Investing in frontline staff key to success for Canadian contact centre
Gexel Telecom is a privately held company in Quebec that handles domestic outsourced customer service calls for the telecommunications, manufacturing and finance industries, as well as government. Focused on technical support, telemarketing, and customer loyalty and retention, the company's main competitors are multinational and domestic outsourced customer-service firms.
In 2007, Gexel operated one contact centre with 96 per cent of its business coming from just one client. Not satisfied with the narrowness of its operations, the company decided it needed to diversify its client base and establish a brand that would be recognizable across Canada.
To take on this challenge, Gexel's CEO Paul Trihey cultivated a team approach at the management and customer-service levels. He restructured the management team to break down the silos that were limiting communication between the accounting, IT, operations and human resources departments. Departmental representatives started to meet on a weekly basis to discuss their challenges, which helped facilitate discussions across functions and inform perspectives on the needs and challenges of other departments.
Gexel also identified its central challenge – customer service burnout. Front-line work in contact centres is stressful. Customers are often frustrated and calling with issues they want resolved quickly. High turnover and absenteeism are common indicators that stress is taking a toll, and Gexel realized that when working conditions are poor for front-line employees, workers would cross the street to another job for 25 cents more an hour.
The company decided to make retaining experienced customer-service representatives a priority, understanding that it directly impacts the quality. It adopted a strategy of investing in competitive compensation, cultivating strong relationships between the work force and management team, and prioritizing comfortable facilities.
Externally, in relationships with client firms, Gexel capitalized on its small size by being nimble and responsive to client needs. The company empowered clients by making them partners in the business with full access to the service centre where their calls are handled, and full access to managers and employees working on their accounts.
While the recent economic downturn increased pressure on customer-service companies industry wide, Gexel managed to increase its work force to 1,000 employees from 300. Since 2007, the company has experienced 300-per-cent revenue growth and it has expanded its operations to four contact centres in Montreal, Magog, Thetford Mines, and Cowansville, with a fifth centre to open soon in the Greater Toronto Area.
Gexel credits two maxims for its success:
Never forget who is bringing in the money
The management team at Gexel prioritizes its customer service work force, and through its human resource policies it recognizes how stressful interacting with customers can be. While many outsourced contact centres are plagued by high turnover, Gexel is avoiding the problem by creating front-line jobs that the company views as long-term positions.
Deliver a quality product at a good price
With stable front-line staff, Gexel has been able to offer a service that attracts business from firms with in-house customer service operations and away from other outsourcing firms by offering an in-house-like experience. Understanding how central its work force is to its operations, the company has been able to use it as a key competitive advantage in offering high-quality service at a competitive price.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Danielle van Jaarsveld is an assistant professor of organizational behaviour-human resources at the Sauder School of Business and Robert H. Lee Graduate School at the University of British Columbia. She is the author of The Canadian Contact Centre Industry: Strategy, Work Organization and Human Resource Management and she is currently engaged in a national study of work force management in contact centres.
This is one of a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Your Business website.