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Inside View: NCR Silver

Inside View: NCR Silver

Inside View: NCR Silver

Transforming a startup help desk into a high-performing customer care operation.

One of the advantages of a small startup business is the flexibility to quickly adapt and respond to your customers’ needs. On the other hand, larger, established organizations offer credibility within the marketplace and the ability to cultivate internal talent through broad career paths.

At NCR Silver, the customer care team has the best of both worlds. NCR Silver is a cloud-based point-of-sale (POS) software solution for small businesses that operates on the iPad and iPhone. Although it is backed by NCR Corporation, a heavyweight in global technology that was founded 131 years ago, NCR Silver functions as a separate entrepreneurial unit.

Shortly after its mobile POS platform was launched in 2012, NCR Silver began to experience the typical growing pains associated with a tech startup. Initially, much of its resources were focused on developing the product and bringing it to market. Post-launch, a small help desk was put in place, but call volume soon outpaced the capabilities of the existing phone system and staff to efficiently handle the workload.

“That is a pretty characteristic scenario when you have a startup, but at some point, customer support has to demonstrate its value for the business to really gain traction,” says Director of Support Douglas Jones. “As the help desk entered its second year, there was a lot of frustration being voiced by our customers, so we started to look for a change in our long-term vision for customer care.” Jones joined the unit in January 2014 to provide strategic direction and alignment with customer-centric goals.

Providing Easier Access Via Multiple Channels

Jones discovered early on that limited access to support reps was a top complaint among NCR Silver’s retail and restaurant clients. At that time, the 17-person help desk, based in Atlanta, was only available by phone between 8 a.m. to midnight, EST. The hours weren’t practical for small-business merchants on the West Coast, who often needed access to customer support in the morning or late at night. Jones immediately added email as a support channel, and by June, had expanded phone support into a 24/7 customer care operation.

Soon after, the team introduced live chat to its lineup (via Salesforce). Customers enthusiastically embraced the new communication channel. “Traditionally, in customer service, you’ll see between 7% and 14% as a high-water mark for chat volume,” Jones says. “We introduced it in November 2014, and we’re currently averaging 30% of our contacts through chat.”

Further discussions with customers have led the customer care team to explore additional mobile tools. Soon, it is launching live text support that will allow NCR Silver customers to text the customer care team directly to begin a chat session on their mobile phone.

“Our goal is not to push people to chat or text,” Jones points out. “We want to provide customers with the ability to contact us through whichever communication channel is best for them. We have a mix of customers, and everyone has their own preferred method. It’s an opportunity for us to add additional value to our support.”

Customers can also access the support team through Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, and Jones is currently looking into tools to integrate support with YouTube and Instagram.

Technology Upgrades Increase Efficiency

Expanding the customer care access points required efficient technology solutions capable of handing the needs of an ever-growing client base. The first priority: upgrading an antiquated phone system. “From a phone system perspective, we were in the Dark Ages in a lot of ways,” Jones recalls. “It was 2014 and we didn’t have Caller ID.”

Jones also foresaw another potential problem. There was no business continuity or disaster recovery plan to maintain the operation in the event of an extended service outage. Being a recent transplant from Dallas, his first question for his team was, “What happens here when it snows?” Almost as if predicted, three days later, the Atlanta area was hit by a snowstorm that brought transportation and businesses to a standstill. Jones provided hotel rooms for his team to keep them off the roads, and immediately set about overcoming the center’s dependence on its phone system.

“People have to be able to work remotely,” he says. “I don’t want people having to get on the roads in those types of situations. We needed a better way to communicate.”

Making the investment in a more robust phone system not only provided the ability to work remotely, he notes, it was the catalyst for several other improvements that the customer care operation soon implemented:

Call-back functionality, which saves the customer’s place in the queue and calls them back as soon as an agent is available.

Call recording allowed the agents’ performance to be monitored and evaluated. “If you’re not recording your calls, how do you know how your agents are performing?” Jones points out. “We record 100% of our calls—inbound and outbound—to enable us to coach.”

The upgraded phone system also provided call metrics, which delivered insights for more accurate forecasting and staffing.

The center also added a CRM solution to provide instant visibility into customer information and previous interactions, which helped support center staff to improve call-handling times and first-contact resolution.

While the phone system upgrade added much-needed capabilities, one automated tool was quickly eliminated: the IVR. “When you call our 800-number, you get a live person,” Jones says. “You don’t have to go through the process of pressing 1, pressing 2 or providing information that you have to repeat when you’re connected with a customer care agent.”

Elevating in the Human Element

Technology alone can’t drive customer-centric goals. “You only get there if you have the right people doing the right things and they feel confident about what they’re doing,” Jones says.

That didn’t happen automatically. Because the initial help desk lacked a service mission, Jones inherited a team that had been assembled without considering the specific behaviors and characteristics that would align with customer-centric objectives. “We had hired a lot of people based on no real DNA of what was needed,” he explains. “We needed to understand who the right type of people were for our support center, and the qualities we were looking for. We redesigned the hiring profile from an agent’s perspective, and that allowed us to change the interactions.”

A comprehensive training process also was put in place. Whereas, previously, on-the-job training provided new agents with the basics for supporting the product, they didn’t have the means to thoroughly interact with the software in order to troubleshoot it. “Teaching the agents, not only what the product can do, but offering continued education about it, has enabled them to solve problems faster,” Jones says.

A closer relationship with the product development and sales teams has also improved the information flow through the customer care center. Customer care is not an afterthought, but an active participant in product development and sales meetings, and each Friday, staff from the various functions gets together in an office-wide lunch.

With additional training and strong resources to support them, customer care agents are not only empowered to resolve customer issues, they are confident in their ability to do so. Thus, agents are not restricted to scripted processes, nor do they quote policies to customers. “I’m not a fan of that,” Jones says. “One of the first things we did was to get rid of the corporate double-speak. We don’t use phrases like, ‘That’s our policy.’ We look to see what we can do to help the customer.”

The customer care team follows four basic rules: Answer the phone; listen and write things down to fully understand what the customer wants; solve the problem; and be nice. “It sounds simplistic, but every job in our organization follows those rules whether we realize it or not,” Jones says. “I expressed that to the team, and it has evolved into a culture within our center. People are happy to come into work. They’re constantly thinking about different ways to solve issues. People see customer care as opportunity now—not as a job, but as a career stepping stone.”

In fact, career growth was a key area that Jones focused on when he took over the group—making sure that the staff understood the opportunities available to them and helping them to identify development plans. “In a traditional contact center, there is limited mobility from a career perspective,” Jones says. “Within NCR, we have the ability to move around among different organizations—and we can move within the group itself.

“Too many people look at customer service as a dead-end job. I look at it as the springboard to a company,” he adds. “I’m extremely proud of the fact that, in one year’s time, we moved our first person from support to development. That’s a huge win. When we start treating our customer service agents like professionals, they start acting like professionals. And when they start acting like professionals, they treat our customers like we want them to be treated.”

A Remarkable Year, But Just the Beginning

The efforts of the past year have brought about dramatic improvements in both efficiency and customer satisfaction for the NCR Silver customer care team. In January 2014, the team’s answer rate was 81%, with an average speed of answer of just over three minutes. By December 2014, call volume had increased by 233%. With the same number of staff, the team answered 98% of calls with an average speed of answer of 31 seconds.

“Today, we support twice as many customers as we did six months ago, and I have the exact same amount of staff,” Jones says. “We’re able to work in an efficient fashion and in a way that allows our customers to reach out to us in the form that they prefer. Our customers view it as a quality-add. That is conveyed by our NPS score, which, as we exited 2014, was +41”—up from -39 in February 2014.

In addition, customer escalations are down—in fact, they’re almost nonexistent. It’s a rare week if Jones receives one, compared to January 2014, when he dealt with as many as 10 to 15 a day. “I’m the Maytag repairman—that’s where I am today,” he jokes, adding that his time is now spent on the types of activities that contact center leaders aspire to do—coaching and developing his staff.

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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