In today’s customer experience era, the impact of a committed, people-focused culture is undeniable. Top customer-centric brands typically attribute much of their success to a strong mission that employees can rally around. Also critical is having a set of core values that are meaningful and which connect employees to the company, its customers and the work that they do.
In the contact center, agents look to their managers to model and communicate the company values through their actions and decisions. Where there is high employee engagement, you will typically find leaders whose personal values and beliefs are closely aligned with those of the company.
Origami Owl Care Team Manager Aryka Berry is a perfect example of a leader who embodies the mission and culture of the company. The custom jewelry company’s compelling mission is: “To be a force for good. To love and inspire and motivate people of all ages to reach their dreams and empower them to make a difference in the lives of others.” Berry’s ability to connect her personal beliefs and everyday actions to the company’s core values (see the sidebar) makes her particularly effective at making that connection for her staff, as well.
Not surprisingly, customer service has always been a central focus of Berry’s life. Despite pursuing a degree in criminal justice and becoming certified as an emergency medical technician (EMT), she has always returned to customer-facing work. “Being able to leave someone feeling better than when they first started a call with me or walked into the office is where I’ve always found the most joy,” she says.
Berry has an innate understanding of the impact that underlying emotions can have on a person’s ability to deliver excellent service. Even when she is the customer on the receiving end of a poor service experience, she will take the time to help individuals understand why they may be reacting negatively. Many times a service associate may make assumptions about a customer based on a misinterpretation of the customer’s intent, Berry says. It’s a very human reaction. “We often take things personally. It changes the way we think and feel, and the way we speak to the customer,” she explains. “But we need to be able to stop, put that aside and think about what the customer may have been going through in their life before they picked up the phone. That is customer service at its finest.”
Mentoring for Growth and Success
Berry came onboard at Origami Owl in 2015 as a frontline agent. Although she had intended to take some time off from work to start a family, she was drawn to the company because of its positive family oriented workplace. Berry’s sister was a supervisor in the center at the time and frequently raved about the culture.
She decided to give it a try—and it turned out to be a great fit. Berry was quickly promoted to team lead, supervisor and then to manager. She now reports directly to the senior VP.
Berry fully supports her team’s individual growth and career advancement. But more than that, “mentoring and developing others is my favorite thing to do,” she says. Berry recognizes that every individual has different goals and ambitions, and different preferences for the type of guidance and support that they want. Her approach, she says, is to dig deep into why the individual is at Origami Owl and what they want to do with their life in general.
If an employee is interested in growing with the company, it requires some planning and partnering with other departments to find a career path, but Berry says that the effort is well worth the payoff. “If you invest in someone’s future, they’re more reliable and more of a team player. They will perform above and beyond,” she says.
But not everyone is looking to build a career or to stay in the call center long-term. Berry says that’s OK, and she’s ready to help with that, too. She will offer guidance and even help individuals to prepare for job interviews. “I want to be there for them the entire way,” she says. “Then the time that they’re here, they will give me 150%, as well.”
Feedback doesn’t just flow from the top down—Berry welcomes input from her team about her own leadership skills and performance. “The most important thing you can do is accept positive and negative criticism of yourself,” she says. “It builds trust. Everyone has been in a place where you have feedback, but you’re afraid to give it. You’re afraid of losing your job, or you think that it’s not going to make a difference or no one will listen, so why bother? I’m not perfect. I know that, and I want to know when I’ve done something incorrectly, or if someone on my team didn’t agree with how I approached a situation. I can take that information, and I can change my behavior—and I do. My team sees that so they feel comfortable coming to me with anything.”
Putting Core Values into Practice
Origami Owl’s core values provide the foundation for the workplace culture, as well as everyday practices for both frontline associates and leaders. For instance, take the principle “to uplift others with wise words and thoughtful actions.” Each month, care team members send handwritten letters to customers—those whose stories have touched them in some way, or in whose lives they have made a difference. “We try to get out in the world and bring positivity,” Berry says.
Pursuing learning and growth opportunities is another value that is regularly applied across departments. In addition to mentoring and developing her staff, Berry paves the way for team members who want to transition into other areas of the company. She looks for opportunities to offer assistance to other departments, positioning the individuals who have expressed an interest to help with projects, expand their skills and gain internal experience in the area. In the past year, three Care Team members were promoted internally to other departments, Berry says. In addition to providing the care team with an internal career path, other departments benefit by gaining team members who bring valuable insights from daily direct contact with customers.
Berry also uses the core values as a guideline during hiring to identify the candidates whose morals and personal values align with the company’s. “The interview questions are all formulated around our core values,” she explains. For instance, “we ask about a candidate’s reliability because we’re a small team and that impacts our value to cultivate family spirit and team unity.”
Practical Pointer: The Care Team kicks off its weekly meetings on an upbeat note with an icebreaker to put everyone in a positive frame of mind. “We go around the team and everyone has to say something positive that’s going on in their lives or that just happened,” Berry says. “It can be as simple as, ‘I’m happy I woke up this morning,’ but you have to be able to think of something positive.”
Performance Is Not Just About Numbers
Historically, contact centers generally have not had the best reputation for a positive work environment. The nature of the job typically results in high stress and high turnover on the front lines. Berry attributes that to a narrow focus on achieving performance objectives that is prevalent throughout the industry. “Many call centers tend to focus on the numbers as they grow,” she says. “It becomes hard to personalize anything. You stop seeing the potlucks and other activities happening, people start calling out more, and the culture starts to die.”
To avoid those types of negative impacts as Origami Owl’s business flourished, Berry evaluated her staff—their experience and individual skill sets—along with business goals and asked herself, how can we continue to deliver an excellent customer experience with our existing team? She revised the handle time objectives so that care team members could focus less on how long they’ve been on the phone and more on connecting with customers and producing better outcomes. A tier system also was put in place to make performance goals more obtainable for newer agents. “It gives them an opportunity to feel successful while motivating them to work their way up to the level at which the seasoned agents are performing,” she says.
A program called “Make a Day for a Customer” empowers agents to provide product credits, offer promotions and waive shipping fees to turn around a negative outcome for a customer or “just to make someone’s day,” Berry says. “There could be nothing wrong. Maybe they just had a great conversation with somebody and they literally just wanted to make their customer’s day, so they can offer them a credit.”
Origami Owl’s customers are enthusiastic fans who share their comments and feedback on the brand’s Facebook page. Berry believes that each shout-out is an opportunity to recognize her team members. The customer’s comment is printed on a card and presented to the agent along with a small reward. She calls it, “Celebrating excellence. It happens often,” she adds. “That is just the type of impact our team members have on customers. We make connections on our calls.”
Think About the “Why”
When asked for her advice on how to be a successful leader, Berry’s response is to “think about the ‘why’—the reason that you’re there,” she stresses. “Remember that it is not only your life but it is also somebody else’s life, and we only get one. Our company’s core values mean a great deal to me. It’s something that every company should have—a living, breathing document of the rules you want to live by.
“If you don’t have a mission, you’re missing an important element that enables you to connect with your employees authentically,” she adds. “We all have choices in life, and if you’re not being transparent and genuine about the culture that a potential job candidate may be coming into, then you’ve taken away their ability to make a proper decision about what is best for them. I’m a firm believer in being as authentic as you possibly can and not being afraid that people will say, ‘This isn’t for me.’ That’s OK. It’s an opportunity to look again and find that individual whose values are in alignment.”