Q&A: VIA Rail on Turning the Call Center into a Profit Driver

Shawn Siegel

Philosophically, the customer management community has long been embracing the notion that the call center is a "profit center" rather than a "cost center."

In actuality, few businesses have unlocked the profit potential of their call centers. Seeing and realizing the opportunity, they have found, are not the same thing.

VIA Rail is not one of those organizations. Thanks to its successful call center approach, the Canadian organization has been turning its call center into a revenue powerhouse. And Jean Lemyre, director of telephone sales offices and customer relations, joined Call Center IQ to share that approach.

You can next learn from Lemyre at the annual Call Centre Week Canada event, which takes place April 28-30, 2014 in Toronto.


Can you discuss one or two ways VIA Rail is transitioning into a revenue-generating "profit centre" model?
We developed and implemented a balanced strategy aimed at optimizing the revenue performance of our call centres in an efficient manner. One of the key initiatives included assessing all initiatives from both a cost and revenue perspective focusing on their overall net contribution. Key metrics measured and reviewed on an ongoing basis include revenue performance, cost-efficiency, and customer experience. In support of moving to a revenue focused organization, we recently introduced a change management program (including agent training and supervisory coaching) that is aimed at implementing and sustaining a sales culture. The training program, includes specific elements on how to interact with every customer and optimize the potential of every call from a revenue and service perspective in a cost effective manner.

Why do you think the recent trend has been towards this "profit centre" approach?
Many companies realize that they have not realized the full potential of their call centres and to be successful, a company must have a multi-channel approach. The call centre is one of the more expensive channels on a per transaction basis. Its major benefit however is its ability to drive revenues, either as a sales center or a customer service (retention) center. Study after study has demonstrated that the call center typically generates the highest revenue per transaction of all channels and as a result can be highly profitable as a channel.

How important is employee culture to running a successful call centre? How do you go about improving the culture?
A company must set the vision, which includes the type of culture it needs to be successful. An organization can improve the culture by first establishing the values the company needs to embrace and defining the type of behaviours associated with the values. The leadership of the call centre must behave as visible examples of the culture if the organization is to sustain the vision of the organization. It is critical as part of the process, to get a pulse from the employees by way of engagement surveys or other means to understand how the organization is performing. The onus is subsequently on the management team to analyze the survey, identify improvement areas with assistance from employees, and develop and implement an improvement plan.

As Senior Director, how often do you personally get involved in handling customer relations issues?
I personally review high level customer relations issues on a weekly basis with our Customer Relations manager. I also periodically review handling processes as to how customer issues are served, type of issues, etc., but one of the most important activities that I do is listening to calls and talking to our team about what we can do as an organization to better support our customers.

Looking ahead, do you think new technologies will fundamentally change contact centres?
Yes. Major technological advancements are now making service enhancements affordable with significant improvement towards how customers are served. In particular, with the emergence of cloud computing that does not require any one organization to fully build a solution for only their business. Today's environment and service support are quite different compared to five years ago. The introduction of voice recognition services and multi-channel platforms now enable contact centres to be much more effective in meeting the needs of consumers and new features do not need to be bough, but instead can be readily "downloaded " instantly if required.