Our client is an established utilities provider with over 170 years of experience, supplying natural gas to more than 1.2 million customers in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. With a customer base of this size, a robust and efficient call center is critical to support and address customer inquiries, including beginning and ending of service. If unable to provide quality customer service, they not only faced losing customers, but also millions in fines and penalties.
Our client began using a new business process outsourcing (BPO) provider, but soon realized they were not set up to quickly hire, onboard and train the number of customer service representatives needed to support their large customer base. This, combined with supply chain issues that made it difficult for our client to acquire the equipment they needed for their mostly remote workers, led to a severe staffing shortage. As a result, hold times soared to over four hours in some cases. An influx of complaints soon followed, directed toward our client’s social media channels and the Maryland State Public Service Commission. This regulatory body opened an investigation based on customer complaints and issued our client a penalty of $1.1 million. To avoid further penalties, they were asked to meet certain benchmarks for customer satisfaction, including decreasing customer wait times to 30 seconds.
Our client came to Aston Carter for assistance in optimizing the onboarding and training process for their customer service representatives to reach benchmarks, improve customer relations and avoid future fines. We previously worked with this client in a staffing capacity and based on their level of trust in us, felt confident evolving our partnership further into managed solutions capacity to meet their needs.
We took on this challenge by providing a full-service approach: staffing, onboarding, training, asset distribution and performance optimization. To improve customer experience, we needed to increase employee engagement and retention, ensuring our client had enough well-trained staff to handle the volume of customer calls they received daily.
To support our client’s immediate staffing needs, we sourced, hired, onboarded and trained a customer service team of 25 additional representatives in less than four weeks. Over the course of the engagement, we scaled this solution to meet our client’s ongoing retention issues, adding four additional hiring classes to grow the team to over 90 representatives. To support this team, we hired a client engagement manager (CEM), a workforce administrator, two training specialists, a quality assurance representative and four team leads.
Aston Carter’s CEM brought years of experience in the utilities space to this client. They managed the customer service representatives per client requirements, overseeing performance optimization initiatives, training and coaching, while providing regular reporting. Additional team members managed employee attendance, scheduling, performance feedback and daily interactions. This oversight support was crucial, as our client did not have the bandwidth to manage a large, remote team.
Our team implemented new processes aimed at streamlining onboarding and training. We created an onboarding orientation that focused on the first day and first week experience, as well as company expectations, policies and procedures. Creating a more robust and streamlined onboarding experience helped employees feel supported and engaged from day one, improving retention within the team. To further streamline the onboarding process, we distributed training surveys to employees to get immediate feedback on their onboarding experience, implementing any necessary changes during the engagement.
With the help of our quality assurance representative, we began a practice of analyzing one to two customer service calls per representative per week. We measured these calls for quality and provided feedback to both management and employees if additional training was needed.
Although our client did not initially anticipate needing assistance supplying assets, supply chain issues made it difficult for them to get the technology their remote staff needed in a timely manner. We sourced and shipped laptops, monitors and headsets to all 90 remote customer service representatives. Our IT team worked closely with our client’s team to ensure all necessary software was installed on laptops prior to employees’ first days and provided equipment-specific support to the customer service representatives as needed, including during orientation.
We measured the success of this engagement on two fronts: externally through improved customer experience and internally through employee feedback.
From our ability to provide highly trained staff, our client was able to meet the benchmarks the Maryland State Public Service Commission put in place, dropping hold times from over four hours to just 20 seconds. This helped them avoid further costly penalties that may have totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars. Decreased wait times also led to a significant drop in customer complaints both online and to the regulatory board.
Internal feedback was positive as well. A worker engagement survey distributed to our client’s customer service representatives showed that 95% of those surveyed said they would recommend our client to their families and friends. Overall, in the five hiring classes we onboarded, the majority of contractors successfully completed the assignment.
We were originally contracted for a six-month engagement with our client, which was extended based on the success of our partnership. By quickly responding to their needs and focusing on training and retention, we were able to provide them with a full life cycle of support that helped dramatically improve their customer engagement work.
"We were able to have agents onboarded, trained and on the phones in half the time we usually do. In a matter of months, the service level goals that had been missed consistently over the last year were met and customer satisfaction increased due to the knowledgeable agents provided to help our customers with their needs."
CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE SUPERVISOR, UTILITIES PROVIDER