For decades, customer contact centers have built a bad reputation. Customers hate calling them and people hate working there.
I’ve worked in financial services operations roles for more than 20 years and I’ve seen every form of call center: insourced, outsourced, on-shore, off-shore, near-shore, whatever you want to call it.
Wouldn’t it be great if I could hit the reset button and build a contact center using everything I’ve learned over my career? Well, that’s exactly what I love about working for Varo.
We’re building something from the ground up, blending financial and technology experience. We can avoid the issues that have given contact centers a bad name and instead create an environment of happy employees and fiercely loyal customers.
To best frame a strategy for this task, I’ve been thinking about three major points: the product, the employee, and most importantly, the customer.
It doesn’t matter if you have the best tools, 24/7 coverage, or the most friendly and well-trained staff. Quite simply, if a company has a terrible product, a positive service interaction is simply not going to happen.
When a product is designed for the customer and when the company listens and adapts to customer needs, you avoid the customer pain points altogether. Interactions can be more friendly and casual, and it will be much easier to create a connection with the customer.
You’ll hear me say this a lot, but this is another reason why I love working at Varo. This company is ravenous about customer feedback! We listen to our customers…I mean REALLY listen to our customers.
We compile feedback and trends from emails, phone calls, social media posts, surveys, external feedback sites, personal interviews, and more. Our service team hosts a weekly call where we share all this feedback. I love that our CEO and the leadership team regularly attend this meeting. After hearing about customer experiences, they change priorities where it’s needed.
It’s so hard to fix small customer sticking points when there’s so much pressure to grow and launch new features. Varo’s leadership is dedicated to creating the best mobile banking experience for our customers. We’ve added many new features based on customer feedback, such as higher ATM limits, early direct deposit, the ability to freeze a misplaced card, and many others.
There are so many reasons why people don’t like working in customer contact centers: low pay, minimal training, no career progression, rigid schedules, boring work, unsatisfied customers (see Product above). These are all problems that can be fixed with the right tools and structures, but I’m convinced that the real cause for employee unhappiness is the concept that “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.” This has been especially true in my career.
In 22 years, I’ve never been unhappy with the work I’m doing, but my leader has a huge influence on my sense of fulfillment and happiness at work. I think this is especially true with contact center roles. In current corporate cultures, when someone does well in their position, they are immediately thrust into a leadership position. The skills needed to excel in the previous role are rarely the same skills needed to be a great leader.
As we build our service team, we look for people who will perform well AND have the potential to be great leaders. When they are promoted into leadership roles, I will encourage them to do the same. I also believe that the role of live phone agent has been approached completely backward.
For most financial services companies, a live phone service position is considered entry level. That means low pay, minimal training, and high turnover.
As a banking company that has no branches, our service team is more like a personal banker; they are the face of our business. Can we reliably trust this responsibility to a brand new employee? This trust should be earned only by the best and proven employees. It’s time to turn this decades-old paradigm on its side and start approaching the live phone agents as the pinnacle of customer service roles. They should be experienced, tenured, and highly trained. This should not be an entry-level position.
If the product is dialed in and the employee is happy, you are destined to create a fantastic customer experience. From there, the only thing you need to worry about is the contact channel.
Some financial services firms have invested all their time and money into live phone servicing, and those same companies shy away from engaging customers in the public eye of social media. It’s hard for them to shift the strategy and re-train how customers contact them.
Of course, we’ll be there for our customers if they want to call us on the phone, but how (and when) does our younger tech-savvy customer base prefer to contact us? Back to the fun part of this job: we get to decide how to build this machine. We’re working with up and coming technology providers to securely engage our customers across all channels. Seriously…what other financial service will respond to your Insta DMs late into the evening?
Just as Varo was built to revolutionize the banking industry, our Service and Operations team is doing the same thing with customer contact strategy. We’re just getting started, and there’s a long and challenging road ahead of us, but the opportunity to build it the way we want it is exciting! The perfect mix of customer-centric products and happy employees will create the best customer experiences in the industry.
Aaron Valentine is the head of Varo’s customer service team based in Salt Lake City.