Earning the Right to Grow and Prosper: Five Decisions That Create Beloved Call Centers and Drive Explosive Business Growth

Jeanne Bliss

A beloved call center creates an indelible bond with the customer. The call center becomes a part of the customers' lives. The call center’s devoted customer grows the call center’s business, telling everyone on twitter, facebook, chat rooms and hundreds of Web sites every day that these call center’s companies are worthy of their business.

What is behind achieving beloved call center status? Two years of research led me to this: The beloved call center earns the right to grow and prosper because of the anguish, thought and purpose that it puts into decision making. The actions that come from the call center’s decisions set them apart. Beloved call centers weave their humanity into every decision they make, connecting who they are with the decisions they make in how they're run. As a result, the call center doesn’t just earn loyal buyers, but passionate, vocal fans.


Five decisions comprise the backbone of how the beloved call center conducts itself in business. At a fork in the road when decisions are made, what informs and motivates their conduct is that :

  1. They decide to believe
  2. They decide with clarity of purpose
  3. They decide to be real
  4. They decide to be there
  5. They decide to say sorry

These decisions create a seismic shift from mere call center to beloved call center.

The Beloved Call Center Decides to Believe

"We trust our customers. We trust those who serve them."

The beloved call center believes in its frontline staff. It’s the belief that lets employees know they are trusted to make the right decisions, without being scrutinized or strictly monitored. Take the example of the customer-centric grocer Wegmans Food Markets ($4.5 billion in revenue in 2007) who decided to ditch the employee rule book and replace it with one single rule: No customer is allowed to leave unhappy.

By getting rid of the rule book, Wegmans enabled each of the 37,000 employees to do whatever was needed, regardless of the situation, to ensure each Wegmans customer was satisfied. This belief in the Wegmans frontline staff led to decreased employee turnover (only 7 percent, while the average for grocery stores is 19 percent), an estimated operating margin of 7.5 percent, which is double that of its competitors and 50 percent higher sales per square foot than the industry average.

Beloved companies and call centers understand that most people strive to do the right thing, and they decide to believe that this is so for their customers and employees.

Decide with Clarity of Call Center Purpose

"We are clear about the purpose we serve in our customers’ lives."

The beloved call center takes the time to be clear about their unique promise for their customer’s lives. The beloved call center realizes that clarity of purpose guides choices and unites the organization. It elevates call center representative’s work from merely executing tasks to delivering call center experiences that customers will want to repeat and share with others.

Business for Zappos.com, an Internet clothing and shoe retailer known for its superior customer service and quirky company culture, exploded in 2008, reaching over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales. In the face of rapid growth and increased demand, Zappos decided that their call center’s customer service culture was essential to their success and must be preserved. To ensure their call center culture would not be lost, Zappos decided that only the most passionate call center representatives should stick around, offering $2,000 for new call center hires to leave the company if they didn’t feel like they could uphold and live by the core values of their business. Fewer than 1 percent of new-hires take Zappos up on their offer, meaning that the Zappos call center representatives who stay are committed and passionate call center representatives, ready to fully embrace Zappos call center culture.

Call centers in every industry prosper when they decide with clarity of purpose and spread that clarity across the entire call center.

Decide To Be Real in the Call Center

"We are genuine, passionate and take the best version of ourselves to work."

The beloved call center breaks down barriers between customer and call center, creating a relationship between people and revel in one another’s foibles, quirks and spirit. It draws the call center and the customer in to one another. Their humanity and authenticity is what sets beloved companies apart from all the others. The call center allows room for people to blend their personal instincts with their call center decisions.

The Container Store encourages employees to be like "Gumby," an animated clay figure made popular by stop motion animation. The connection is that folks at The Container Store should not create boundary lines between what each person does; that bending over backwards for customers and each other is a necessity for growth and prosperity. With this notion, founders Garrett Boone and Kip Tindell wanted to ensure they didn’t deliver forced customer service or teamwork. They simply want everyone to be flexible and find the right solution for each situation, without imposing a fake or forced reaction. This decision by The Container Store to ask employees to be like Gumby contributes to their achievement of only 15 percent employee turnover, compared to the average turnover of 50 percent or higher in retail. Creating an environment where people find joy in working with each other has also earned them nine years on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

Customers and call center representatives gravitate to companies who decide to be real, who decide to drop the "corporate veneer"—to those that nurture the personality and spirit of their customers and the call center representatives.

Decide to Allow Your Call Center Representatives To Be There

"We are in the scrimmage every day to build our operation from our customers’ perspective."

The beloved call center devotes more resources and more plain old work to be there for its customers. The call center managers and the call center representatives are in it every day to earn the right to a continued relationship with the call center’s customers, and the first decision the call center makes is to be there when the customer needs them, on the customer’s terms.

Decide To Allow Your Call Center Representatives To Say Sorry

"We are humble. We accept accountability. We will make it right."

Grace and wisdom guide the beloved call center to accept accountability when the chips are down, when things don’t go the way they planned. Toro Company, a lawn mower manufacturer, says "I’m sorry" to customers who have been injured while using their products, regardless of who is at fault. After ensuring that the customer is okay and taken care of, Toro finds a shift in the conversation, transitioning from "wronged customer" to two people talking about what happened. In a highly litigious industry, 95 percent of Toro’s cases are settled on the day of mediation or shortly thereafter, all because of their willingness to be proactive and to say sorry. How a company reacts to mistakes reflects the humanity of the organization and shows its true colors more than almost any situation that might arrive. It is the intent and motivation guide a decision’s final outcome that sets people–and companies–apart.

How you steer your call center decisions and the actions that tumble from them will impact your ability to earn the right to grow and prosper. Your call center can earn your customers’ business by deciding how you will run yours. With every order you ship, with every call center representative you hire, with every product you develop you have the chance to tell your customers who you are and what you value. So make a choice. Decide what you want your call center’s story to be in the marketplace. What do you want customers and call center representatives to tell others about who you are and what you value?

The decision is yours.

This article is adapted from Jeanne Bliss' new book, I Love You More Than My Dog!: Five Decisions That Drive Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad (Portfolio; hardcover; Oct. 15, 2009).