Sign up to get full access to all our latest content, research, and network for everything customer contact.

Reducing effort and friction for agents and customers

How skill-based routing worked for multinational Hunter Douglas

Kindra Cooper

Reducing customer effort

Before restructuring its contact center, customized window treatment company Hunter Douglas, a Netherlands-based multinational with operations in over 100 countries, spent a quarter of a year training new hires. Not only was it a financial crutch from the delayed return on investment and associated expenses, but even after 13 weeks of training, agents weren’t always prepared to handle hyper-specific, technical questions about window shade motorization or the company’s worldwide supply chain of retail partners and network of dealers.

“You wouldn’t think window treatments are all that complex, but let me tell you, we have challenges every day with the complexity,” Melinda Keith, senior director of customer support at Hunter Douglas, said at a recent Online Event with CCW Digital. The company specializes in window treatments with unique designs that can trap air for superior insulation, softly diffuse incoming light and provide privacy while preserving outside views.

Keith and her team recognized that the customer journey was fraught with effort and friction, creating difficulties for both agents and customers. She revamped the Hunter Douglas contact center approach to make the training and day-to-day experience easier for customer service reps.

The company decided to implement skill-based routing at its contact centers, which meant training its agents to become subject matter experts and reprogramming the phone support IVR system to route calls to agents proficient in a specific knowledge base.

By requiring agents to specialize in a specific area, Hunter Douglas slashed path to proficiency for new hires to just five weeks. “With shorter training sessions punctuated by actual time on the floor we’ve seen that our CSRs retain much more product and process knowledge,” said Keith. “That means they’re set up for success when they return for up-training.”

Another benefit was the opportunity to provide explicit career progression signposts with opportunities for better pay and added responsibility. After four weeks, a new hire is qualified to become an order specialist, as well as answer calls, chats and emails. Six months later they can move up the ladder as a product specialist with an additional two weeks of training, and after a year take a shot at becoming a case specialist, contingent on completing another two to three weeks of training.

Offering a sense of career progression is traditionally a hard ask for a contact center, hence industry-wide attrition rates of 30-40 percent.

With a designated echelon of “high-proficiency CSRs” who can handle questions about motorization or installation of Hunter Douglas’ window shades, there is less need for transfers or placing customers on hold. Given that Hunter Douglas’ customers are both B2B and B2C, Keith said it was important to differentiate between audiences and the type of support each group needs, as well as distinguishing between presale and post-sale customer support interactions.

“For our pre-sale group, our dealers are expecting the right information so they can successfully close the sale with their consumer,” she said. “And then from a post-sale perspective, if a dealer is faced with a mismeasurement challenge, for example, we must provide a quick and accurate resolution.”

Implementing a universal CMS makes it easier for dealers to do business with Hunter Douglas as a place where they can access product information, manage orders and build their own consumer database. In 2016, the company deployed a multimillion-dollar, mobile-friendly online portal for its dealer network to create a consistent brand voice across its corporate and dealer websites.

“Dealers use this in front of the consumer to finalize the sale, schedule their appointments, place their orders, review knowledge content and contact customer service all in one platform,” said Keith.

Ease of doing business has become a priority metric for Hunter Douglas. Keith checks each day to make sure customers are routed to the right CSRs, if the case or interaction was treated with the appropriate level of urgency and if the consumer or dealer was kept well-informed during the resolution process.

“You get to a point where you need an enterprise solution that will grow with the future of your business,” she said. “That’s where you have an opportunity, I think, to start looking at things that are causing roadblocks.”