Creating a Candid Culture


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Last week in Las Vegas at IQPC Call Center Week I saw Steve Kaay from US Auto Parts deliver an insightful keynote presentation to a room packed full of contact center managers and executives.

Kaay’s presentation focused on customer loyalty and how to get it; his philosophy is to create a candid culture. Check out this clip ( of his presentation where he talks about being honest and transparent with customers. Kaay’s theory is that you need to be forthright with customers, which goes beyond honesty. His assertions – tell the customer everything, don’t just answer their question. Be totally up front when something goes wrong and let the customer know how you are dealing with it. This approach has helped US Auto Parts improve customer satisfaction.

This seems simple and basic, but Kaay shared several stories from the trenches where agents had actually been instructed to withhold the truth. In one instance, he hired an agent who had worked previously in a call center where he wasn’t allowed to divulge the location of the call center. Under Kaay’s direction, this agent now proudly answers the phone, “US Auto Parts, you are talking to Tim in the Philippines.” As a consumer I really like this approach; as a professional working in the customer experience industry I applaud it.

Kaay also spent some time talking about engaging with and motivating call center employees. He shared many tips, some I found fantastic and, I think, unique. If you want to know what agents really think, go to the smoking patio during smoke breaks. This is where brutal honesty comes into play, not in formal feedback sessions in conference rooms. Don’t smoke? Kaay offers this piece of advice to call center managers: get a lighter and stand out there lighting your agents’ cigarettes. The information you glean will be invaluable (but, I’m not so sure about the second hand smoke).

Kaay also emphasized developing a culture of positive reinforcement; he suggests supervisors and managers try to catch agents doing something right. I read a lot of parenting books, so this sounds familiar and I know it works with children. Kaay claims that positive reinforcement with agents is the “mother of all power tools” for managing a call center. He takes it a step further and insists you can’t make a positive and emotional connection with customers if management is hard on employees.

Kaay also appears to be a big reader and noted that he and his team often read books together and discuss them. A few suggestions that he made that I plan to check out include:

The Experience Economy by Joseph Pine & James Gilmore
Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni
The Birth Order Book by Kevin Leman

I’d love to hear any tips from managers and executives who have successfully implemented a candid culture with both customers and employees.

Katie O'Connell
In her role as director of customer programs, Katie meets regularly with RightNow clients to learn about their challenges and successes. Previously, Katie ran RightNow's North America public relations program. Prior to RightNow, she helped drive strategic public relations for Oracle, Siebel, Commerce One, and Informatica.


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