Overstock.com's success with its customer outreach initiatives was a major factor in its winning the Gold award in the 2008 Gartner & 1to1 Customer Awards' Service Optimization category. But the company is diligently working to engage its employees as well. As Brian Popelka, vice president, customer service at the online retailer says, "We want to do whatever we can to make our agents happier," he says, "because that in turn makes our customers happier."
To that end, Overstock has begun offering "O University," an online program for all employees, including executives, that includes call center agent training and may eventually be expanded to include accredited college courses in business, merchandising, and retail. "We train on everything from the metrics on which customer care is measured, to the business as a whole, to basic skill sets-math, English, Microsoft Office-to contact center soft skills, such as conflict resolution," Popelka says.
Noting that company CEO Patrick Byrne's background includes being a teaching fellow at Stanford University, Popelka says, "We thought we should be investing in our employees' education as well. Talent management is very much a focus for the company."
Part of the training comes from Stephen Tryon, a senior vice president of Overstock.com whose responsibilities include strategic planning, operations management, and legislative affairs. Prior to joining the company, Tryon was the legislative assistant to the chief of staff of the United States Army, which Popelka jokingly says, "can make for something of a boot-camp atmosphere at times."
By keeping its employees actively involved in bettering themselves, Popelka says, the belief is that they'll stay with Overstock longer and take more pride in their job-a positive outlook that should transfer to customers. "Particularly at the entry level, we're looking at people who start here as a second job or as a new start," he says. "We want to give them the opportunity to grow in the company. Many of our customer care staff has moved up into merchandising and marketing."
Overstock is also experimenting with an at-home chat program that will allow some of its agents to work flexible hours from home. "We're looking at investing more in the folks who work here," he says. "We're willing to take a look at anything we can do to make our employees happier."