It has often been said that the most effective leaders are lifelong learners. They are driven to continually develop their skills and abilities, and stretch to attain ever higher personal and professional goals. Add to that a passion for putting people first and you have a few of the fundamental traits that distinguish Cassidy Klundt from more conventional leaders.
Klundt is the director of Sitel’s flagship Customer Experience Center in Las Vegas, and winner of the 2015 Best Contact Center Executive/Director Award from Contact Center World. He also was named the 2015 Top Ranking Performer in the Americas by a peer-based panel of contact center industry professionals. The panel was impressed by Klundt’s ability to deliver a high ROI from contact center performance initiatives, while driving year-over-year double-digit improvements in customer satisfaction and reducing agent attrition.
Growing with the Company
While Klundt’s efforts at Sitel have contributed to the company’s growth, it has been a mutually beneficial journey. He attributes his career growth and accomplishments to the opportunities provided by his team, mentors and leaders at the company.
Twelve years ago, Klundt was working as a frontline agent in a technical support contact center while studying marketing and operations management at the University of New Mexico. Although he was preparing himself for a business career, he never envisioned himself as a site director of a large contact center operation, he says.
After graduating, he accepted a position at a ClientLogic (now Sitel) call center in Albuquerque “as a halfway job,” Klundt says, but he immediately felt energized and inspired by the environment. “I loved the very visible career pathing that was in front of me,” he recalls. “I watched some incredible leaders who demonstrated a passion for helping people to grow and develop. That got into my blood very quickly. Even as I was learning how to perform at a high level as an agent, I found that I could share my best practices with other people and help them to boost their confidence.”
Klundt discovered that he had a knack for coaching and teaching others to be successful—a talent that did not go unnoticed by the center’s leadership. He quickly rose through the ranks while continuing to learn and expand his leadership skills with the help of his team and mentors within the company.
Sitel’s people-first culture aligned perfectly with Klundt’s zeal for supporting and developing his team. “We always put people at the forefront,” he says. “That priority has not changed since my first day on the job, and I’ve always taken that approach to every position that I’ve held.”
After initially starting in the Albuquerque, N.M., office, Klundt was soon offered the role of Site Director at Sitel’s Oakridge, Tenn., operation. During his time there, Klundt led the expansion of the business, growing the budget and headcount by 200 FTEs. Shortly thereafter, he was offered the opportunity to oversee the Las Vegas operation, which consists of two facilities with more than 1,000 agents. “Las Vegas is a fast-paced market,” Klundt says. “The area has a large population that is stabilizing. Unemployment is dropping and there has been a record number of visitors in the last two years. Those are just a few of the things that bring economic growth to the area. Our Las Vegas site is one of the strongest in North America in terms of its applicant pool. I feel very fortunate for that.”
Klundt’s customer care philosophy is one that has not wavered throughout the years—whether on the front line handling calls or overseeing a large operation. It is simply this: “Every single customer is the most important customer of your day, and every single call is the most important call of your day.”
“That is the philosophy that I try to demonstrate for every one of our frontline reps, our frontline supervisors and our managers—there is no more important call than the one you’re on,” he says.
As an outsourced customer care provider, Klundt is not only focused on the end customer’s experience, but also ensuring that the center is aligned with each client’s mission. “It starts with understanding the core KPIs that our clients want us to achieve,” he explains. “Once we establish what it’s going to take to meet those, we work to exceed them. Then we dive into the business trends to see what type of analytics we can provide to help our clients grow their business. We have a lot of firsthand knowledge of how their products and services are received and what the challenges are. It’s our responsibility to communicate back to our clients what’s happening, what we think could be done better, or what could be added as an extension of their services.”
Creating an Engaging Work Environment
Overseeing a large operation is not without its challenges. Striving to maintain a high level of engagement across functions is the most critical task that Klundt focuses on daily.
“It’s all about creating a great place to work,” he says. “What that looks like to me is having our supervisors out on the floor, highly visible, engaging with their reps, giving feedback, recognizing them for their performance and talking about opportunities. And ensuring that every single employee at our site knows exactly where they stand on performance, feels like they have a relationship with their immediate manager, knows exactly what their career path looks like and what opportunities are in front of them.”
While creating engagement around growth and development, recognition and personal relationships is a challenge for leadership in any company, Klundt feels that it is also the biggest opportunity. Part of what makes the Las Vegas site’s environment so engaging is the attention paid by Klundt and his management team to improving the agent experience. He sees it as a two-pronged approach that involves caring for agents’ basic needs and putting the right people in the right positions.
Caring for Agents’ Basic Needs
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs established that basic needs must first be satisfied before higher goals can be pursued and achieved. Klundt believes that creating a family-like feel in the work environment helps to build strong relationships between the frontline and management. That allows the leadership team to better understand what’s going on in the associates’ lives and plan policies accordingly. For instance, is there a need for more flexible schedules or paid time off opportunities? What types of incentives are in place and how well are they being communicated? Do frontline associates feel like they’re being recognized and like they’re making a difference? “Communication plays a key role in ensuring that we’re taking care of those needs from an administrative perspective,” he says.
Constant communication is another component of a workplace in which employees feel understood, supported and a sense of belonging, he adds. Klundt has found that when employees feel valued, they then become motivated to give back to the community. Last year, the site raised $25,000 for United Way—an effort that acted as a catalyst for additional community involvement projects.
Putting the Right People in the Right Positions
How can you create a family-like work environment feel and personal relationships in a large operation? “One of the most important things you can do as a leader is to make sure that the right people are in the right roles,” says Klundt. “One of the key positions within the organization is the frontline manager. They’re managing 15 to 18 associates at any given time. It’s their responsibility to make sure that the right communication goes out, the recognition occurs and the development opportunities are timely.”
As the site leader, being visible, involved and interested in what the associates are facing on a day-to-day basis is essential, Klundt adds. “My role is helping my team to grow and develop, and removing obstacles so they can be successful.”
Know Your Strengths
What is Klundt’s advice on how to be an effective leader? “It’s important to demonstrate a strong sense of responsibility and a high level of integrity for exceeding expectations,” he says. “We need to push beyond the boundaries with every single KPI, initiative and action plan. If you sincerely portray that to your people day in and day out, it builds trust.”
Periodically taking stock of your strengths and your opportunities is key to ongoing personal growth, Klundt continues. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my teams’ experience or the opportunities that all of my former mentors provided. All of these folks have had incredible strengths, which I steal shamelessly,” he says, adding that: “Stealing best practices and making them your own by adding your own flavor is an important part of what we do. All of my teams, my ops managers and mentors have taught me a lot. I can’t thank them enough.”