Here’s One of the Best Ways to Make Your Customers Happy
“I stand in front of you/ I’ll take the force of the blow/ Protection” —Massive Attack (“Protection”)
Due to large employee turnover rates, very large customer service outsourcers cycle through a lot of agents in a year. One of these outsourcers told me that it sorts through nearly a million resumes and applications per year, year in and year out. Outsourcers need to be imaginative to attract enough talent to continually fill the ranks; they need to be even more creative to develop and retain the people they do hire. Looking at the diverse innovative ways the savviest outsourcers handle their talent issues could provide lessons for all companies that have customer-facing staff.
Yeah, yeah, I know—I am talking about the companies that force you to attempt to communicate with someone with an impenetrable accent who refuses to deviate from the “did you try rebooting it” script. True (well, sometimes true). And yet, the outsourcers have a lot to teach us about what makes customer service teams tick. By the end of this column, I hope to have you reevaluating your preconceptions about outsourcers.
Decisive diversity: To hire as many workers as they do, outsourcers need to constantly tap into under-represented labor pools. Women make up more than half the agent population in most large contact centers. Older folks are also welcome—possibly a great job for retirees looking for a social outlet and some added income. Accommodations for disabilities is the norm. Work-from-home programs attract military spouses, those unable to commute to a job, and stay-at-home parents. This open-arms approach not only ups the number of potential candidates, but it also increases the variety of communication styles the company has to offer consumers.
EX excellence: On its website, outsourcer Teleperformance describes its reason for a focus on employee experience (EX) this way: “Happy Employees = Happy Customers = Happy Clients. Our business’s success depends on this chain of satisfaction.” Outsourcers may not always succeed at making their employees happy (see the large amount of employee turnover I started the column with). They, however, must constantly strive to do better here because, as Teleperformance points out, the entire success of their business is reliant on employees making customers happy. That is hard to do when the employees themselves are miserable.
Robustness and responsibility: All the large outsourcers intensely concentrate efforts on the wellness of their employees, as well as their employees’ sense of wellness of their communities. From exercise facilities to gamified fitness competitions to classes that teach ergonomic work styles, agents are inundated with opportunities to improve their health. And through employee-directed corporate social responsibility programs, those employees can get involved with the well-being of their communities. Outsourcer Alorica, for example, has a program that’s seen employees direct more than $5 million in donations to community organizations worldwide.
I realize I have been overgeneralizing here. Some of the major outsourcers only pay lip service to these values, and their programs around them are perfunctory. But even that lackadaisical approach proves that these are issues that all companies would do well to focus on to drive better customer service experiences. Customer-facing staff, whether in contact centers, retail banks, airports, or retail outlets, have an increasingly tough job. They need to act as the face of the company to the customers and represent the voice of the customers to the company. While customers often grouse about outsourcers, their approach to their workforce bears studying.
Ian Jacobs is a principal analyst at Forrester Research.