important and useful to them.

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