Ever tried to program your Genie garage door opener? It can be an incomprehensible task for someone without a PhD in engineering (that would be me). That's why Overhead Door Corporation's Genie call center gets 55,000 plaintive calls for help a month.
The manufacturer outsourced its call center operations to U.S. suppliers without great success. After three years with one supplier it changed outsourcers, but the results remained "just terrible," says Rob Goldberg, Director, Customer Service for Overhead Door. "The response quality was poor. They gave bad or incomplete answers. They rarely had one-call resolution," he says.
Training was tricky. Goldberg was unhappy with the call center's trainers, so he sent Genie experts to help. But Overhead Door couldn't send in trainers often enough because the Genie gurus were in Ohio and the call center was in Wisconsin. "Training was a real obstacle," he says.
In addition, he felt the call center workers had "no sense of ownership." Many employees had a short tenure. "It was clear working in the call center was a throw-away job for these people," he says. And the cost kept rising.
Then a new solution appeared like a Genie: the company decided to move its corporate headquarters from Farmers Branch to Lewisville, Texas. The Texas-sized new facility had plenty of room for a call center. The manufacturer decided to bring the call center function in house.
Trying to populate the new call center
When Overhead Door moved into its new headquarters in January 2006 there were no employees in the call center. The company has "only a handful of people" in its Human Resources (HR) department. The previous supplier had 100 people answering Genie calls. "There was no way HR could support our needs," says Goldberg.
Goldberg went to local job fairs to find call center employees. He did find some capable talent, but they decided to work in other departments. "That was great for Overhead Door but bad for me," he says with a laugh.
Call Center Manager Joe Kuntz had worked at Fidelity as a stockbroker. He knew about Veritude, a full-service talent solutions provider. Fidelity established Veritude in 1986 to handle Fidelity's North American temporary and contractor hiring. In 2000 Veritude extended its recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) offerings to the marketplace. "Kuntz said, 'If anyone can fill chairs in a call center, it's Veritude,'" Goldberg recalls. He was also happy that Veritude has a hub in Southlake, Texas, which is close to Overhead Door's headquarters. (Veritude's other hub is in Boston.)
Goldberg contacted Veritude and three other RPO suppliers. The HR department also conducted its own supplier search.
Goldberg was impressed when Veritude sent a car to Overhead Door to whisk its executives for a tour of its facility followed by lunch. "The facility was overwhelming," says the manufacturing executive. "Watching them work, I got the sense they know what they are doing and they know how to do it right," he recalls.
The supplier to the rescue
During the sales presentation a Veritude executive announced, "We don't just supply people. We partner with our customers." Goldberg says then he "didn't get the full impact of what partnering meant until I needed it."
After the manufacturer selected a supplier, the challenges arrived, teaching Goldberg the meaning of partnership. First came the software snafu. Overhead Door purchased IEX to run its call center system; its previous supplier used it and the executives liked the system. The manufacturer put in the contract IEX needed to install the software by January 2006. "IEX let us down. They took forever to get us up and running," reports Goldberg. The IEX purchase included training on the system but only after it was installed. The installation delay meant an unacceptable training delay, too.
Veritude came to the rescue. Fidelity uses IEX. Veritude invited Overhead Door's new employees to its headquarters for a half-day training session and lunch. "Veritude was always there for us when we needed continued IEX support," reports Goldberg.
Then there was the interactive voice response (IVR) challenge. Genie needed IVR commands in both Spanish and French. Someone had to translate the English IVR commands into those languages and then record them. "I had no place to go and I needed this done quickly," says Goldberg. Again Veritude came to the rescue, supplying talent who did both tasks.
"When we needed anything, Veritude was there for us. And they never charged us for any of it," says Goldberg.
Staffing the call center
Overhead Door told Veritude it needed to hire employees in three tranches. It needed 25 people on January 2. Four weeks later it needed 25 more. Then it had just 14 days to find another 25. The manufacturer wanted a mix of day shift, night shift and part-time workers. Veritude performed a salary review for the area so Overhead Door could offer jobs at competitive salaries.
Thinking he had things under control, Goldberg gave his former call center supplier a 90-day notice. He planned to go live at headquarters on April 1, 2006. Once the supplier lost this account, it decided to close it doors on February 28. Now the manufacturer had no one to answer the phones in March.
"I had a room full of people who didn't know squat. I didn't know what we were going to do," says Goldberg.
Veritude took over two offices near the lobby and began interviewing. Goldberg says he had people to interview within a week. He says the Veritude recruiters "could read my mind. If they sent me someone to interview, I knew there was a 98 percent chance I would hire them," he says.
One reason for their seeming clairvoyance: the Veritude staff spent time "learning what we do." Tom Hart, Executive Vice President of Operations and Technology for Veritude, discovered from talking to the Overhead Door executives that most callers wanted to know how to fix their remotes and they typically called in in an agitated state. "They needed someone who was very patient and who had extraordinary listening skills," he recalls. The supplier also ferreted out Spanish speakers because of the number of bilingual calls.
The customer service representatives had to become familiar with parts for remotes spanning 30 years. Each remote reacts with the door differently. Almost all callers can't find their owners manual, even if they bought the door last year.
Hart says Veritude developed a competency test for all candidates. It gave them instructions to program a new remote. If they couldn't do it within the allotted time, the interview was over. "This turned out to be a very effective screening tool," says Hart.
The supplier has rigid guidelines surrounding the requisite background check; it is a stickler for rules regarding financial responsibility. Goldberg says he was worried that rule was too strict, but he supported Veritude's decision. "At the end of the day, we got better people," he reports.
The result: Overhead Door was about to open its call center in late February, beating the March 1 drop-dead deadline. An even happier ending: the manufacturer saved $170,000 by not outsourcing to its supplier that month.
How Veritude found call center employees
Hart says the first tranche of candidates is typically the weakest, because the HR supplier is just getting a feel for the perfect candidate. The Veritude team then fine-tunes the selection process. "By the time we get to the third class, our match rate is in the 90 percent range," says Hart.
Veritude has a recruiting engine based in India and staffers in the United States. The U.S. staff concentrates on finding local candidates, while the Indians handle online searches. Fidelity already had an office in Bangalore, so adding a Veritude team there was easy. The Indians do IT-specific work, says Hart. "They are great at searching MySpace and YouTube." And the India office makes the job search a 24/7 operation. "When we show up in the morning, they have sourced 20 new people," he continues.
The supplier researched where different segments of the population look for jobs, according to Diane Shelgren, Executive Vice President, Strategy and Client Development. For example, people over 45 still look to their local newspaper for job listings, while Gen Xers focus on specific Web sites. Veritude uses this information to target personnel searches.
Currently, the manufacturer has 44 full-time slots in its Genie call center (filled by 60 people), down from the 75-100 full-time employees that were answering phones at the former supplier's call center.
Customer satisfaction has gone up as fast as a garage door. The company president "was drowning" in complaints when Overhead Door outsourced its call center. Now it's drowning in praise. One customer was so excited about getting her garage door opener to work she sent a gift card to the call center employee who helped her.
"Happy customers help our bottom line," says Goldberg. "We are a quality brand, and we want our customers to have a quality customer experience."
Good customer service has another strategic benefit. If Genie introduces a new product and there is a problem, the company will be able to spot it faster by measuring the number of complaints coming into the call center. "We can get the information to the engineering department faster," Goldberg explains.
The current retention rate is high for call center work: 98 percent. "That is amazing," says Goldberg.
Service levels have improved markedly. Today the average call time is 30 seconds, down from 4.5 minutes. The call abandonment rate was 15 percent--"unacceptable," according to Hart. Today it's just 2.6 percent.
Employees will say treats are another benefit of outsourcing. On occasion Veritude employees, including the Veritude CEO, show up with a portable oven and bake cookies for the call center staff. The entire headquarters, including the CEO, end up enjoying the sugar rush.
Today, Goldberg still uses Veritude to fill seats in his call center. For example, the company promoted five people since the center opened. Two of those people found jobs in other departments. "The company has started to recognize we hire good talent. We are becoming a labor pool. I hate to lose good people. But if I have to lose them to someone, I'm glad it's Overhead Door!" he says.
Currently the manufacture is building a new, much larger call center in its headquarters. Genie is a small part of its business. Now it wants to add more product lines to the call center's roster. Veritude will fill those seats, too.
"We solve business problems," says Bob Lopes, Veritude's President and CEO. "We come up with solutions that have impact."
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:
- Outsourcing relationships are successful when the parties take a partnering approach. Buyers truly appreciate when the supplier helps them solve problems that are not in scope.
- Knowing what to outsource is important. For Overhead Door, outsourcing the call center was the wrong decision. Outsourcing the recruitment was a great call.
- Suppliers who listen to their buyers' needs are able to solve business problems faster. Veritude was able to staff the call center quickly because it knew exactly what the manufacturer needed.
- Having an Indian office allows the RPO supplier to have a 24/7 operation. It also allows its recruiters to do what they do best: some search the Internet while others are local experts.