Awards Q&A: Sign-Zone Puts "Personal Contact" In Contact Center (Best-in-Class Finalist)

Jim Thomsen
Posted: 06/23/2017

The idea of the “connection” is one of the paramount themes when it comes to contact center management.

Fittingly, it is also a pivotal focus for one of the Best-in-Class Contact Center finalists at this year’s CCW Excellence Awards.

Sign-Zone emphasizes the personal connection when interacting with customers; the organization minimizes scripting and “coaches agents to let the customer dictate the tenor of the call…it's the reason why we're in business and the reason why we actually operate.”

Sign-Zone, moreover, makes the idea of a personal connection the heart of its employee engagement strategy.  Indeed, the organization is committed to a family-oriented workplace.

Ahead of the June 27 CCW Excellence Awards Gala, CCW Digital interviewed Jim Thomsen, the VP of Customer Care for Sign-Zone.

Thomsen will be in attendance at CCW this year.  He will also be participating in an extended Q&A as part of the CX Online Summit.

For now, however, enjoy some highlights from our discussion on ensuring the contact center maintains a “personal touch.”

Employee engagement starts with the recruiting process.  How does Sign-Zone identify ideal talent?

We are looking for individuals that marry up with our core values.  We have a set of core values that a person needs to align with - passion for excellence, accountability, respect, innovation, teamwork and integrity.  During that screening process, [those core values] are the paramount thing that we want.

I can coach about process, I can coach about products, but I can't coach about the basic core values that an employee has.

During the course of the recruiting process, if we have [a strong applicant], we'll make sure we have some time set aside for them to sit with an agent so they can see, first-hand, what the day-to-day activity would be like for them.  Quite frankly, we can also assess their interactions when they're job-shadowing as a recruit.  Those that are engaged, asking good questions, are going to be telling us - there's a possible winner here!

What does the Sign-Zone training and onboarding process entail?

We do take our time in ensuring that our agents are trained.  When I first came here in 2014, our training was one week.  It's no longer one week.  You can only imagine the degree of complexity that any business has - it takes more than one week.

[We train the] company knowledge, product knowledge, process knowledge, experience knowledge, but it’s never the case where you're just thrown into the water to learn how to swim.  When you are delivered onto the floor from the training room, you also have a mentor - a job shadow.  You shadow someone who's fully trained, and you're sitting with them for a period of time - at least for another week.

For the next step, agents then shadow you.  You're leading [the calls], but now you're being assessed.  By that following week, you can go solo, but you also have people around you - senior associates and/or supervisors - that are really able to answer any questions.

The idea of a “personal touch” is important to Sign-Zone.  Can you elaborate?

You need to remember to put the “personal contact” in the contact center.  Experiences begin with our employees.  They begin with those people who are dealing with our customers each and every day.  There's not a day that goes by where I'm not having a brief conversation with nearly every one of our agents.  [Supervisors are obviously interacting more frequently], but I do enjoy shaking someone's hand, having a brief conversation, “how was your weekend?” – the little things.  They really help keep that tight-knit, engaged culture.

How do you maintain this “personal touch” as your contact center grows?

One of the key elements is that we've established a culture of connectivity.  It's not only me making those personal contacts with agents; it's also the agents making contact with each other.  There are a lot of people who have some of their best friends [as their] coworkers or people in other departments.  This isn't a particular operation where I'm just going to work - I'm just going to punch in, punch out.  It really becomes a community in and of itself.  The majority of folks look forward to coming to work because their friends work here.  They may have started out as coworkers, but they have eventually [become] friends.

As a company grows there is going to be a limit to the number of people that the VP can actually talk with.  Can I, myself, talk to everyone every day?  Maybe not.  But maybe it's at least once a week, or once every other day.  But I at least feel that personal contact in various forms is critical.

The various forms include emails or monthly department meanings where we review results and recognize strong performers.  There's a lot of that synergy that takes place where you reward and recognize folks for doing those fantastic behaviors.  We have individuals that get nominated as core value champions each month; those people are nominated by their peers and supervisors.  This [helps] to continue the lifeblood of the culture.

A contact center can be fun and close-knit, but it still has to deliver results.  What is Sign-Zone’s approach to performance management?

Every single person wants to know, "Did I do a good job?"

When I first got here, there weren't any KPIs.  When they left on a given day, agents did not know whether or not they did a good job.

We’ve put in place performance metrics, and we have a monthly performance scorecard that gets updated every day.  We have daily stats and thresholds that people have to meet.

For example, as a service agent, we have schedule adherence, call experience, CRM utilization, overall quality (the number of claims that were tied to the agent).  All of these metrics are tabulated on a daily basis, and agents - it's like they're at school - see their grades from the previous day.

If you hit your targets in three of the key metrics, you would get, what we call, your "high five card” signed.

For background on the "high five" - it's a 3x5 note card with a picture of a hand on it.  Each finger has an opportunity to get a signature from your supervisor or from me.  What warrants that signature is your performance.  Every day, if you hit your metrics, you can get a finger signed.

If you get all five signed, you can redeem those each week and get a $10 gift card.  What goes ten miles further in this program -- this program provides that [incentive] for people to want to hit and exceed their metrics.

We established baseline metrics.  If you go above and beyond, you're in the green zone.  If you hit green for three metrics, I'm going to sign your high-five twice.

This particular element of managing the business has yielded so much efficiency in our organization - from our call experience to bringing on new processes (such as Salesforce adoption).  It has truly been able to transform what once was a wandering organization that didn't really have a clear idea as to what "good performance" was to, in today's environment, we've improved our quality by more than 50%.  Our experience has shot up by about 15-20 points, which is a lot on a call monitoring form.  In addition, the Salesforce number -- our agents resisted it, now they easily get 80-90% of their calls logged.

And, at the end of the day, they know whether or not they had a good day or week!

All these things get rolled up monthly into power rankings:  what was your overall grade for the month?  If you maintain a stellar average (~90+ on the power rankings), you'll be open for advancement to the next tier in your career path.  We wanted to put in place a means by which an agent can progress based on their performance into a career within customer care.

Jim Thomsen
Posted: 06/23/2017


Crowne Plaza Chicago West Loop, Chicago, IL, United States
September 25 - 28, 2017