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The Importance of Culture and Engagement in Customer Service Success

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With more than 25,000 team members across North and Central America, Europe and Asia, TELUS International is a global business process outsourcing (BPO) provider that delivers contact center, information technology and advisory solutions across a range of industries.

 Marilyn Tyfting is TELUS International’s Chief Corporate Officer, where she is responsible for driving ambitious company growth by fostering the best corporate culture and employee experience. Here, she talks to Finance Monthly about how corporate culture can be a key competitive advantage and differentiator while fueling both top and bottom-line growth.
Why do you think corporate culture is being increasingly heralded as a key competitive advantage, especially when it comes to customer service?

Culture is difficult to define. It’s what energizes us or drains us, motivates or discourages us. It’s also notoriously hard to measure. How do you calculate the “vibe” you get when you walk into an office or company headquarters?

So unsurprisingly, culture – corporate culture in particular – has always been a “buzzword”, but it has not been an integral part of strategy discussions for most companies over the years. Nowadays, however, with customer service being identified as a top brand differentiator for consumers – in many cases, even more so than a product or service – companies are re-focusing their efforts on what it takes to deliver an exceptional customer experience. And, corporate culture is at the core of it all. A strong corporate culture is the foundation of employee engagement, which inspires better customer service that drives improved performance metrics and in turn, increased top-line growth. Culture is a key ingredient in the simple equation: happy, engaged employees = happy, engaged customers.

 

Why is TELUS International focused on creating and fostering a unique and inspiring corporate culture?

 Corporate culture is one of the most important elements of a company because we experience it every single day, whether it is positive or negative. With this perspective in mind, we knew from day one that we wanted TELUS International to be a different kind of contact center provider – one that proactively put people first by providing long-term career opportunities, supporting personal and professional growth, championing diversity and investing in the communities where our employees live, work and raise their families. We care about our team members, it is an integral part of who we are as an organization. And in return, our team members care about and connect with the customers they serve.

 

With culture being an intangible concept in many ways, how have you been able to measure your success in this regard?

We’ve put the tools in place to measure our culture on an annual basis through a survey administered by Aon Hewitt, called Pulsecheck. For 2016, we achieved an industry-leading 81% engagement score.  Pulsecheck essentially measures our team’s willingness to say great things about us, their likelihood to stay with the company over the long term and their motivation to do great work on behalf of our clients.

We also have some of the lowest frontline attrition scores globally – 50% below the industry average in most regions. Having more tenured, engaged agents serving customers leads to higher Net Promoter, Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and Likelihood to Recommend scores, as well as stronger financial performance for our clients and our own business. We call this the Culture Value Chain, and it’s the foundation of everything we deliver. And, according to a study by Frost & Sullivan, we’ve proven that we can directly correlate our corporate culture with our company’s remarkable growth – adding over 5,000 employees in each of the past two years and growing our revenue year-over-year by 33% in 2016.

 

As a BPO provider, how do you balance bringing to life the corporate cultures of your clients’ brands while instilling the TELUS International culture across the organization?

To develop and sustain a successful outsourcing partnership, we believe that the relationship must be based on aligned cultures and a shared value system first and foremost. From there, our low attrition rates and longer-tenured agents are an incomparable advantage that help us to better understand, absorb, and sustain a client’s brand promise in an outsourced model. We also pride ourselves on being agile and innovative – always good attributes in a business partner!

For example, when we first engaged with a new client in the fitness wearables industry, we worked with them to provide each agent on the account with a health tracker and encouraged them to use it at work and at home. The result of our efforts created ‘super agents’ who were more personally connected to the brand and who had a deeper understanding and knowledge of the product, enabling them to better relate to the customers they were serving. They also enjoyed health benefits and greater camaraderie with their teams.

 

In an industry where contract renewals can be challenging, what role does your culture play in inspiring long-term partnerships with your clients?

Our culture enables us to be innovative and agile, to quickly scale global workforces, to develop very strong training, quality and coaching programs, to implement attrition reduction initiatives and to incorporate Lean Six Sigma into operations. On top of this, we have become experts in their businesses and feed product design and support ideas back into their internal teams. These activities go above and beyond the typical outsourcing relationship to enhance our service delivery and make us more productive.

In the case of one of our fast-growing tech clients, we’ve helped them achieve consistent 95% month over month CSAT scores and attrition at less than 2% month over month – well above their company targets. With service delivery results like these, our agent community has increased from a hundred to more than a thousand to accommodate their growth, and we remain their highest performing vendor partner over the past six-plus years.

 

As companies grow quickly, corporate culture can suffer. How will you ensure your culture continues to thrive as you execute plans to more than double the size of your business by 2020?

With nearly 20 sites in seven countries, as we continue to grow, we are constantly weighing growth decisions against our ability to ‘keep the inspiration as we grow the institution.’ For example, we’ve been exceptionally successful with acquisitions over the years, integrating businesses in Asia, Central America and Eastern Europe since 2011 by carefully selecting and investing in companies whose values are aligned with ours, in teams who welcome and celebrate diversity and in leadership that leads by example. Careful partner selection is key for us, and that mentality carries over to how we hire and develop new team members, assessing cultural fit as a part of recruiting new employees and investing in developing leaders who bring our values and culture to life every day.
As a thought leader on corporate culture in the BPO industry and arguably, across all industries, what’s next for TELUS International, as you continue to evolve and improve your culture to further differentiate yourself in the market?

As technology continues to evolve at an unrelenting pace, including the exponential growth of Internet of Things (IoT) – connected devices – digitally savvy consumers are becoming the norm. This is forcing the nature of customer service to change.

Agents need different skill sets in order to meet more complex, often sensitive support requirements. We have already prepared our frontline agents for the “tech-savvy” consumer in many ways, but we’ll continue to invest in their training and development to ensure they have the requisite skills and knowledge to keep pace with customer demands.

We will also increase our focus on security and privacy training so that, as our team members gain access to more confidential customer information, via smart home systems or personal health monitoring devices, they are equipped to continue to provide the best service. As customer support becomes more complicated it is even more important that we invest in data analytics, machine learning, and knowledge management to ensure that our agents are supported with easy access to information so they can focus on the human connection with customers. Investing in our team members in these ways supports our aspirations to be the best brand ambassadors of our clients’ unique products and services, and it helps us differentiate ourselves from our competitors when it comes to putting customers first.

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