Time flies when you’re having fun so it’s hard to believe that we haven’t contributed a blog in over a month. It’s been a busy spring. Members of our Leadership team have been out more than usual at conferences, with clients and prospective clients. Vacations are also a factor in what was a busy spring which affected us with busy phones. (That’s a good thing) And many members of our team managed to take some time off themselves in pursuit of happy, healthy and grounded lives.
Last year we blogged about and reflected upon the topic of happiness which is best thought of as a skill. The formula for happiness is not the same for everyone. The simple truth is with happiness – The more you have; the more everyone has. We wanted to re-visit this idea with a spotlight on one of our own – Nicole Heard. Nicole is one of our Tour Systems Specialists (Switchfly™ SaaS expert) and has been with our company since its inception in 1994. Starting on the phones as a Customer Care Agent, Nicole has worked her way through the ranks and was recognized in 2011 as our “employee of the year”.
Nicole recently shared a story. “I enjoyed running when I was younger and picked it back up again the last few years. I've always thought of being able to do a half marathon and I am a huge fan of Disney - So when I came across information about Disney's Princess Half Marathon Weekend, I had to commit.” And added “what a dream come true it would be to run down Main Street USA and through Cinderella's Castle”. This year Walt Disney World hosted the fifth annual event. In all, more than 22,000 runners participated including Nicole. A really great achievement - Well done!!!!
This Sunday is Mother’s Day and this blog is dedicated to all the great moms that work here at Trase Miller including Nicole (mother of 2) who is an inspiration to us all that are also in pursuit of happy, healthy and grounded lives.
The first official day of spring was on March 20th. March didn’t go out like a lamb as the saying goes. March was a miserable bad weather month. Our phones we incredibly busy as we are tasked with re-accommodating people on their various journeys and travel adventures. After a long winter (also plagued by sustained big bad weather systems) we feel like we have a bit of spring fever.
Though “spring fever” is not a true disease or diagnosis there are several physical and psychological symptoms associated with the arrival of spring. Many of the associated symptoms of spring fever are about energy level. This week our managers met for our Quarterly Quality Forum to talk specifically about quality customer experiences and some new measures and metrics that we will be putting into place. It was clear in our meeting that our team in general is running on increased energy. So, yes – We have spring fever.
As a follow up to our last blog, we are pleased to report a 92% Team Quality score for Q#1 2013. This is worthy of mention and celebration. We are so very proud of everyone that dug deep, worked overtime and provided stellar customer experiences in the face of challenge. And this was our fourth consecutive quarter of +90% team quality score. Way to go!
Spring also represents renewal and we certainly do collectively feel a sense of renewal around here. Just recently - We unveiled a new look and navigation to our web site, we awarded promotions to a number of well deserving employees and we began testing out new ergonomic chairs in our contact centers. Stand alone any of these things may seem small but combined with other initiatives and accomplishments, we feel like we are moving forward in renewed ways.
Traced back to ancient biblical times, the seal has always served the purpose of validating authenticity. The seal also symbolizes approval from a higher order. During medieval times, almost everyone had their own seal. Royalty in fact would own several. Seals are like personal signatures and tradition before modern times had been to destroy the seal when the owner died. (This is the reason so few original seals can be found lying around) Royalty and governments even still use their own seals on documents to signify an authoritative stamp of approval. But these days it’s more often than not a cool decorative accent on invitations etc.
Lately at Trase Miller, we’ve been putting a quality seal on some internal documents. The seal we have created symbolizes our commitment to quality and it serves as a reminder that this commitment is the reason we have hung around for nearly 20 years.
Regrettably, the word “quality” has morphed into a corporate cliché. Most company’s talk about quality – Some companies measure quality. But few companies have the guts to post it up for all to see. We do.
It is an absolute truth that we celebrate and monitor quality each and every day. In the next couple of weeks several important events will take place here at Trase Miller relative to quality. Firstly – At the end of March we will be posting up our Q1 Team Quality Scores. It’s a big deal to us as it’s a measure of performance that represents the efforts of everyone in our contact center. Every Trase Miller Customer Care Agent is recorded and coached multiple times in a month. Agents are assigned a score for their monitored calls and scores are then aggregated into a team score. So the big question is – Will Q1 be another stellar performance of ABOVE NINETY PERCENT?
The second big quality event coming up is our Quarterly Quality Forum. QQF happens four times a year where our management and leadership teams meet and strategize about how to keep our quality scores up. It’s always an interactive and thought provoking two hours. Stay tuned to hear results and juicy details from both of these events.
Like a firestorm, the topic of “working from home” ripped through the media this week on the heels of Yahoo’s decision to significantly curtail work from home arrangements. The Wall Street Journal cited a Stanford University study about Chinese contact center workers. The study revealed workers “took fewer breaks and worked more efficiently”. Though a trip to China might always be lovely, we wouldn’t have to travel there to validate what we know. And that is - our own work from home people consistently perform at higher productivity levels and also deliver higher quality scores.
We began exploring the brave new world of dispatching remote agents about five years ago. From our perspective, the work from home (WFH) experiment has been a resounding success. These days over 30% of our work force are taking calls in the comfort of their homes. Trase Miller’s leadership has been cautious about a wholesale transformation to a total home based workforce. The truth is that we have learned it’s simply not the best possible option for everyone that wishes to work here. People have different needs and their lifestyle may not be conducive to the way we legislate conditions for our WFH team members. Customer Care Agents wishing to work from their homes are required to “nest” in one of our centers for a period of several months. Other than this, we essentially only require three other criteria from WFH candidates:
- Candidates must be within 30 mile of a Trase Miller contact center – “Residence Proximity”
- Candidates must demonstrate that they have a dedicated work space – “At-Home Office”
- Candidates must have and pay for their own Internet connection – “High-Speed Connection”
Back to the idea that working from home isn’t for everyone. Our HR and L &D teams are seasoned professionals that understand it’s not only about finding and attracting the best available people but that finding the right fitting job for people at the right time has evolved into what is known as “workforce science”. This particular type of science is driven by sophisticated measurement instruments like psychometric testing and of course the data that the testing reveals. Suffice it to say; we don’t make guesses and we don’t make gambles on which Customer Care Agents will be successful working from home.
One last note. Trase Miller is hiring Customer Care Agents to support our growing business! Great benefits, competitive pay, and industry discounts. FT, PT, Bilingual and Work From Home opportunities. Training start's March 18th!
Everybody’s screens were busy related to trending #travel topics last week. Some of us were riveted by the stranded cruise ship. Other folks are watching the story unfold of the meteor hit in central Russia. The annual carnival ended in RIO DE JANEIRO and by all reports a good time was had by all. As we write thousands of stranded of travelers (labor strike issues) are trying to figure out how to get home from Germany. The point is that the human condition predisposes us all to be fascinated with stories about travel and events in faraway places.
Last week several of our Leaders travelled to San Francisco to meet with other travel executives at the Switchfly Annual Conference. Switchfly technology is used by us and other leading travel companies and loyalty programs. We are in fact strategic partners with Switchfly and as a heavy user of their SaaS platform, we are proud of what we have accomplished together. (FYI - Switchfly processes over $750 million worth of commerce every year and the platform itself enables travelers to visit nearly every country on the planet.) We always come back from the conference with fresh ideas and we always make a few new friends. Such is the essence of travel itself, right?
Speaking of visiting nearly every country on the planet – We had the opportunity to spend some time this week chatting about the wonder of travel and extreme globetrotting with a new team member here at Trase Miller. Chance B. joined our team a few months ago and truly has a passion for travel. Chance grew up in a military family and he himself served in the military. Chance has so far been to over 40 countries. WOW! We asked Chance to recount his most intriguing trips and several came to mind. Much of Chance’s travel abroad was spent in Asia and he sites Asia as the most interesting of all continents. Hong Kong is the destination that Chance has spent the most time in and it’s the people there that strike Chance as remarkable. “The population is so concentrated and yet the people make visitors feel so welcome” according to Chance. Equally as fascinating to Chance in his travels is The Amazon. “I spent several weeks on the river and hardly saw a soul. Exactly the opposite of my Asia travels.” The most “exotic” place Chance has been is Kenya. Of course you will be reading his insights about all these places and more in Trase Miller Travels.
Back to where this ramble started and #travel in the news. We at Trase Miller were paying close attention to the latest airline consolidation story; American Airlines and US Airways. American Airlines has been a client partner of ours since our inception in 1994 and we very much identify with the brand and all the good people that we work with there. These are exciting times and we look forward to our continued involvement with The New American Airlines.
Tomorrow is Groundhog Day. Surely you have big plans to celebrate. Groundhogs are actually more commonly known as wood chucks and WE draw some wisdom from the animal, the annual celebration and the popular movie made in 1993 (a year before our inception).
We have mentioned our company’s duality several times in our blog. We have an Illinois presence but most of our staff lives/works in Oklahoma. Groundhogs/woodchucks are actually very rarely seen in Oklahoma so we need to provide some detail here about the animal to those readers in Oklahoma and other places not familiar with the animal. The groundhog is a lowland creature widely found in North America but most common in the northeastern and central USA. It is a rodent that belongs to the group of large ground squirrels that can grow to thirty or so pounds. Groundhogs are diggers that have short/powerful limbs and curved thick claws and have an incredible sense of hearing. Groundhogs raised in captivity can be socialized relatively easily and quickly. What an incredible animal really. They know how to dig in, they are good listeners and they learn fast.
In dozens of cities in the USA and Canada, there will be Groundhog Day celebrations. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and the winter weather will continue for six more weeks. The largest Groundhog Day celebration (up to 40,000 celebrants) is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The star of the show is of course the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil. According to records kept since 1887, Punxsutawney Phil's weather predictions have been correct 39% of the time. Not exactly a reliable predictor but always a heck of a good party. And people travel from all over for this party. “Prognostication” happens at Gobbler's Knob in the early morning and though the event is free it brings a great deal of revenue into the region. Those of us in the travel business know that this is a good thing!
Bill Murray stars in the 1993 comedy movie Groundhog Day which takes place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania though mostly the movie was filmed in Woodstock, Illinois. Murray’s character is forced to relive the day over and over again until he can learn to be more selfless and become a better person. And he does. It’s a great film that is referenced frequently in popular culture.
So what does all this have to do with our contact center? A fair amount actually. This week we welcomed a new group (class) of employees. Sarah Adair leads our Learning and Development team and shared that 17 of the 20 candidates we extending offers to are actually employee referrals and shared, “To me that says people like working here and are sharing that sentiment with their friends and family. After a full week, I’m seeing active listening, bright personalities and people who are excited, eager and willing to learn.” Wow - They know how to dig in, they are good listeners and they learn fast.
Also this past week, the phones got very, very busy. We broke a few of our own records and it was nearly an overwhelming week really. Because our team has so many selfless people – We were able to keep up pretty well. Our clients appreciate these kinds of efforts and we the leaders of this business appreciate the sacrifices that so many of our good people make when it gets a little crazy. Veterans; THANK YOU and new recruits; WELCOME to the Trase Miller family.
There is a great deal of research available on the topic of customer satisfaction. The business of customer satisfaction analytics is actually very big business and it even has an acronym – CSAT. Research companies, academics, service providers (like us) and marketers alike pay much attention to the meaning and the metrics associated with CSAT. See for yourself in a google/search engine query – There are tons of results but one curious related topic is that of the “zone of tolerance” or ZoT. This phrase describes what a person/customer is willing to put up with most often in terms of wait time.
Really good companies pay attention to CSAT and every last detail of the customer experience. And really good companies think about how loyalty can (in part) be impacted by managing customer expectations and the amount of time they will spend waiting. We recently had some spirited debate here about improving the customer experience during any of the brief hold times that a customer might have to put up with. Note: All of our clients buy into premium service level standards and all of our contracts bind us to expose customers to very minimal hold time.
A few years ago the University of Cincinnati and associate professor of marketing James Kellaris studied the effects of music on consumers and evaluated the effects of "hold music". This was a ground breaking and extensive research project and the results are thought of as the gold standard of ZoT and consumer sentiment related to hold music.
According to the Kellaris "Alternative music, is probably the best choice. Two things made it a good choice. First, it did not produce significantly more positive or negatives reactions in people. Second, males and females were less polarized in their reactions to this type of music." Of other music genres, Kellaris' findings also suggest:
- Among males, the wait seemed shortest when classical music was played. Among females, the wait seemed longest when classical music was played. This is thought to be related to differences in attention levels and musical preferences.
- Rock was the least preferred across both gender groups and produced the longest waiting time perception.
Dr. Jim Will (Ph.D. University of Oklahoma) has also studied hold music effects on consumers. Will asserts that music is all about keeping callers involved and interested without chancing negative associations to any particular music and that the optimal hold music selections should utilize upbeat generic music that is unrecognizable to the caller. The idea is to avoid chancing any negative associations to any particular song or genre of music.
We probably won’t be discussing hold music again in our blog, but we certainly will be writing about CSAT in the days ahead. Stay tuned.
Nearly 50% of adult Americans make one or more resolutions at the onslaught of a new year. And they break them. In any case, physiologists assert that making resolutions is a healthy practice and that making resolutions is useful. People who make thoughtful explicit resolutions are TEN times more likely to reach their goals than people who don't make specific resolutions. We’re going to make a few here. We as a company are quite resolute in the way we conduct our business so ours is a short and sweet list.
1) Live Our Promise 24/7/365
At the heart of our identity is the phrase “we’re here to help you” which is articulated in our company promise and is in fact the essence of why we are here. It is not a slogan – It is a tagline that speaks about our company, but more importantly about the people that work here. Our Agents use the tagline “we’re here to help you” to help communicate what we stand for and to convey a universally embraced assurance to people that are in need of assistance.
“We’re here to help you” is our promise that as a customer you will be completely satisfied, as a client we will help you grow your business, and as a company Trase Miller will be a great place to work.
2) Double Down
A gambling/blackjack term, “double down” describes a strategy for players who are confident of the strength of their hand whereby they can choose to double their bid. Of course we know this is a circa 2010 corporate buzzword but we’re going to use it anyway because we mean it and we’re doing it. This week we welcomed a new Director of Customer Care, Perry Terronez. Perry was a supervisor at Trase Miller many years ago but most recently he was at SITEL where he was the Process Improvement Project Manager focusing (via Six Sigma) on improvements of the overall call center experience for both SITEL’s employees & their clients. Perry has held management positions at Conoco Phillips, Omni Air transport & AT&T where he has been an analyst, Director of Business Development and National Distribution Sales Manager. We are delighted to welcome Perry back and hold his return out as just one example of doubling our bets in 2013.
3) Think Big and Creatively – Act Humbly
Our third 2013 resolution is important as a fast growing company. And we are resolute about the way it cascades through our fast growing organization. Growth can be painful but less so if all team members think big and creatively but act humbly.
Next week, the Leadership team meets in Tulsa to carefully review 2013 plans and ponder the years beyond. The tone of our executive planning meetings is an interesting mash-up; supportive, analytical, serious, playful, direct and respectful. In the meetings we think big and creatively with each other but always act humbly toward each other. Our Leadership team is a close knit group that communicates often and openly about business issues of today and the future of our company. Our General Manager, Frank Silzer has much to do with our culture and by the way, this week marked Frank’s 30th anniversary with parent company JFM Enterprises. Congratulations, Frank ~ Our clarity of purpose is sustained by your leadership. We all strive to be like Frank in the way we think and act. Big and creative but humble…
As 2012 comes to a close we all do our best to slide into the holiday weeks in good spirits. What helps many of us here make “spirits bright” is a reflection back on the year. James Lord Pierpont wrote a song back in 1857 that is synonymous with Christmas. If you stop and listen to the lyrics, you realize that the sleigh ride J.L.P. writes about is much like the year we had here at Trase Miller.
In the last verse, we are instructed to choose a fast horse, to pick up some new people and to take off at full speed. No – really, this is true. http://www.jingle-bells-lyrics.com/
Now the ground is white
Go it while you're young,
Take the girls tonight
and sing this sleighing song;
Just get a bobtailed bay
Two forty as his speed
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack! You’ll take the lead.
| Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way.
Oh! what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.
Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way;
Oh! what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.
So yes it’s true – We kicked off 2012 with a fast (faster) horse. We moved to a new building. We invested in some new equipment and technologies. And we modified some policies and procedures to accommodate a changing workforce. There’s more but those are a few highlights. Special thanks to our IT Leader John Coles for giving leadership and for helping to pick a faster horse.
Our biggest 2012 story (and accomplishment) was all about people and picking up new people. This was mostly driven by clients whose business was growing and by adding some new clients to our roster. It’s not a small thing because we recruit and select very carefully. We hired well over 100 new people in 2012; so our HR and L and D teams worked double overtime most of the year. Special thanks to Sarah Adair who leads those teams and made it all happen.
We took off at full speed in early 2012 and we had little time to rest the entire year. Vacations were constantly being put on hold, business travel schedules were rigorous and we began running out of space in our main operations center. Intense describes our overall 2012 pace and intense describes the energy put forth by Debbie Greene. Special thanks to Debbie for her leadership and dedication!
And to everyone that works here – Oh what fun it was to ride. Thanks for making this a great place to work and thanks for a fantastic effort in 2012 24/7/365.
Our last two blogs were dedicated to recognition of people’s achievement here at Trase Miller. If you watch even a little television, you are subjected to the commercials/infomercials that annoyingly push silly products upon us. Near the end of the ad is the enticement “but wait – there’s more”. Generally the offer is double the stuff.
Before paying tribute to 2012’s top achievers, we wanted to discuss the notion of how people here get pulled into the achievement cycle. It begins with employee engagement which we have discussed many times in this blog. Those employees that are the most engaged tend to be the most loyal. One measure of loyalty is tenure and the average tenure of this year’s high achievers is 10+ years. No kidding!
So on the topic of achievements here at Trase Miller – WAIT, THERE’S MORE...
Pam Shelnut – The 2012 Awesome Achiever Award Winner
To say that Pam exceeds expectations at Trase Miller would be an understatement. As an Operations Analyst, Pam continued to teach herself how to build tables to make our reporting top notch. This year, Pam’s talent was recognized and she was promoted to Sr. Operations Analyst. Pam works very closely with other members of management and she truly thinks outside the box. Her ideas and suggestions often involve ways for our company to be more operationally efficient. At the same time, Pam makes the workplace more inviting by her contribution of her time as The Trase Miller Employee Club Coordinator. She has in fact revitalized our TMEC program in many ways. Pam is the epitome of great attitude. She inspires everyone around her with her dedication and caring. On behalf of everyone who has benefited from her phenomenal work ethic and service, Pam Shelnut is very deserving of the 2012 Awesome Achiever Award.
Eugene King – The “we’re here to help you” Award Winner
“We’re here to help you.” is our company promise that is really a very important message however those who deliver this message are what make it so special. The message is mission critical and our leadership created an award for the person that most enthusiastically embraces its importance. This year the employee honored (first time recipient) is known for always going the extra mile to show care for fellow co-workers and our customers. He is always willing to lend a helping hand and consistently raises spirits. He has a passion for training and helping others learn. He was a valuable member of our sup assist team and I am grateful to say he is now a fellow member of our Supervisor team. Congratulations Eugene!
We get double the stuff from our people because deep in their DNA is the understanding that the attitude of “we’re here to help you” is not only a meaningful tag line and differentiator; it’s how we view our place in the world.