Whether your business is a mom & pop operation (or pop & pop or a mom & mom) with just you and your partner handling the phones, or it’s a larger operation with a cast of hundreds of agents, the contact center (call center) is a key element in building and sustaining your relationship with customers.
Happily, there are always ways to improve the way you’re you have proving in how you manage the relationship, if you take time to consider the issues involved:
• Does the way your contact center agents work–how they spend their day, how they interact with customers on each call–actually support your company purpose, or has it gotten off track, perhaps by becoming too transactional?
• Are you using the right metrics–are you focusing on what matters, the measurements that could actually help you see how you’re doing and the chances you have to improve?
• Are you providing opportunities for advancement and specialization for your agents?
• Are there ways your contact center agents could expand their knowledge in order to create what I call “situational empathy” when talking with customers?
While the contact center challenges of a massive organization like Hyatt are likely amplified beyond what you’re facing yourself, the way that company has gone about overhauling its contact center recently is, nonetheless, instructive. Below is the discussion I had recently with Jessica White, who is Hyatt’s VP for Global Contact Centers and Guest Experience.
Micah Solomon, Senior Contributor, Forbes.com: What was a key challenge you identified when you started at Hyatt?
Jessica White, VP for Global Contact Centers and Guest Experience, Hyatt: I knew my GCC (Global Contact Center) team believed in Hyatt’s organizational purpose: “to care for people so they can be their best.” Yet the way things were structured when I came aboard didn’t entirely support our colleagues to be their best at work. The structure at that time fostered generalists rather than specialists. This wasn’t optimal for business performance, nor was it satisfying for colleagues.
Solomon: Tell me about the change you made to address this.
White: We restructured the organization to allow for multiple career paths. Under the old system, a colleague’s day might be split between the phones and Twitter, or emails and Facebook. But that came with a downside: There was no option to specialize in social media, or to solely handle phone calls. There was no chance to focus just on sales, or handle only cases. Moving from a generalist model to a specialist model allowed our colleagues to decide what type of work interested them the most. Colleagues can now choose their area of specialty and advance within that area; if someone is less excited by phone calls, they can focus exclusively on email, or vice-versa.
Solomon: What’s another key change you made?
White: Undoubtedly it’s our new effort to have contact center colleagues experience the hotel like a guest. Trying to describe a place you’ve never been is a challenge. Trying to explain a hotel in a location you’ve never visited is an even greater challenge. Familiarization trips have allowed nearly 100 front-line colleagues to experience Hyatt’s brands and key locations across the U.S. so far.
Solomon: Tell me more about the motivation behind this and how it’s working out.
White: When people are planning a vacation, they want to know what they can expect beyond the hotel room, and what kind of experiences are available to them at their destination. So in order to truly understand what a hotel has to offer, it makes sense to have our colleagues experience it firsthand. These familiarization trips give customer care agents the opportunity to tour the hotel, eat at the restaurants, meet with onsite colleagues, and gain meaningful insights, and when these colleagues return from their trips, they share insights via the company intranet so we can all learn from them as well.
Providing customers with personal anecdotes and recommendations enhances the planning process and humanizes our team: the customer gets the sense that the agent they are talking to really understands the experience and isn’t reading from a script. Being able to say to a customer, “This hotel has a great rooftop bar with an amazing pineapple drink” is almost certain to create a deeper personal connection than nearly anything else.
Solomon: How do you measure success in the contact center?
White: This is another change we made. We now focus on what I would call “qualitative metrics.” The team is no longer focused on specific figures and instead measured on behaviors that drive performance. We are now asking, “are we doing it the right way?” or “are we creating the right experience?” vs. “did we hit a specific target percentage or metric?” Service and care are more important than sales numbers. If we focus on the right behaviors, the results will follow.
Micah Solomon is a customer service consultant, customer experience turnaround expert, keynote speaker, trainer, and author; feel free to email Micah directly, visit his website, or download three free chapters of his new book: Ignore Your Customers (and They’ll Go Away): The Simple Playbook for Delivering the Ultimate Customer Service Experience, recently published by HarperCollins Leadership.