Neal Topf, President and Co-Founder of Callzilla, has been focusing on customer experience in the call center for 11 + years, working in Miami and Bogotá. He doesn’t believe there’s an ‘easy button’ to running a call center. Passion, innovation, and a genuine care for his employees’ well-being are what make his call center successful.
In this interview, Neal Topf highlights how the latest call center technology and gamification techniques can transform the contact center agent experience so that customers are the number-one priority.
Thanks for joining us today Neal. So how would you best describe your role within the call center?
My pleasure. As a leader of the company on the operations, sales, and tech-side, my role is to structure the organization to ensure that we’re able to help our clients create optimal customer experiences for their customers.
How does being customer-centric differentiate your call center from others?
It’s probably sadly true that of those 70,000-something call centers in the world, many of them don’t care about customers. Most of them are transaction based – in other words, they care about what happens when they get on and off the phone, but they’re not necessarily concerned with how the customer feels – if their problem is resolved – if they’ve been treated fairly or if they’re satisfied.
Yes, call centers have a bad rap for providing rushed or poor customer service. How do you go about changing this dynamic?
Our goal is to constantly make sure customer experiences are optimal and we do so by having the right tools in place in terms of technology. We also make sure to have the right people in place who are trained and engaged to create memorable customer experiences.
And how specifically do you provide exceptional customer service?
From the company perspective, we’ve put quality as a commitment into our mission/vision statement. This last year when we revised it by adding the importance of engaging employees.
At the vision statement level, we constructed some language to commit to making sure our employees are engaged. They’re trained, they’re motivated, they’re inspired; their work environment is safe, productive, and allows them to innovate and to do what is necessary to help solve customer problems.
What sparked this whole movement to add employee engagement to the mission statement and company values?
It wasn’t any one given thing. In the customer care and contact center industry, sadly, turnover is very high. A lot of employees don’t really care about what they do.
Our focus is to differentiate ourselves in a competitive landscape; to get the employees on the front lines to stay with us and remain productive and happy. We make sure that they are well compensated so that they won’t want to look elsewhere.
Our goal is to generate a return on investment through employee education. All-in-all, we work hard to ensure employee satisfaction. If they’re not satisfied, the customer experience is going to be terrible.
What has been the greatest challenge with creating a culture of employee engagement?
One of the big undertakings that we’ve done over the past year is to earn our first certification for internal quality verification. IASO 9001. It’s appears easy to get people to memorize and prepare for the test, but, when you’re creating a culture of quality and engagement, it is something is a 24/7 process.
It’s a never-ending task to make sure that people understand the importance of quality: how you define it, how you measure it, how you incentivize around it. Those are incredibly daunting challenges; if someone in our industry says that they’ve got it taken care of and covered, they’re probably not telling the truth. There is no such thing as an easy button in our industry.
What skills do you think are most valuable to be successful as an outsource provider?
We have such a diverse set of customer types that range in spectrum of emotions and problems.
And then we have clients that are easy – we have clients that are more difficult who have different levels of expectations.
But, I think our team loves it and we thrive off of it. We’re constantly learning and adjusting as this business requires a lot of flexibility.
Speaking of no easy button, how has digital communication challenged your call center?
In the old days this was a telephone only business; its no longer that – younger generations prefer live chat, text message or social media.
So that creates an unique wrinkle in the day to day operations.
Technology can help with a lot of that– foresight, interpretation of data, using voice of customer, those types of things are important.
So they are challenges, but opportunities as well.
They are opportunities, if you’re set to look at them as opportunities. They can quickly become disasters if you’re not prepared for them. Staying innovative is a challenge, but using technology like Playvox, having the correct team in place, and making sure the right processes and procedures are implemented – that’s when you can take advantage of these digital opportunities.
You said that one of your challenges is to innovate. How do you stay up-to-date to be a leading call center?
Among the 70,000 or so contact centers across the world – innovation is one of our distinguishers.
We seek how to do things better – higher quality, performance, efficiency – whether that means implementing a new system, tool, technology, solution, or service time. And cheaper! If we can combine one or some of those into our overall service offering them in one place, then I think we have innovated.
What new technologies have been most helpful in improving quality and performance in your call centers?
First you have to decide as what metrics you want to measure, the ROI you are looking for, and put the right program managers in place to run any new technology you bring on.
We chose PlayVox because we thought we wanted a gamification software to engage employees. But what our clients found is that PlayVox is engaging because it has improved communication, training, coaching, and performance data management.
When you can communicate with agents, supervisors, trainers, quality assurance, and management staff across the board, all without sending mass e-mails to people, regardless of geography, regardless of time zone, regardless of hierarchy in an organization and across multiple orgs – that’s incredible.
Playvox has provided us the incredible support and framework and they’ve listened to us. I think the future is bright, and we will continue to integrate Playvox into our operations and into our clients’ operations.
What techniques do would you recommend to new call center executives who want to learn more about best practices to run their centers?
I go to industry events. I interact with peers that are both friends and colleagues in the industry.
I participate in a weekly twitter chat with the ICMI group on #ICMIChat to discuss various call center topics with thought leaders worldwide.
You have to talk to people and be out there in the virtual world – it’s not always possible to jump on a plane and go to the next trade show, so its valuable to use social media as a tool to connect and learn.
Neal Topf is a strong leader who genuinely cares about the overall well-being of his employees because he knows this is the secret to an incredible customer success experience. Lead by example, don’t take short-cuts, and always keep the customer at the fore-front of your mind.