5 Ways HotelTonight, Caviar and Evernote Built a Culture of Agent Empowerment and Efficiency

This post is part of Talkdesk’s live-blogging series for Dreamforce 2017. To see all of Talkdesk’s Dreamforce 2017 highlights, visit our Dreamforce 2017 landing page.

Support agents represent the name and face of your business. When customers have an issue that may impact their loyalty, the experiences that truly matter aren’t with a logo, a brand logo or marketing slogan, it’s their interaction with your contact center agents. Empowering your agents to provide top-notch service requires a balance of enforcing high standards and giving agents the freedom to act independently. Every customer base is unique and requires a unique blend of problem solving skills and contact center tools.

Outstanding customer support is a competitive advantage for today’s innovative companies like HotelTonight, Caviar and Evernote. The teams satisfy customers to the point that they are revenue drivers instead of cost centers for their companies. Talkdesk brought together a panel of customer leaders at Dreamforce 2017 to learn how they built outstanding cultures of empowerment. Read on for the top highlights, tips and tricks from Kalpana Chandrasekhar, the VP of customer experience at HotelTonight, Chris Cheng, the head of customer success at Caviar and Gerald Hastie, the director of global customer experience at Evernote.

How do you find quality agents in the recruiting process?

Gerald: At Evernote, we identified nine categories that we’re looking for in an agent. Once we understand those qualities we want in a contact center agent, we create an interview rubric with individual owners for each category. Those team members evaluate candidates for the qualities and we make sure we’re getting the right people on our team.

Chris: When we’re interviewing potential candidates I immediately ask myself, “does this candidate possess the capability to think quickly and drive toward a solution?” We’re looking for two things: a fast response and one that is thorough and accurate. Ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do as an organization and every individual needs to posses those skills. I also look for a contact center agent with empathy, which is a skill that can be taught, but also comes naturally. Empathy is often your first tool to neutralize an upset customer. In an interview, I often ask a candidate to tell me about a time when empathy was a key driver in resolving a customer issue.

How can leaders measure the quality and quantity of team performance?

Kaplana: I’m very metrics-driven. I hold people to high standards to drive metrics, but I make sure not to push people so much that their agency disappears. What I’ve seen is that when you set clear metrics, people rise to the occasion and adjust to it. Happy teams empower people and those teams stay effective because there’s less attrition.

Gerald: I like to measure my agents on their performance by using scorecards. There are customer service and contact center metrics around productivity or qualities that we want. I don’t put efficiency on there regarding handle time. They do compete against each other and those who rise to the top get rewarded. I also give them special projects and they can help with other areas that we are working on. As we go through training for new agents, these top agents to the training for the new agents. We also reward agents by allowing them to write their own schedules that was a huge incentive for agents to be top performers.

Chris: Scorecards are generating some controversy in our office right now. The Effortless Experience is making it’s way around Caviar and people are questioning the benefits of using scorecards. If agents are optimizing for the scorecards, we worry that they’ll miss the bigger point. There’s an alternative school of thought that instead of a scorecard being the primary driver, you have a series of values that drive the behavior you want to see in those agents. If their behavior is being driven by those values, hitting metrics like QA and CSAT scores will follow. One of our values is to take ownership, so when a customer calls you, you need to be the contact center business owner to take this problem all the way across the finish line to solution.

Describe a time when a team member went above and beyond in their role. What stood out to you?

Chris: At Caviar, we have a pizzeria where we delivered a pizza to a diner. They found a wedding ring in a pizza. Our operational flow is that food from a restaurant goes to a diner, never the other way around. So we had to break the system to locate a courier to go to the house and get that wedding ring and then bring it back to the restaurant. It was a unique situation, but one that embodies how agile our couriers should be.

Gerald: We recently had an Evernote customer who lost all of their data on their platform. My business rep took the initiative and said he was going to solve the problem. It took us about two and a half months, but we got back more than 90% of their data. The customer was extremely happy. The agent was extremely persistent. For him, it was something that he was very happy to do. When you hire the right people for your contact center , they do this on their own. People who are happy and engaged like this are going to be good agents.

Kalpana: When I arrived, I had an agent who was in charge of metrics for HotelTonight. I started to give him more time and space for that and eventually we needed someone who could do scheduling across the organization. This agent grew from someone who created spreadsheets to a lead who taught the whole team to use PowerBI. Now my weekly meeting includes a dynamic vreiews of these metrics. I didn’t give this agent the directive to do that, but by giving him the time and space to do it and asking hard questions, he got there himself. Eventually you start to do things that your boss doesn’t know how to do, and that’s when you’re rewarded even more.

How do you build and support an inclusive team culture when agents are located remotely or in different offices?

Kalpana: One of the things I love about remote organizations is that you’re allowed to hire people in places where you wouldn’t typically be able to hire. What’s amazing about these locations is that these people don’t otherwise have these great opportunities. That creates a hunger and an innate appreciation for the role. The engagement of the CX team is highest of any team at HotelTonight because we sit as a premium employer in a lot of their locations.

Chris: I look for individuals who work effectively in an environment full of uncertainty. I can’t train an agent to do the same thing every time when they are remote, so I expect them to be able to work in an environment without a clear answer. If you rewind the tape ten years ago when Zappos first started you’ll see that ambiguity became a strength for our contact center organization. If you ask customers what their expectations are when they contact a support organization, they don’t say “I want to be surprised and delighted,” they just want to fix their problem. We need people who can complete a quick and efficient transaction on one call and immediately pivot to surprising and delighting a customer with a creative solution on the next.

What do you do when an agent isn’t meeting the performance criteria?

Kalpana: It’s important to ask why this is happening and find out if it is systematic. We like to turn things on their head and always check to see if we are responsible for the issue first. For instance, we look at the contact center management team and the system we’ve set up. I really believe in direct, ongoing feedback and we review metrics and performance weekly with people so they know where they stand. Our team leads are pushed the hardest by their own teams. When they’re not performing, those people need to create a plan for improvement with their team and it still doesn’t improve, we take steps to remove that person from the system. If you keep underperformers on for too long, it really does drag other people down and the rest of the team will appreciate action being taken.

Hopefully you can take the lessons from our experts back to your team and start improving your contact center today. Click the image below to learn more best practices for the contact center industry.