For the sixth straight year, Freeman, a worldwide events and expositions company, won a J.D. Power award for excellence in contact center customer service. The J.D. Power Certified Contact Center Program distinction acknowledges a strong commitment by Freeman's customer support center to providing an outstanding customer service experience.
Freeman's contact center is located at its company headquarters in Grand Prairie, Texas. It operates with a staff of 20 agents, who can handle up to 10,000 phone calls, 4,000 email interactions, and 2,500 chat sessions a month.
To achieve the J.D. Power certification, Freeman's contact center passed a detailed audit of more than 100 processes, including recruiting, training, employee incentives, management, and quality assurance. As part of its evaluation, J.D. Power conducted a random survey of Freeman customers who had recently contacted its call center. For certification status, the call center had to perform within the top 20 percent across a number of criteria, including agent courtesy, knowledge, and concern for the customer; promptness in speaking to a person; and timely resolution of the problem or request.
The key to a successful contact center—especially one this small—is having the right company culture and then hiring the right people, ones who can be sensitive to the needs of others, according to Brenda McCord, vice president of customer support at Freeman. McCord, who has been at Freeman for 22 years, recently spoke with CRM's Senior News Editor Leonard Klie about her background, Freeman's contact center, the J.D. Power certification, and what characterizes outstanding customer service.
CRM: Can you talk about your background and how you came to your current position at Freeman?
Brenda McCord: I started with Freeman in customer service. It is something that I've worked at for 22 years. I've
been vice president of customer support since August 2010. Prior to that I was director of our customer service department for seven years, director of exhibitor services, and director of training for almost seven years, in charge of customer service training along with some basic process training.
When we went to online ordering, the management at Freeman came to me and asked if I would manage the call center. That was in September 2003. The call center went live in January 2004.
Tell us about Freeman and its customer service needs and goals.
Customer support handles support for all of our branches and all of our events, so we can get inquiries related to 900 or 1,000 events per month.
Can you give us some of the operational details of the contact center (number of agents, call volume, interaction channels, and hours of operation)?
We are a small- to medium-size contact center operating in the business-to-business space. We operate with 20 full-time and part-time customer support reps that are answering calls, email, and chats. We are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We average about 100,000 calls a year, about 30,000 emails a year, and about 20,000 chats a year.
When it comes to customer service, what do you believe in most strongly? What inspired these beliefs? How does this belief shape your actions and your colleagues’ actions?
At Freeman, we have a service vision. It's about providing an outstanding—or what we refer to as an "uncompromising"—service experience for exhibitors at our shows. We want to make sure that we are providing service based on what the customer wants to happen and being empathetic to the customers' needs. That holds true in our call center, but it filters down to the branches that are actually producing the events. We want to make sure that whatever touch point you have with Freeman, whether it's placing an order or being at a show, that you have the same consistent experience.
Providing that uncompromising level of customer service comes from the ability to create an experience built around what the customer wants to happen instead of around what we want to happen. It's listening to the customer, listening to the feedback of the customer, and being empathetic to them. You can do that by creating a human touch in response to their requests and their needs.
What types of issues do the agents typically handle? What are the types of issues that prompt customers to reach out to the contact center?
Our callers are the customers and exhibitors that are attending our events. They are looking for information regarding an event. They have questions about how to log in, how to order online, or they're looking at Freeman products and services and want specific information about them.
What do you think sets Freeman's customer service operations above those of its peers?
It's our people. Our people make the difference. It's also the Freeman customer service culture. We have a great customer service culture. Freeman values empathy, integrity, innovation, enthusiasm, and performance excellence, and our people come in every day meeting those values. They believe deeply in those company values.