Award-winning center’s secret sauce: Professional development, caring culture and “Customers for Life” core value.
In the B2B world, where businesses tend to compete on price, DAT Solutions stands out as a shining example of a service-oriented company that prides itself on delivering value to customers. “Customers for Life” has been a core value at DAT more than 20 years. More than just words—it is the foundation upon which the company’s processes, practices, goals and culture are built. It’s also a key contributor to the company’s success: Very few B2B companies can claim to have not lost a single one of their top 100 customers in the past decade for any reason other than consolidation or financial difficulties.
DAT operates the largest truckload freight marketplace in North America. With approximately 50 agents, DAT’s customer support center may be considered small in terms of staff size, but it is a giant when it comes to customer and employee devotion. The center recently was recognized by the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) with a 2017 Global Contact Center Award for Best Small Contact Center—it’s an honor that the operation has earned twice before, in 2010 and 2007.
Extensive Training to Deliver Proactive, Knowledgeable Service
DAT’s contact center provides phone, email and live chat support to carriers, owner-operators, freight brokers, third-party logistics companies and shippers.
“We strive to build and sustain long-term relationships with our customers,” says DAT Solutions Director of Customer Service Laura Mendoza. “We do that by getting to know who they are and a little bit about their business, and delivering a professional service approach to customer support.”
The focus on customer retention means that customer support agents are not pressured to rush customers off the phones—rather they are encouraged to take the initiative to uncover any unspoken or potential challenges that customers may have and resolve them on the same contact. Although handle time is tracked, it is used primarily as a gauge to ensure that agents have the knowledge, tools and technology to respond efficiently and provide an excellent experience for the customer.
To confidently deliver proactive service, agents need to have an in-depth understanding of DAT’s offerings, as well as how those products and services relate to customers’ businesses—which run the gamut from large international organizations to small-business owners with one or more trucks. Needless to say, DAT provides its agents with extensive learning and development opportunities. In addition to training in traditional customer service-related areas, such as DAT’s products and services, and how to use internal systems, agents have the opportunity to learn professional skills to support their long-term career success (e.g., leadership, communication, project management, public speaking). They also can build out their industry knowledge by attending transportation industry trade shows, call center conferences and the company’s user conferences. Additionally, agents regularly get a chance to go along on customer site visits to see how customers use DAT’s solutions in their business and participate in onsite training. It also provides them with an opportunity to interact with brokers and carriers to learn about their businesses.
“We marry product training with customer experience and industry knowledge so that agents know how the changes we’re making to our products and services apply to our customers and their businesses,” Mendoza explains.
Developing and Retaining SMEs
At DAT, Customers for Life applies as much to internal customers as external. During the recruiting and hiring process, Mendoza and her management team focus on each candidate’s long-term potential. “We look for agents who are career-minded, customer-focused and dedicated,” she says. “We can train the technical skills and we can train agents to navigate our products and services, but we can’t train someone to have a service-oriented attitude and passion for helping customers. That is the core of what we do.”
The center’s continuous learning environment helps agents develop into subject-matter experts across a variety of areas. Mendoza and her management team try to ensure that frontline agents understand that the position is not a dead-end job but a role with considerable growth potential. “We look for opportunities to take agents off the phones to work on special projects, such as product development activities, training other agents or developing knowledge-based articles,” she says. “Taking part in these types of activities helps agents to understand that they’re an important part of the company’s success.”
Customer support leaders understand the importance of being role models for professional development. For instance, taking ownership is another one of DAT’s core values—and it’s one that Mendoza takes to heart. “I try to drive that value with my agents,” she says. “Instead of bringing me a problem, I ask them to bring me the solutions—or at least an idea of the solution. Then I involve them in the implementation of that solution. So anything that lands on their desk becomes a chance for them to take ownership of an opportunity for improvement, and we will support them through that process.”
In addition to expanding their skill sets within the center, agents can set their sights on a leadership role or they can move into other areas within the company. “We like to hire from the ground up and promote from within,” says Mendoza. “There are different levels within the support organization that agents can move into, and there are places to go outside of the organization. When they come into the center, we teach them about the business and the various positions. We work with them to create personalized development plans. We try to align their skills with the competencies of the different positions, and then we develop a plan and help move them into the positions over time.” Customer support agents have also moved into areas like QA, the network operating center and engineering, to name a few.
Contact Center Is Viewed as Valued Source of Feedback
The customer support center’s role as the key customer listening post is valued throughout the organization.
In fact, rather than rely solely on feedback from surveys, product development depends on the contact center to take an active role during the design and development process.
“That is one of the things that makes us unique,” Mendoza says. “We have a seat at the table during product development activities. We’re able to deliver the voice of the customer and provide specifics on how many times a feature or service has been requested. It also allows us to become subject-matter experts on those features and that upcoming product so that we’re more than ready when we release.”
A Companywide Culture of Caring
Mendoza describes DAT Solutions’ culture as a fun, family-like environment.
Eileen Hart, DAT’s VP Marketing & Corporate Communications, agrees. “The overall feeling here is that we’re all in this together and we all take care of each other,” she says. “It’s not an uncommon thing to walk through the center and not just see agents helping customers, but agents helping other agents. The camaraderie is wonderful.”
The support center recently moved into a new facility with an open floor plan that allows leaders and senior agents to sit among their teams. “It gives agents easy access to the resources they need when on the phone, and also encourages collaboration,” Mendoza notes. Importantly, all customer-facing teams—customer support, billing, sales—are now in close proximity to each other, as well.
The company’s fun, supportive culture extends beyond the contact center, making it easy for agents to network and build personal relationships with colleagues across departments. For instance, each month one department sponsors a themed social event for the entire company. Called Thursday Socials, staff gets together in the break room to socialize, share food and drink and interact with each other on a personal level. It’s also the source of a healthy competition among departments. “There’s a bit of pride associated with how creative and fun your social is,” Mendoza says.
Twice a month, DAT brings in food trucks and provides staff with complimentary lunches. In addition, the company hosts frequent activities, such as team events, holiday parties, charity events and Customer Service Week, to not only support the family-oriented environment but to ensure that employees feel appreciated.
Some might think that a multiple award-winning center would have little room for improvement. But as Mendoza points out, DAT’s customer-centric focus combined with highly engaged, knowledgeable staff and a supportive culture have contributed to continuous increases in customer and employee satisfaction and retention rates. It’s an accomplishment that Mendoza is proud of and attributes to the company’s focus on goals “that help to substantiate the overall vision,” she notes. “Customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction and employee retention—those are the things that, if we do them well, result in customers for life.”