Sears Transforms the Contact Center Experience

Customer Service
Customer Service

Sears, an iconic American brand that has adapted successfully to changing customer needs many times in its 106-year history, is now transforming the contact center experience, for its contact agents as well as its customers, according to Brian Carey, deputy vice president of the Customer Care Network at Sears Holding Company.

Sears' Customer Care Network is made up of 14 call centers and 6,000 contact agents that serve nearly all of Sears' sales, support, and customer service functions. It handles 1.75 million contacts per year across eight lines of business including parts, appliance repair, and customer service. Each line of business used to be its own silo with its own database and systems. Customers were required to call specific numbers for specific purposes and couldn't be transferred to other departments. Carey's new objective is to resolve any customer's issue at any touchpoint.

"Our goal as a company is to be a trusted advisor in the home," Carey says. "We've got to give them 'Sears' wherever they touch us. We want to enable agents to break out of their silos to perform functions defined by the customer. We want to do business on their terms. The customer isn't making the product or service distinction that we are."

Sears is working with Sword Ciboodle to create a single system that gives agents access to customer data, including purchase and contact history, in a single customer view. Also, the system can route calls based on skills and capabilities and suggest relevant cross-sell and upsell opportunities based on predictive models. Customer expectations are changing, Carey says. As a result, the new measures of success in the contact center are engagement, interaction, and retention. "The beauty of the contact center is that we see the whole customer experience," he says.

The implementation is rolling out in three phases. During the first phase, service levels at Sears' Texas-based Teleservice Outbound operation has seen efficiency gains that include a 14 percent reduction in idle time, 10 percent increase in agent connects per hour, 9 percent reduction in overall agent call handle time, and 13 percent reduction in talk time. "We look at efficiency for trends and target opportunities," he says. "But we're really after customer satisfaction, repeat calls, and first-call resolution." The cross-sell and upsell tools may drive revenue, but it's important to consider the "relationship and dialog, and see what else we can do for that customer," Carey says.

Employee empowerment fuels success
Carey knows that no technology implementation will work without internal support. "Part of the change is making sure everyone is receptive and enthusiastic about it," he says. To that end, he is leading a culture change among contact center employees.

Eight months ago he launched the Commitment to Care program, a cultural program that includes training, communication, active commitment, rewards and recognition for associates. It teaches agents to build empathy with customers by listening and expressing genuine care and concern. Agents are incentivized based on first-call resolution and customer satisfaction. "Nothing is more important than thinking, 'What's in it for the customer?'" he says. "The program is entirely centered around our passion to effectively serve our customers, and treat them as a valued friend."

Carey also created a Blue Ribbon customer care group -- agents who are empowered to do anything to satisfy a customer or fix a customer issue, including refunds and item replacement. "Agent ownership of the issue goes a long way," he says. "There is pride moving through the organization and agent satisfaction increases as they realize their main purpose is to help the customer."

He notes that usually the angriest customers reach the Blue Ribbon Group, and 88 percent of their issues are resolved positively, which builds customer loyalty. In addition, call volume in the repair call center is down 15 percent, but sales are up. "It's all related to putting the customer first," Carey says.