The culture club: Why joining is important to your customers

In a brief issued in March of this year, the State Health Reform Assistance Network[1] addressed the processes and considerations key to the successful operation of Exchange Call Centers[2], as a piece of the upcoming Affordable Health Care implementation. In the brief, authors Kathie Mazza and Steven McStay discuss the people, process, and technology decisions that lie ahead for those setting up call centers. While the piece certainly communicates the business functions and processes at the core of an efficient contact center, Benefits Data Trust (BDT) was particularly pleased to see the people considerations promoted. The authors highlight the benefit of one critical factor that promotes first class customer service in a contact center environment: a highly invested staff.

The success of a contact center, its voice, is entirely dependent upon the agents who create it. If you prioritize and invest in your agents appropriately, they will in turn do the same for your customers. Based on the success we have experienced, we have outlined a few best practices on how to establish a voice that customers respond to with appreciation.

Mazza and McStay hit it right on with their first point: hire and retain the right people. Recruiting the right agents is critical to a contact center’s success. Giving candidates a clear idea of the role, key points about your culture, and the prioritization of quality in the contact center is important during the interview process. Strong on-boarding and training procedures create a good first impression of your organization—take care to ensure these are effective and updated frequently. Be picky—we have turned down individuals with master’s degrees if we perceived in the interview process that they would not treat our customers and their coworkers well. Also, create an environment that prompts staff to tell their friends to come work for you.

Once you have the right staff in the door, the goal is to retain and grow your talent pool. By being highly involved with your contact center agents—and by giving them the space to be highly involved in your business—you are very likely to increase your staff retention rate and decrease your absenteeism rate. You can accomplish this in a number of ways. Set and communicate very clear and transparent expectations, offer specific feedback, and provide frequent coaching. Find out what other skills your agents have outside of those relevant to their role and give them opportunities to share them whenever possible. Offer agents the ability to communicate feedback and suggestions and take part in decision making. Recognize strong performers specifically and often. Regularly communicate the results of their hard work and tie results to specific customers impacted. Make time for fun and team building—this is so important to the morale of a contact center, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Lastly, take time to understand agents’ professional aspirations and provide them with the tools and guidance to achieve them.

Annual Attrition
Average attrition rates in call centers across industries30-45%
Average BDT5-7%

By making the culture of your contact center as important as your business processes, you create an environment where your agents thrive and, in turn, provide your customers with the best service possible. Exchange call centers will be required to serve many customers who are vulnerable and in need of compassionate assistance. If these centers are established with a culture that cares for and invests in their agents, those agents will cultivate comparable relationships with the Exchange customers.

1 A national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

2 State Health Reform Assistance Network. Charting the Road to Coverage: What Should Exchanges Know About Call Centers: A Guide for Implementation.

“BDT takes the screening and on-boarding of new employees seriously. People working here are friendly, and respectful of each other’s differences and opinions. The atmosphere is one of constant collaboration. Suggestions and opinions are heard and are very often implemented, giving folks a sense of belonging and being part of a larger effort to assist individuals navigating the sometimes difficult realm of applying for public benefits. Opportunities to grow within the organization are more and more prevalent and clear suggestions and direction from management prepare individuals looking to progress in their careers at BDT with the pathways and the skills to do so.”

— Team Leader

Laura is the Director of Call Center Operations at Benefits Data Trust. She truly enjoys working alongside the team at BDT to transform the benefits access landscape. She puts her 12 years of people management experience in contact centers and operations departments to use by ensuring that BDT’s contact center staff is professionally challenged, and that our customers receive service that is consistent and with the highest quality and respect.