• January 1, 2016
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Freeman's Contact Center Continues Its Winning Ways

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The J.D. Power certification recognized Freeman for agent courtesy, knowledge, and concern for the customer. How do you instill these qualities in agents and make sure that they stay with the agent at all times?

I'm a real strong believer that hiring the right person for the job is the key. Hiring a rep that is sensitive to the needs of others is a must. Freeman also has a very strong service culture throughout the company. It starts from the top down.

We have 10 service standards that we highlight in everything that we do. They are: 1. Like clockwork. 2. Customer-driven. 3. No excuses. 4. Take it personally. 5. Tuned in. 6. Everything matters. 7. Committed to care. 8. Freeman pride. 9. Great people/great decisions. 10. Raise the bar. They set the expectations. They reflect our company goals. They're part of our company culture, and we reward and recognize employees for working toward them.

Another consideration for the distinction was promptness in speaking to an agent and timely resolution of customer issues. What are Freeman's averages in these two categories, and how do you maintain these service levels?

Our goal is for 80 percent of the calls to be answered within 20 seconds of the call coming in. We maintain an average service level of 95 percent for that each year. Our hold time is about a minute and a half. What's important to maintaining these service levels is for management to forecast the right number of people on the phones.

Our staff is trained to handle all inquiries. Our calls are not skills-based routed, and neither are the emails or chats. We build schedules where one individual could handle chats all day and another might handle phones all day, or someone might handle emails in the morning and phones in the afternoon. They could be handling any channel, answering any inquiry.

What other service levels/operational metrics does Freeman use to evaluate agents and contact center efficiency?

We look at abandon rates, average call handle times, the number of calls transferred, and first-call resolution. We also measure how many overflow calls we receive from the branch offices. We also have our own customer surveys for each call that comes in through the call center, and we have monthly customer satisfaction scores that we look at. Our agents are recognized and rewarded based on their voice-of-the-customer survey scores, their schedule adherence, and their busy/occupancy percentage.

Turnover is notoriously high in the contact center industry. How do you maintain customer service excellence in the face of constant churn?

Our customer support team experiences some turnover. A lot of that has to do with the fact that this is a starting position for a lot of people within Freeman. They come into Freeman through the contact center and the more they learn, they become more valuable to our sales teams, to other departments. In the past 20 months, we’ve had 20 people move from customer support to other positions within Freeman.

We maintain our service levels through our detailed training for both soft skills and hard skills. We realize that we will be bringing on new employees all the time, so we want to prepare them to be able to provide that uncompromising service.

That all starts with hiring the right people. Where do you go to recruit quality agents? What qualities do you look for when hiring new agents?

Our main resource for recruiting is college campuses. I participate in job fairs at college campuses near our offices. We also use the college employment boards to post our open positions. Colleges provide us with people who are intelligent, eager, have a work ethic, and, most important, are trainable. We’re definitely looking for candidates who are trainable.

We supplement what we get from colleges with staffing agencies that have been to our call centers and understand our specific needs and requirements.

In our testing, we look for people who are trainable and quick to learn. We also do personality profile testing. We ask a lot of behavioral questions in the interview process because we are looking for people who are sensitive to the needs of others, who are caring, who are nurturing. This is a must. This is a skill that can't really be taught.

What kind of training do you provide to new hires before putting them on the phones?

Agents go through six weeks of training before we put them on the phone. We've developed our own six-week, facilitator-based training course. The facilitator trains one-on-one. We have some videos that [new hires] watch on soft skills, on customer service, on the Freeman culture, and then we have some training on the hard skills with all of our applications. Then the trainee works with a mentor to observe. They also do exercises to practice the skills. The last two weeks of the training, the trainee answers emails and chat and their facilitators and mentors monitor them and coach them.

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