A Week of Strong Customer Service

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Customer care representatives have it tough—so it’s no surprise to discover that companies are having a harder time holding onto them. In 2007, the attrition rate for contact center agents was 27 percent, a 93 percent increase from the rate in 1997, according to Dimension Data.

With this in mind, Margaret DeWitt, program coordinator at the Customer Service Group (CSG), a Boonton, N.J.–based organization serving contact centers, believes it’s critical to devote time to appreciate those on the front lines. “[Firms are now] realizing the importance...of rewarding their people,” she declares. “And what better way [is there] than with a weeklong celebration?”

That celebration—the first full week of October—has a name: Customer Service Week, sponsored by the CSG, and federally recognized since 1992. And DeWitt says an increase in buy-in from upper-level management has led to vastly larger budgets for CS Week–related events.

“We still have [some] people doing very simple things, but we also hear from customers celebrating every day of the week with fun and exciting events,” DeWitt says. “Representatives are going to remember [these] all year long during the stressful times.”

Another benefit is empowerment. The Alpharetta, Ga., division of LeasePlan USA, a provider of vehicle leasing and fleet management services, doesn’t offer a product, says Ann Jordan, the company’s director of learning and development. “The only thing we produce is customer service,” she says, adding that when she arrived three years ago, she saw a real-world demonstration of CS Week being completely misapplied: Thank-you notes were being written to LeasePlan’s end customers. “We were celebrating the wrong thing: our clients instead of people who provide the service,” she recalls.

Confusion was high and morale was low. Employees didn’t even want to serve on the Customer Service Action Team, created to coordinate CS Week events. “When I first inherited the committee, there were 18 people on it,” Jordan recalls. “I called the first meeting and only one person showed up.” Drawing on her experience coordinating CS Week at her previous employer, she established a central theme and set up role reversals like “Walk a Mile”—the chief executive officer delivers mail for the entire week—and other activities to rally the troops.

Since refocusing on the actual employees, Jordan says she has seen a new culture emerge. Staffers now look forward to the event and are clamoring to be on her committee. “I have a waiting list for those wanting to get onto the board,” she says, adding that being a part of this committee is now a form of empowerment for employees with no regular leadership opportunities. “This helps those who want to make careers of LeasePlan but don’t know how to get their name out there,” she says. “One way is involvement in an action team like mine. The company sees them in avery different light.”

This empowerment has led to a jump in the employee-satisfaction rate from 64 percent in 2005 to 72 percent by 2007. The improvement, Jordan insists, “is pretty remarkable for a customer service organization.” And what the American arm of the company has done is making an impact with LeasePlan offices worldwide. The real reward, Jordan says, is watching her fellow employees work as a team. “It’s neat to see them come together.”

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