Q&A: Engraining a Customer-Centric Culture in the Contact Center (And Measuring the Results)

Shawn Siegel

Lisa Church is the Chief Experience Officer at 1st Advantage Credit Union, where her biggest role is infusing customer experience into every aspect of the company’s culture. Lisa, who will be presenting on this essential topic at the 14th Annual Call Center Week, recently joined Call Center IQ reporter Shawn Siegel to share some insights.


Shawn Siegel, Call Center IQ: Could you discuss a recent customer experience program at 1st Advantage that you’re most proud of?

Lisa Church, 1st Advantage: Every year our employees take part in 1st AIDE Day, a day when our organization closes its doors and opens its hearts to the local community. Our staff completes volunteer projects that benefit deserving charities in our local area. Two years ago we decided to include our customers (who we call members) by inviting them to be a part of a food drive for our local Food Bank. As the cans started coming in, some of our business partners also got involved by competing against one another in a fun, "high-spirited" contest we sponsored. The food drive was a success, so this past year we set a goal to surpass last year’s results.

During our first annual Member Appreciation Day, our customers brought their canned food items in to help us fill up a Food Bank truck. Working together, we collected almost 3,000 pounds of food for our local Food Bank, beating last year’s results by more than 1000 pounds! We are very proud of the impact we can have in our local community by working together with our members and colleagues. Many organizations give out "big cardboard checks" and donate money to deserving charities, but our employees came up with the idea to donate their time and efforts. Involving our members in this great community experience has made it even better!

Siegel: How do you go about quantifying the effects that better customer experience has on the bottom line?

Church: What a great question for anyone focusing on the customer experience! We quantify the effects on the bottom line by making it part of our employees’ "bottom line" at every level of the organization. Measurements that are directly tied to customer experience are integrated into individual, quarterly incentives for frontline staff and annual incentives for Managers. These measurements are also included in the organizational scorecard goals that drive Executive bonuses. We’ve benchmarked and used results from customer surveys and mystery shop scores, and we are currently considering making the switch to Net Promoter Score (as many Customer Experience leaders do). This ensures that there is a focus across the organization that is ongoing, relevant and impactful for everyone.

We also strive to ensure that our colleagues understand the connection between the experience they provide and the effect that has on our members. Because we are in the financial industry, we have a very real connection and impact on our customer’s "bottom line" as well as our own.

Siegel: How much do you rely on coaching and training to ensure your employees fully buy into the importance of customer service?

Church: A lot! We "set the stage" on day one at our New Employee Orientation program, where part of the day is set aside for an overview of our core values and how they affect the way we interact with our customers, vendors and fellow colleagues. We follow that up with a 2-day 1A Academy program that every employee attends to cover our core values and our "Member Declaration" in detail. This training helps employees understand our service philosophy and see the practical ways it can be applied in their day-to-day roles and interactions. Each year we refresh service skills for the entire staff with our Academy Reunion class, covering a new approach to different facets of customer service and the member and colleague experience. Our service values are also reinforced in all skill and product sessions as well as through ongoing coaching by supervisors and managers.

Siegel: Have technological advancements of the last 5-10 years impacted how you approach customer service?

Church: Definitely. Technology has created brand new channels like mobile and tablets and improved access to customer data. It has also caused a steady rise in online transactions and instant access to information that reduce the number of opportunities for us to speak to our customers. This has caused us to sharpen our focus on making the most of every interaction. We understand that customers who do take the time to speak with us expect more from the conversation than have in the past. We are concentrating on honing skills that help our staff uncover opportunities and offer members value through cross-selling. We are also looking for even more ways to make conversations and offerings more personal and targeted using the data, systems and tools that technology provides. This causes a need for more savvy and experienced employees, so we have changed our hiring practices to meet the rising demand for higher-level skills and decision making abilities.

Siegel: Do you put a lot of emphasis on member/customer feedback? How do you then turn that feedback into actionable strategies?

Church: Yes. We have ongoing vendor-provided member surveys that are generated based on a customer’s interaction with us. During the survey, customers are given the option to be contacted by us and we reply with an immediate phone call from a Manager. Detailed questions provide input that can highlight the need for process or system improvements. We also have separate survey questions that focus on the service interaction itself that can include narratives from the customer. Positive service comments are highlighted and shared with fellow colleagues. Employees who receive "perfect" service scores throughout the quarter are recognized and have the chance to win prizes. Managers have direct access to their staff surveys so they can coach and recognize accordingly.

We also conduct mystery shops each year to provide a benchmark. Shops are scored separately for service and sales skills. The data from these shops are analyzed and sent to Managers to follow up and coach their staff. Overall trends and results are used to help identify training needs and skill gaps that can be addressed through training and coaching and reviewed in the next round of shops. Finally, we do our own in-house mail surveys on specific, complex interactions (like mortgage loans). The feedback goes directly to the VP of that area, so any actionable items can be seen immediately.