Your organizational structure is the skeleton of your company, the bones that hold it together. But your culture is the soul. Company culture, a set of shared beliefs and values of a company, sets the tone for your team. These shared values get reinforced by how you operate. They shape how your employees perceive their roles and their environment, and how they behave. Your company culture dictates how your team interacts and how your employees treat your customers.
Peter Ashworth, Chief Marketing Officer & COO of Wells of Life says that culture is the DNA of your brand. It’s the platform to motivate and inspire both your employees and your customers. And, it’s part of your company identity whether you take time to define it, or not. Unfortunately, when culture isn’t handled with intentionality, you can be left with a mess. (Read: poor retention rates, employee dissatisfaction, poor customer experiences, and a bad reputation, to name a few). Culture is super important.
Culture is Essential in Every Department…Even in your Contact Center
But, what about the culture that lives within the different teams in your company? Your employees can read your CEO’s print-off of the company’s vision and values their first week on the job, but those values have to permeate individual team cultures to resonate.
Culture is particularly hard to establish in customer service. The focus of contact centers is primarily external, so restructuring your internal culture can fall low on your list of priorities as a manager. But it shouldn’t.
Contact center jobs are often considered temporary stepping stone jobs in a person’s career. Customer service jobs are hard seats to fill and even harder to keep filled. The work is tedious and the hours can be inconvenient. But, these roles are incredibly important for the growth of your company and for excelling in customer experience. Establishing a healthy culture to support these employees is essential. When they thrive, your business thrives.
Creating a framework for your contact center culture is intimidating, so start by looking at a few game changers in the field of culture. Grab a pen and paper for notes, and let’s take a look at three companies that have thriving contact centers and enviable cultures.
One time, an agent at Zappos chatted with a customer for over two hours about which heels she should buy for a cocktail party she’d be attending. Instead of being criticized for not jumping on more calls, he was celebrated for his actions.
Zappos established a model of customer-and-employee-centric culture that has become famous. Founder Tony Hsieh has even written a book about this process. Zappos’ structure, culture, and values are all focused on providing the best service through empowering employees. Zappos’ leadership pushes employees to be creative, to think outside the box, and to pursue personal growth in every customer interaction.
Their culture is defined by their core values:
- Deliver Wow Through Service
- Embrace and Drive Change
- Create Fun and a Little Weirdness
- Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded
- Pursue Growth and Learning
- Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication
- Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
- Do More with Less
- Be Passionate and Determined
- Be Humble
These values set the foundation for everything they do. Zappos holds the record for the longest customer service phone call, coming in at nearly 11 hours spent with a single customer. They don’t confine contact center employees to measurements of efficiency alone. Instead, they encourage agents to create emotional connections with customers.
Zappos’ call center reps have sent flowers to customers going through medical treatments or experiencing the loss of a family member. Zappos creates flexibility in their budget and metrics to give their customer service agents more freedom, so they can deliver service that is above and beyond.
Internally, they require everyone who’s hired, no matter the department, to go through the same training as the call center representatives. With a four-week training course, every employee at every level in the organization has to be on the phone for two weeks taking calls with customers. Upper-level employees can empathize with those working in the call center and gain empathy for customers in the process. In doing this, call center employees feel valued, empowered, and understood.
At Warby Parker, the online eyewear giant, they make sure every employee feels comfortable and valued at work, regardless of their tenure. This makes it easier to drive employee engagement at scale. It distributes work needed to sustain growth with the company. The founders of Warby Parker hold a strong conviction that creating an extraordinary employee life cycle is just as important as developing a killer product.
They start this employee cycle with an in-depth onboarding process. The existing team wants employees to feel special and welcome from their first moment at the company. They invite all new employees into the company with a Nice to meet you! balloon attached to their desk. Other employees treat the balloons as beacons and introduce themselves and strike up conversations with newbies.
They make training an executive priority. Whether it’s a customer service employee, a manager, or a sales rep, Warby Parker executives are involved in the training of all new employees. They open the floor for questions and teach the values of the company, themselves.
Founder Neil Blumenthal understands that great customer service is the result of happy, talented, well-valued employees. He explains in an interview that the company puts serious resources and energy into hiring the best customer experience associates possible. They prioritize empowering their reps with tools they need to make customers happy. And, they orient the company to see their CX pros as leaders within the organizational structure. Where individual customer service employees aren’t typically seen as valuable to large brands, Warby Parker recognizes their customer experience associates as being vital to company growth.
The streaming service Hulu rallies their company around five core values. They start with their viewer-first mentality. Every decision they make starts with the viewer, and every part of the company knows this.
But the folks at Hulu know to live out their viewer-first value, they must empower employees with a positive and inspiring culture. They emphasize that they are one team, not a bunch of departments siloed off in their work. They have to commit to aligned goals and hold one another accountable across each sector of the customer journey. Hulu employees, called Hulugans, are encouraged to embrace their individuality and teamwork alike.
One former Hulu employee tells how this unity across teams internally is encouraged through the open common spaces in every Hulu location. There aren’t individual offices to section off groups or departments. This opens up the spaces between individuals so they can collaborate and connect easily. All employees have free access to the streaming service and leaders encourage them to learn the product inside and outside.
Hulu cares deeply about work/life balance. They offer flexible work options and remote work to give customer service employees freedom. Managers of Hulu call centers like to foster a family mentality. They keep teams small enough so individual campuses don’t feel burdened by a massive corporate structure. Executives encourage employees to befriend one another. And, they break down barriers that make it hard to have conversations or grow. Hulu cares about transparency. Reviews of Hulu tell of their fair compensation, and the great recognition management shows for good work. They even offer the extras, like lots of free food and benefits to make the sometimes tedious work fun.
Hulu wants their employees at all levels to learn from their successes and failures.
There’s always follow-up,” a Seattle-based team member said. “We reflect on anything and everything that we try to learn, what worked and what didn’t, then share the results so other parts of the company can benefit. Knowing that I have the freedom to try new things and the potential to influence change across the entire company is extremely rewarding.”
Hulu encourages learning, collaboration, and fun in their offices. And, they see great success and happy employees as a result.
Culture from the Ground Up
These three companies are intensely fixated on their customers, but they’re just as focused on their employees. They want employees to feel free to be creative, to grow, and to learn. And they care about engaging with their employees and rewarding hard work. They spend time on onboarding and ongoing training so employees feel empowered to take on customer issues.
The biggest corporate success stories aren’t born from fear-driven environments. They focus on people first, both inside their walls and out, and create an experience that works for customers and employees.
Read more about how the best brands practice workforce engagement in this recent post.