Serving with Empathy in a Customer's Time of Need

Employee Engagement
Employee Engagement
David Payne, Assistant Vice President, Contact Center, The Standard, leads efforts to create an engaging workplace to build true customer "care."

Much like the human body, a company cannot perform optimally if its internal systems are ailing. For David Payne, ensuring the health of The Standard's contact center means taking an agent centric approach designed to build employee engagement.

This strategy goes hand-in-hand with the insurer's customer-centric ideology. "Our company doesn't necessarily position itself to be a price leader in the industry," says Payne, assistant vice president, contact center, for The Standard. "What we pride ourselves on is the differentiation in the service that we provide. It's giving customers what they want, how they want it, when they want it."

Achieving this starts with enhancing the employee experience for the nearly 200-person call center team. Payne knows that engaged agents are more empathetic-and when it comes to The Standard's customer interactions, empathy from agents is essential for customer satisfaction and retention.

Payne's agent engagement strategy primarily focuses on improving the day-to-day employee experience. For example, he implemented processes to improve training and scheduling. And calls are now routed the right agent with the right skills, which helps to ensure a more successful interaction.

Additionally, he led the company to set up walk stations, so agents can work and get their blood flowing at the sametime. "Contact center employees are traditionally tied to their desk, on the telephone. They're sitting for long periods of the day," Payne says. "We created a few stations that have a computer and a cell phone, where they're actually standing on a treadmill." The treadmills only reach a maximum speed of two-and-a-half miles per hour, but the movement can be refreshing.

Payne also instituted The Den, a conference room transformed to look like one's den at home. The soft lighting, recliners, and game consoles allow agents to get away from the stress of their work and refocus so they can return refreshed and ready to serve. "In many instances our employees are talking to people who are applying for disability, or calling to make death claims for life insurance policies, or they've found out they're going to be out of work for a long period of time," he says. "So, some of the calls can be pretty emotional. We wanted to provide [agents] with a place where they can get up and get away and not feel like they're at work so they can decompress."

Improving agent engagement ultimately is about enhancing the customer experience. Consequently, The Standard uses a speech analytics solution from NICE Systems to monitor every call that comes in and mine the conversations for insight into how it can improve procedures, individual employee performance, products, and the like. "Traditionally, you only hear a sample of those calls, and you have to get lucky enough to catch things," Payne says, adding that managers use the insight to coach or praise agents on their performance.

The Standard aims to continue its focus on its contact center staff and technologies that can support them as a way to increase customer satisfaction by at least 20 percent by 2013. "For us, customer service is the true focus, not an afterthought," Payne emphasizes. "It isn't something we're doing merely because we have to."