I don’t get to podcast full time (but boy I wish I could). I spend my work time managing a Contact Center. Here is a nice write up about my leadership style.
Optimizing a Seasonal Customer Experience Center – Coach-Net
- Published on October 12, 2021
I had the chance to sit down with Jesse Jackson, Coach-Net’s Contact Center Director. We dove into his vision of leadership, technology and customer service and how they might achieve an optimal future state for their customer experience. This is a fun company with a great culture and as proof, Jesse showed up wearing a Kiss shirt so I knew we would hit it off.
- CCaaS Technology – Amazon Connect
- Channels – Voice and email
- CRM – Home Grown Solution
- Billing – Microsoft Dynamics
- HR – Criteria
- Onsite and Virtual Agents
- Peak Season – 60-70 Agents
- Off Season – 30-40 Agents
What is Coach-Net?
Coach-Net has built a reputation throughout the RV industry as a leading provider of 24/7 RV technical and emergency roadside assistance, dedicated to meeting the demands of RV travelers throughout the United States and Canada. When members need assistance, Coach-Net is ready with a network of more than 40,000 roadside assistance providers. They pioneered RV technical assistance to aid RV owners with common issues and has remained an industry leader by providing RV owners access to its team of certified technicians. They were founded “by RVers for RVers” and they sell “carefree RVing”.
Question –Let’s say I’m a Coach-Net customer and I call with an issue with my RV, how does your process work?
Answer – Your initial call goes into a front-end agent that captures who you are, your program, location and what you need. They explain coverage and authorizations and then verify that you are safe and pass you to the back-end team. The backend agent then begins looking to find the needed service for the client by utilizing our nationwide network of providers or by searching for independent providers if needed. k.
Question – I can imagine the costs can vary. How do you make decisions on what is OK?
Answer – In our network of providers we have negotiated rates. If we need to reach out to an independent provider, we have guidelines that the agents use to determine pricing. Our goal is to get the best service for our member at a competitive price. The agents must balance time, safety and costs to select the optimal solution for both Coach-Net and our members.
Question – How challenging is it to get the agent to make the “right” decision?
Answer – Here’s an example. Let’s say our stated limit for a service is $60 and the first call comes in at $75. Now I have an agent potentially spending 30 minutes trying to solve a $15 problem. That obviously doesn’t make sense. Maybe make one extra call but cut it off there. It takes leveraging data and the agent gaining experience to coach them to make the right decisions. It really is value based.
Question – So it really is a lot of on-the-job training. Are there any courses you can put them through?
Answer – That’s our project for this off season. Create situational training focused on critical thinking and logic. Training can be challenging because some calls are straightforward and linear while others require complex problem solving and take experience.
Question – Is there any technology that could help them through these challenging scenarios?
Answer – Currently we have answers on our SharePoint., One of the projects I’m planning to work on this off season is I would like to create a Coach-Net call flow by program where 80% of the call is standard.
Question – Tell me about your agent training.
Answer –Currently we have a rotation of a week of classroom learning and then a week with the trainee on the phone answering calls on the program they covered the previous week. We then bring them back in class, go over other programs and then more phone time. It typically takes 8 to 12 weeks to train and six months to become proficient. This is effective but accelerating agent training is crucial.
Question – What is your leadership style?
Answer – I like to be personal and gain the trust of my team. I personally have one on one’s with each of the agents. When start a job I always sit down with each agent in the first two weeks to get to know them individually. I also want my team to know that I’m here for them and it’s safe to come in and be “unofficial” in my office. We can talk as friends, not boss to employee. These conversations stay confidential.
Question – What philosophy do you employ with your leadership team?
Answer – I really like the quote by Aaron Sorkin “If you’re dumb you surround yourself with smart people, if you’re smart you surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you”.
Question – With COVID, most companies were forced to send agents home. How is that going?
Answer – Honestly, it’s been tough on our culture. We would definitely prefer to have all agents start in the office and adapt to the culture after which they could “earn” the right to work from home.
Question – Did you have home based employees before COVID?
Answer – Yes, but it was situational. For instance, we always let our 3rd shift (graveyard) work from home to incentivize taking that shift. Also, our building started closing earlier so anyone whose shift ended after the building closed could just start from home.
Question – How do you help them feel included?
Answer – We do “lunch-n-learns” and bring food into the office. Obviously, everyone could come in but most don’t want to so we are considering giving them 15 minutes paid lunch to buy lunch and eat with us via Teams.
Question – Do you ever have events where you try and get everyone together?
Answer – Yes, but we try not to have mandatory in person meetings even if it’s for “fun”. We are considering a yearly in person kickoff. This would be an opportunity to bring everyone into the office for networking, soft skills training, team building exercises, etc.
Question – So how do you find and recruit talent that is successful and fits into your culture?
Answer – Some would just tell you to “pay more”. Unfortunately, It’s not that simple. We recently purchased an HR screening tool called Criteria for pre-employment testing. It does a typing, PC awareness, critical thinking, and personality tests. If they pass, then HR screens them followed by me doing a one-on-one interview. I look for people who are flexible, open to learn, and understand the concept of what we’re trying to do. We do everything in our power to hire the right people because missing on a hire is expensive.
We really focus on the RV culture and would prefer that our employees fit that mold. If we could have it our way our target would be outdoors people that can empathize with our customers. Even if they don’t fit that mold, we have an Airstream that we allow employees to take out rent free to experience what our customers love.
Question – How does you being a 24/7 contact center impact your recruiting?
Answer – we allow our team to do four tens and they typically fit into one of three shifts. One way we encourage people to take on more challenging shifts is we add a shift differential.
Question – What types of other incentives do you have for your agents?
Answer – We have attempted different financial incentives and they just haven’t been as successful as we thought they would be. During the summer there is tons of overtime. Sometimes we’ll give a $50 gift card at the end of your shift if you work on the weekend. We even have t-shirts made for those who work a lot of overtime.
Question – How do you find these types of programs work out for the company?
Answer – You would think more money would drive agents’ thinking but that’s not always the case. When you’re employing incentives and motivation, 1/3 are going to like it, 1/3 will hate it and 1/3 won’t care. I work to find enough different programs that the 1/3 rotates to keep everyone happy. You have to get creative to incentivize all types so doing a mixture of money and other benefits like working from home can play into it.
Question – Do you do a “wall of fame” or awards to create competition and job satisfaction?
Answer – We do what we call the “Our Values” awards monthly, or RV for short. This is obviously a play on words. If you get five RV awards, then you earn a gift card. We also have “employees of the quarter” and do something called “Thankyou Thursdays”. If someone mentions an agent by name, we promote it across all of our channels like Yammer, Teams and email.
Question – What statistics do you monitor?
Answer – Statistics are tricky because they need to be used for good. We focus on After Call Work, Cost Per Event, Net Promoter Scores, Email Percentage (capture an email after every call so we can send an NPS survey), and Cost Per Event (average of PO per category).
Question – Can you describe for me what you mean by statistics can be “tricky”?
Answer – I actually had a focus group this week talking about phone stats. Historically, our team leads meet with their teams to review metrics including Average Handle Time. They went over goals and talked to agents with a longer handle time giving them suggestions on how to improve. What we learned was that some agents started sacrificing quality to improve speed. Because if this, we have started promoting “I would rather you be long and correct, than short and wrong”. John Wooden said “Be quick but don’t hurry”. Essentially, if your AHT is 20 minutes we will evaluate why and help you be faster, but don’t take shortcuts to cut it to 10.
Question – You mentioned that you are using Amazon Connect for CCaaS. Why did you choose to go in that direction?
Answer – Amazon Connect was here when I arrived. I think they primarily selected it because it fit our budget and did a lot of what we needed. We’re a seasonal business so their usage-based model fit how we needed to adjust with peaks and valleys.
Question – What are some of the things you find challenging with the platform?
Answer – To start, I don’t think it was set up to match our business. We probably need to start there with optimizing its capabilities. Next, their standard reporting and dashboards are not optimal. We know the information is there but haven’t done much to build out custom reports.
One example is we created a queue called “back end”. This makes it so when an agent makes outbound calls, they’re marked unavailable. Unfortunately, I don’t know how many outbound calls they’ve made while in back end until we run reports. We need a better way to proactively manage this.
One key challenge is there is minimal to no support on the AWS side. You must bring in a consultant to help you make things happen. We could do this on our own, but we don’t have a dev ops team that can care and feed it. Besides, our IT staff is only 3 people.
Question – Is there any specific technology that you would like to get in place in the next year?
Answer – We really would like to invest in technology that could do initial screenings to optimize pre call education for an agent. For instance, the call comes through, and the agent knows your name, what you are calling about and your history. Customers expect that type of experience today. I think we could do that with Amazon Connect but haven’t invested in it just yet.
Question – If you had a magic wand, what would the call center look like for you?
Answer – We would have an app that worked within the channel the customer wanted to communicate (voice, chat, sms, email, etc.). It would turn on location services to make finding them easier. We would also have more self-service options to drive efficiencies for simple questions.
Question – Who or what inspires you?
Answer – I’m a huge Springsteen fan and his song Better Days drives me. It’s about not sitting around waiting for my life to begin. We should all live in the now. Don’t waste your time waiting for what’s next and enjoy the journey.
Jesse was born for customer service. He has a great handle on his operation and knows where he needs to invest to create an optimal customer and employee experience. He truly cares about his people and his customers and treats them like “people”. Under Jesse’s leadership, Coach-Net will grow and optimize CX because he is not afraid to try new things and fail fast. With this mindset, profits always follow.
Potential Areas for Investment:
After learning more about Coach-Net, there are a few categories where I would recommend making investments.
Remote Agent Monitoring – Since so many of Coach-Net’s agents are remote it may be time to invest in a remote monitoring solution. Using video, managers can detect and identify issues and respond to them immediately. These solutions give you a 360-degree view of the employee’s desktop, screen and the person working at it so they have the appearance of their manager being there 24/7. And, if they do break protocol, the monitoring solution can alert that there is an issue to be resolved.
In Call Artificial Intelligence – Jesse mentioned evaluating ProcedureFlow for a step-by-step intelligent flow chart. There are others that I would suggest that focus on real time AI and help agents solve problems when they are non-linear. This would also help accelerate training allowing Coach-Net to “clone” their best agents.
Amazon Connect Agent Desktop – Amazon Connect is strong but it’s a developer’s platform. For smaller IT teams like at Coach-Net I always recommend evaluating low-code, no-code agent desktops that have prebuilt platforms that solve most common issues and expand on what Amazon Connect can do. This would also give the team an expert to call when things aren’t working as expected.
Self-service – Self-service allows problem solving customers to get in and find the answer they were looking for. Adding things like AI into the IVR and chat/chatbots or building out an FAQ page/knowledge base could be a good first step. This is especially great for eliminating those simple questions so your agents can focus on complex problem solving.
Customer Journey Mapping – Knowing your customers’ journey and being able to empathize with them is key in today’s business environment. Customer journey maps help you tell the story of your customers’ experiences with your brand across all touchpoints (social media, email, live chat or etc.) ensuring no customer is forgotten. This exercise helps businesses step into their customer’s shoes and see their business from the customer’s perspective and make the best decisions regarding customer experience.