How to Build a Great Culture

How to Build a Great Culture

How to Build a Great Culture

7 culture lessons from contact center industry veterans.

Over the years, we’ve had the privilege of highlighting in Contact Center Pipeline many high-performing contact centers with exceptional levels of employee and customer engagement.

The one thing that all of these centers have had in common is the belief that culture is the driving force behind employee engagement, high performance and, ultimately, customer loyalty. These centers also were fortunate to be part of organizations that value people and culture as their most important assets. There existed a keen understanding that a great culture is the key to achieving business objectives. Or as Peter Drucker put it: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Given the growing visibility of the vital role that culture plays in business success, we decided to review some of the practices, insights and key takeaways shared by contact center industry veterans in the past year on how to create a great culture.

Show Your Commitment to Professional Development

Pacific Life’s Retirement Solutions Division’s (RSD) contact center leadership team used employee engagement survey feedback to reenergize the contact center’s career development initiatives, says Lorene Gordon, Pacific Life’s senior vice president of Operations & PMO, Retirement Solutions Division.

As part of its commitment to employee development and advancement, the contact center increased headcount to provide reps with adequate time to pursue personalized professional development plans. There are three main facets of the employee development program, Gordon explains. “Frequent meetings and meaningful conversations with supervisors; a career roadmap that details different career paths with the skill sets require to be successful; and an individual development plan, which outlines objectives necessary for a rep’s growth.”

Performance goals also were established for the management team to create accountability for putting career plans in place for each rep. Professional development aids were rolled out, including a monthly employee publication to highlight “opportunities, success stories and senior employee guidance on advancement,” and career development resources that reps could access via the intranet. Not surprisingly, the employee development program had a significant impact on contact center attrition. Within the first year, the attrition rate dropped dramatically and almost half of the remaining attrition was positive—reps who left for advancement opportunities within the company.

Gordon considers the growth in internal advancement as a key achievement of the initiative. “One of the things I am most proud of is how many of our reps get selected for significant advancement opportunities within Pacific Life,” she says. “What that really means is that there is no limit to where a frontline rep might go within the company. Given the complexity of our environment, our training path takes about one full year from an individual’s hire date. We typically will start talking about potential growth and development opportunities early in their second year with the organization.”

Importantly, the leadership team’s sincere dedication to staff development also generated higher levels of engagement and performance. “It’s simple,” says Gordon. “Employees who feel that their management team is committed to their long-term development are engaged employees. Engaged employees give discretionary effort that is critical to a world-class service organization like Pacific Life.”

Integrate Culture & Brand into Personal Experiences

A company and its leaders set the overall culture and tone, says Jeff Canter, senior VP of Services for inContact, where he leads Professional Services and Technical Support. Here is his recommendation:

“Create an environment where agents can integrate that culture into their own personalized experience, and make it fun for the entire contact center. Embrace company culture and help agents portray the brand to customers.

“For example, think about Apple and Trader Joe’s. Each company builds a culture and sets the tone to the market. Apple portrays a simple and elegant experience, and they expect their service team to do the same. Trader Joe’s aims to create a shopping experience that reflects a relaxed attitude and lifestyle, so they encourage store employees to wear Hawaiian shirts and strike up conversations with shoppers. Another example is athletic retailer New Balance. When you walk through their contact centers, walls of shoes on display surround you.

“Give your agents an easy way to access or use your products. Build the product or service into their personal experiences. Apple agents use Apple products; New Balance agents have access to and wear the shoes. Contact centers are very successful when they are part of the company and living the culture.”

Culture Is Driven from the Top

For HomeServe USA, having a customer- and employee-centric culture is the foundation for driving world-class service. “Culture is the heartbeat of the contact center. It’s the single, most important thing to drive,” says Senior VP of Contact Center Operations Robert Judson. “Our customer service philosophy and our cultural engagement go hand-in-hand to delivering the service.” (For more about HomeServe’s culture, see Judson’s article, “Create a Culture That Shows You Care,” in the July 2016 issue.)

Importantly, the company’s culture is driven from the top. Every member of the management team—from team leaders to directors—shares Judson’s views. In fact, when hiring for a call center management position, he spends a substantial portion of the interview discussing culture with every candidate. “They can have the best skills in the world, but if they don’t have an appreciation for how important culture is to managing a center and to engaging employees, then they’re not a good fit for HomeServe,” he says. “Everyone has to be on board—from the CEO to the frontline rep. Our CEO is willing to stand and deliver back-to-back presentations to groups of 15 employees at a time because he wants to have that type of personal engagement.”

Offer Training Opportunities

Carbonite’s commitment to its staff’s growth and development is a significant contributor to its high employee engagement. The company invests heavily in training initiatives to ensure that frontline agents are knowledgeable, skilled and successful in their careers.

Although not required, the company sup- ports frontline agents who wish to pursue professional certifications. Carbonite has put several trainers through the Microsoft Certified Trainer program so that they could provide frontline staff with certification classes onsite. The company also partnered with computer-based testing provider Pearson VUE to become an approved Microsoft testing center. “MS certifications are important to people who have taken a technical path in their career,” Frost points out. “Now our employees can test directly onsite at no cost to them.” Since rolling out the program, every agent who has participated has been certified. “We have a 100% pass rate,” he adds.

Demonstrate the Company’s Core Values on a Daily Basis

In many companies, customer focus is a philosophy that resides primarily within the contact center. At UPMC Health Plan, a culture of service excellence permeates the entire organization.

“The culture—from the top down and bottom up—is very service-oriented,” says Mary Beth Jenkins, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, UPMC Health Plan and UPMC WorkPartners. “There is a sense of ownership across departments. Everyone feels a sense of responsibility to customer service, and every function understands how what they do impacts the customer.”

At the foundation of UPMC Health Plan’s culture is a set of companywide values, known as PRIIDES Values, which stands for:

  • Partnership: We believe positive partnerships and teamwork improve results.
  • Respect: We treat others as they want to be treated. Integrity: We do what is right. Innovation: We create products and services for current and future success.
  • Development: We invest in our staff members’ continued growth and satisfaction.
  • Excellence: We strive for “Best-in-Class” practices and outcomes.
  • Service: We view exceptional service to all customers as a critical differentiator.

Jenkins points out that, while the organization lives by all of these values, Service is considered the leading value. Importantly, the contact center management team demonstrates the values on a daily basis through their actions and communication with their teams. Management by walking around is practiced daily by the center’s supervisors and managers. Senior leaders also build engagement through regular rounding in the contact center to meet with individual employees and get their input, while building trust and open communications. “As a leader, you have to be in touch and be visible,” Jenkins says. “We try to formally round and walk the floor to engage with the employees on a regular basis. It’s so important to connect with individual employees to ask, ‘What are we doing well,’ ‘What do we need to do more of,’ and even ‘What do we do that we don’t need to do anymore?’”

Put the Right People in the Right Positions

Overseeing a large contact center operation is not without its challenges. Striving to maintain a high level of engagement across functions is the most critical task that Cassidy Klundt faces every day. Klundt is the director of Sitel’s flagship Customer Experience Center in Las Vegas. “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.” How can you create a family-like environment 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.”

Listen to, and Act on, Employee Feedback

At Berlin Packaging, company leaders don’t simply listen to the employee feedback; they take immediate steps to identify opportunities for action. The company uses an approach similar to the Net Promoter methodology to collect feedback on employee engagement. To gauge the current level of engagement across the larger organization, Berlin surveys employees, asking: “How likely are you to recommend working at Berlin Packaging to a well-qualified acquaintance (to a friend or someone you know)?” To allow for a deeper dive into the reasons for the employee’s rating and to identify opportunities for action, the survey includes four additional questions:

  • What keeps you at Berlin Packaging?
  • Is there something important that Berlin Packaging should start doing?
  • Is there something important that Berlin Packaging should stop doing?
  • Is there something important that Berlin Packaging should continue doing with more gusto?

While it’s critical to measure employee engagement scores to track improvement, Senior Manager of Business Development and Strategy Paul Mansour points out that what’s more important than the score is the feedback that the employee provides, and making sure that you go back to employees with a specific action plan for improvement. “Tell employees what you’re doing, give them updates on your progress, and get their feedback,” he says. “It’s a mutual process for improvement. If you don’t follow-through on their feedback, the trust will be broken and you’ll run into trouble.”

Susan Hash

Susan Hash

Susan Hash served as Editorial Director of Contact Center Pipeline magazine and the Pipeline blog from 2009-2021. She is a veteran business journalist with over 30 years of specialized experience writing about customer care and contact centers.
Twitter: @susanhash

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