For some companies, “We’re just a phone call away, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year” is a boast often not tied to satisfactory results. But it means peace of mind to members of AAA Roadside Assistance, who rely on AAA’s call center folks to send appropriate help when unexpected car troubles strike. It’s also critical to the reputations of AAA’s business-to-business (B2B) accounts.
Although the AAA National Office is in Heathrow, Florida, some of its inbound B2B road service calls are outsourced and handled through EDS’ call center in Detroit, Michigan. But this arrangement is definitely not an average call center deal. Like sparkles of gold in rocks, EDS and AAA saw a vision of mutually increasing their market share by collaboratively working together. Theirs is a story of a highly effective convergence of two companies’ interests.
On a Road Together
In the late 1990s, EDS was considering call center work for road service; at the same time, AAA was considering how it might begin handling B2B calls. The two joined forces, and so began their first joint outsourcing foray.
“Both of our companies have very different strengths in services,” says Lara Garrison, AAA’s Manager. “It is a very good blend. It has always been a mutually helping culture, but it has evolved and is now far above average. We know what the other goes through because we both operate centers, and we both have the central goal of putting customers first.”
Collaboration wears two hats: certainly it is prominent in innovation, but it also describes the ways the parties interact on a daily basis.
With this B2B roadside assistance solution in place, AAA and EDS began collaborating on technology and processes to provide a seamless front to callers and to ensure high customer satisfaction scores. A recent innovation resulting from their collaboration is the “Light Service” program. Some roadside calls really don’t require a flat bed to tow the vehicle. Flat tire changes or fuel delivery, for instance, can be handled with a small van and a technician.
“Customer satisfaction scores on these calls are higher because they are getting more personalized service,” reports Garrison. “This has been a good experience for our relationship. We both came up with this idea, presented it to our commercial customers, and then it was piloted and put in place. It has worked very well.”
The Mindset of Collaboration
Collaboration is more than innovation. More importantly, it is considering how an action might impact the other company in a relationship; this sets the tone for how they make decisions. Collaboration requires an element of flexibility, and both AAA and EDS demonstrate this mindset and behavior. They work as a cohesive team in developing remedies and solutions for issues encountered.
The major utility blackout situation in 2003 on the east coast of the United States was one of many opportunities for the two companies to showcase their flexibility. When EDS’ Detroit call center went dark, battery back-up service enabled employees to continue taking calls. When it became clear that the blackout would outlast the batteries, the center’s disaster recovery plan kicked in; and B2B calls from the eastern seaboard were rerouted to AAA’s Florida center. “Within an hour we put extra people in place to handle that situation 24×7,” Garrison recalls. “After 41 hours, we transferred the calls back to EDS in Detroit. It was all seamless to the end users.”
Even when their challenges could be considered as the fault of one party or the other, their aligned interests enable both to collaborate on a mutually beneficial solution. Garrison relates an incident where a billing error occurred. “It would have been very easy for EDS to have said, ‘We did everything we were supposed to do, and it was AAA’s error;’ or for AAA to say, ‘Well, EDS was at fault.’ But that wasn’t what happened. We both said we understood we needed to fix the situation, and then we worked together to make sure it didn’t happen again in the future.”
The Success Yardstick
There are always unanticipated business cataclysms. But no matter how, when or where they manifest themselves, a collaborative outsourcing relationship can handle them. The relationship of EDS and AAA is a portrait of what collaborative outcomes look like. They continually meet their goal of excellence in customer service, ranked year after year at the top of Maritz customer satisfaction scores.
“Basically, we are successful together if our clients and the end users are happy with us,” explains Garrison. “I don’t know of many relationships where you have people from two companies providing seamless service. No one knows what happens behind the scenes, and that’s how it should be. “This is a wonderful relationship, and our clients like the relationship’s service.”
View on Relationship-Building:
- “We recognize that we need each other’s cooperation in achieving our desired business outcomes and that, if we start pointing fingers instead of working together, the relationship will fall apart.”
- “Our relationship is extremely strong. It’s important that we genuinely respect each other and all get along well. When any of us are in each other’s towns, we typically plan a lunch or dinner to have some outside time together to develop our business relationship.”