An employee-centric culture transforms contact center into world-class customer care operation.
Trust is the most critical factor when it comes to choosing an online backup service. Customers rely on the provider’s solutions to protect their digital lives, so their expectations are understandably high for performance, reliability and security. But the key to customer confidence lies with the human factor. Each interaction with the company’s customer-facing staff can help to bolster or undermine its credibility.
At Carbonite, it is a responsibility that is not taken lightly. The company is well-known for its reliable, secure and easy-to-use backup software for individuals and small businesses. In the past few years, though, its contact center has taken center stage for enhancements that have transformed the business into a world-class customer care organization. The customer care operation was recently recognized by the American Business Awards with 11 Stevie Awards in various customer service and contact center categories, and a 2016 People’s Choice Stevie Award for Favorite Customer Service, Computer Software (100-plus employees).
Carbonite’s remarkable transformation began less than three years ago when VP of Customer Care Robert Frost joined the company. Frost, winner of the 2016 Gold Stevie Award for Contact Center Leader of the Year, was immediately excited by opportunities for driving improvements in the business. “We had a great team, but the results weren’t showing what they were capable of,” he recalls. Led by Frost, the team embarked upon a continuous improvement journey that focused on multiple phases: boosting customer satisfaction ratings from good to great; delivering a better experience to employees and customers; converting the customer care operation from a cost center into a revenue generator; and driving a more efficient support model.
An Employee-First Culture Supports Change
At the foundation of successful change lies a strong employee-centric culture. Frost, who began his career as an agent, has firsthand knowledge of what it takes to motivate and engage employees in a contact center environment. “Our No. 1 goal is customer satisfaction, and the most impactful way to reach that is through satisfied employees,” he says. “We want to create an incredible place to work for our employees, but at the same time, we hold them accountable for delivering elite results. The combination of those two things—accountability and reward—is the core of our culture.”
The contact center’s first step toward a highly engaged, performance-driven culture was to revamp the hiring process to attract and select candidates who were a good fit for the environment and who had the best potential for success. For Carbonite, the ideal frontline agent is someone who performs well in a team environment, displays intellectual curiosity about technology, is passionate about helping people, is patient and, above all, demonstrates integrity. Frost believes that being located in central Maine provides the contact center with a great advantage for finding those qualities. “The people here, just by their nature, are incredibly kind, thoughtful and patient,” he says. “They’re vested in helping our customers to be successful.”
Employee-friendly policies and practices also were put into place. For instance, the quality monitoring program was redesigned to focus on opportunities for learning and improvement, rather than getting dinged for errors. Training, likewise, was upgraded and expanded to provide agents with ongoing skills enhancement and advanced technical training in their profession (see the section on “World-Class Training”).
Frost believes that management should continually demonstrate to employees the value that they bring to the organization. In addition to frequent celebratory events to acknowledge and thank staff for their hard work, the center has several formal recognition and award programs focused on customer-centric performance.
“It’s the people who take the phone calls and answer chats and email that ultimately determine our success,” he says. “It’s critical that our staff enjoy working here and that they feel that they contribute to the mission. Focusing on that has helped us to yield the majority of our results.”
Customer-Centric Continuous Improvement
The impact of the initial employee-centric culture change was immediate. Customer satisfaction ratings jumped from 78% to 94% in just a few months. “Every operational and service delivery employee contributed to that,” Frost says. While proud of his team’s accomplishment, with 6% of the customer base still not fully satisfied, he felt that there was more work to be done.
Enter the Carbonite Service Recovery Unit (CSRU). Frost’s concept was to create a team of top-performing agents that would act as the customer’s advocate. The team examines every negative customer satisfaction rating—they analyze the case, listen to the call recording and review the survey feedback. They determine what went wrong and then they reach out to the customer to try to resolve the issue. “We try to reach every customer,” he says “While not everybody responds, the vast majority do—and of those customers, more than 80% are significantly more satisfied than when they left the original feedback.”
The CSRU’s efforts are the first step in a continuous improvement process. Everything that is learned from the experience—opportunities to improve products, policies, processes or training—is then reviewed, planned and executed.
“We continually evolve our policies and processes, and update our technology, training and knowledge base based on feedback from those customers—both from the survey and when we re-engage them,” Frost says. “We have essentially stamped out dissatisfaction with Carbonite’s technical support.”
Transforming a Cost Center into a Revenue Generator
One of Frost’s favorite accomplishments has been the successful implementation of an upsell/cross-sell program that transformed the contact center into a “revenue-generating machine.”
“It wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight,” he says. “We coached our existing staff to look for ways to help our customers to be more successful.” Importantly, agents are not responsible for selling, he adds. They don’t attempt to overcome objections or “hard sell” the customer. Instead, they are taught to identify opportunities within the call to provide value for the customer, such as another computer the customer owns that is not being protected, or an external hard drive that is not connected.
“Simply by focusing on the value of the opportunity for the customer, not only did we have an incredible year in sales, but the satisfaction level of the customers who were upsold has been higher than our general population.” Retention for those customers is higher, too. “They stay longer because they’ve now got solutions that truly meet their needs,” he points out.
Initially, Frost says that some frontline agents were not comfortable with the idea of selling to customers, but he adds that it wasn’t a difficult hurdle to overcome once management ran the numbers for the staff. “We showed them the survey results on the cases that were upsold,” he says. “Month over month, customer satisfaction was higher on those calls compared to the general population. That was all the proof that they needed. Now we’re seeing higher renewal rates for those customers, the average order value has increased over a year, and the customers continue to be happier than they were before.”
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.
A unique learning resource is the company’s onsite technical lab, which houses older Macs, PCs and laptops that are common in customers’ homes and businesses, as well as servers and other types of hardware. “The theory that is taught in the classroom is just part of the learning process,” explains Frost. “The onsite lab allows agents to have hands-on experience with the hardware and systems that their customers are using, and it gives them additional insight into what their customers are experiencing.”
Although not required, the company supports 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.
Full Support System in Place for New Agents
The goal for Carbonite’s customer care management and training teams is to make sure that every agent is successful from their first day. New-hires’ progress is monitored and reviewed on a weekly basis. “If they’re not keeping up, we will interrupt the flow of the training and make sure that they have additional resources,” Frost says.
Training support for new agents extends beyond the classroom. Every new-hire is assigned a mentor—a top-performing senior agent who sits with the new-hire to review training checklists and share best practices. The new-hire will shadow his mentor until he feels comfortable handling calls on his own—and both must agree that the new-hire is ready.
Once on the phones, agents are never without quick access to support. A team of floor-walkers armed with tablets, called the CarboKnights, is always on hand to answer questions and provide guidance. The nine-member team spends 70% of its time walking the floor and 30% on the phones to keep their skills sharp, Frost says.
Each agent has a green flag that they can raise if they have a question or need help with an issue, and within 20 to 30 seconds, a CarboKnight will be standing by their side ready to help. After answering the agent’s question and making sure that he or she feels comfortable moving ahead with the interaction, the question is documented using a simple taxonomy management tool created in-house.
Questions asked by new-hires or existing staff are then tracked and reviewed by the training team. The content is used to update new-hire training, and/or to send out refresher training videos to the entire staff, says Frost. The team uses Brainshark (a web-based application that allows users to make quick video presentations) to create a self-paced training session with a quiz at the end. “It allows us to punch out trainings and schedule them in rapid succession without having to take people off the phones in large classes, which puts our service levels at risk,” he notes.
The process doesn’t end there. The contact center’s management, recruiting and training teams meet monthly to review any new-hires who didn’t make it through the training process, or who may have realized that the job wasn’t a good fit for them.
“We go over all of the symptoms—the notes from the interviews, test results, engagement during training, the mentor’s notes and the floor-walking questions—so that we can analyze how we could have prevented making that bad hire. We try to improve in every area possible using every piece of data that we collect. It’s a full 360-degree process.”
Adaptability and Dedication Spell Success
Carbonite’s customer care center staff is not merely engaged, but agile and ready to respond to change. It’s a critical factor in the operation’s continuous improvement effectiveness.
“We are constantly improving,” Frost says. “Our team’s adaptability has allowed us to be successful, but I believe that, in every key function in our business, we’re performing at an elite level because of the dedication of our staff and their ability to learn and grow in their roles.”
Frost attributes a large part of that to the company’s promote-from-within model. Almost every senior manager at Carbonite began as a frontline agent. “We hire for one role: frontline agent,” he stresses. “Our staff knows that if they work hard, they will have the opportunity to increase their responsibilities and compensation, and advance their careers. Our commitment to that has been unwavering.
“We have the best customer care team that I’ve ever come across,” he adds. “We have worked tirelessly to make support a vaue-add in the business. As a leader, I’m able to give guidance and then stand back and watch actions being executed with a world-class approach—it’s an incredible ballet in contact center management. I’m very proud of them.”