How Active Listening Led to 10x Growth for a Customer Service Program

This week’s guest is Cristy Gavino, iQor director of operations in SM City Clark, Philippines. With an extensive background in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, Cristy has inspired impressive growth for the customer service program she oversees while simultaneously producing amazing customer outcomes and meaningful employee experiences. Under her leadership and commitment to customer support, the program’s full-time agent headcount has grown by a factor of 10. In this episode, we hear her strategies for success at iQor as a leading BPO as well as tips for those aspiring to leadership roles in the customer service industry.

Planting the Seeds for Growth in a Customer Service Environment

Cristy joined iQor’s operations team as a senior manager in 2018 at the Santa Rosa, Laguna contact center in the Philippines before moving to the Clark, Pampanga location in 2019 to launch a new line of business. The new customer service program began with a 300-person headcount that consistently created extraordinary experiences for customers and employees alike. These meaningful experiences and strategic initiatives led to significant sales contributions while achieving all key performance indicators (KPIs) such as high performance, profit and loss goals, attendance, and low attrition.

With the customer service team exceeding expectations for sought-after customer experiences and high levels of customer satisfaction, the client expanded the program headcount to 3,000. In addition to increasing the number of full-time employees by a factor of 10, the client awarded iQor three additional lines of business for customer support.

Amid the growth of the customer service program she oversaw, Cristy was promoted to operations director in June 2021—overseeing, supporting, and managing more than 1,800 full-time employees. Her primary responsibility as director is to ensure that customer, employee, and client expectations (including KPIs) are met on a day-to-day basis. These assurances for meaningful customer experiences through excellent customer service result in improved customer loyalty, retention, and feedback.

The expectation for clear and open communication is essential, both with employees and with clients. Obtaining clear goals from the client while maintaining transparent communications with them helps ensure client expectations are met for an optimal customer experience.

The Secret to Successful Employee and Customer Engagement

So what is Cristy’s secret to her program’s growth and success in creating happy customer experiences? The power of listening. Plain and simple, listening to employees makes all the difference.

Cristy says this is what sets iQor apart. In her 15 years of experience in the BPO industry, iQor is the first company she encountered that took listening to the next level. She explains how many companies would listen and present solutions without thoughtful follow-through. In her experience, this often leads employees to lose their trust in leadership and the company overall, ultimately discouraging them from making recommendations the next time leadership seeks them out for feedback.

When an employee shares their feedback, it reflects genuine care about their site and their commitment to being a part of the solution. Placing a high value on each team member’s experience exemplifies a collaborative environment that focuses on employee engagement for continued growth and learning.

At iQor, Cristy enjoys the organizational culture of regularly seeking input, listening with an open mind, taking thoughtful actions, and communicating progress back to employees. One of the most significant industry-wide pain points is that agents do not feel supported. iQor changes that. Supporting agents play a significant role in making customer service sites and programs successful, elevating them from good to great levels of customer satisfaction.

Making Operational Changes From the Ground Up

Throughout all the listening and research, Cristy found that the majority of employees that leave their positions in the BPO industry do so because of interactions with either their supervisor or immediate manager. This is not unique to iQor. What is different, however, is that iQor in SM City Clark under Cristy’s leadership, took the feedback and created and implemented a three-step strategy to improve experiences for all—from agents, to supervisors, to customers, to clients.

A three-point strategy for success with a customer service program:

  1. Front-load operations leaders. All operations leaders complete onboarding certification training to ensure they can support high levels of customer service performance on their team. All leaders are product trained; they complete the same training modules as each customer service representative to cultivate a great customer experience. They also personally take calls, which enables them to understand the messaging and relate to their agents and customers to consistently provide excellent customer service, especially in situations when a call is escalated for additional support in the customer journey. These customer service trainings empower leaders with a clear understanding of the expectations for each line of business to guide agents and maintain a clear focus on customer needs that yields customer satisfaction and loyalty. Strong leadership support doesn’t end there. All leaders are enrolled in continuing education courses to help them evolve and learn new leadership strategies to guide even better customer service.
  2. Involve operations in the hiring process. All leaders at Cristy’s site in SM City Clark are involved in the hiring, training, and retention process. They work hand-in-hand with recruiting. They have a clear understanding of the client’s customer experience expectations from day one, enabling them to hire applicants who best fit the client’s skills requirements.
  3. Ensure operations leaders are present at agent trainings. Leaders are physically present at agent trainings, enabling them to get to know their agents and build solid, professional working relationships early on. Leaders guide, assist, and coach their agents in real time, setting the expectation for excellent customer service achieved through teamwork and support from the very beginning. The trainings simulate a production environment similar to what agents will experience on the contact center floor, making for a smoother transition from recruitment and training to customer-facing. With these partnerships, nine out of 10 agents successfully graduate the training program as they feel more supported, empowered, and prepared to create an amazing customer experience.

This three-point strategy is akin to a streamlined production system. When combined with open communication and active listening, it has produced an environment that fosters powerful customer service experiences with happy employees and satisfied customers. Contact center agents feel heard and valued as part of the customer experience team from the very beginning which creates a foundation for them to provide excellent customer service. This has resulted in low attrition and high attendance rates of 98%, even when the client needs overtime. Agents know leaders will take calls with them and support them in all areas at work, in both work-in-office and work-at-home environments. They feel well trained, well guided and well supported by coaches which make for better overall experiences for employees, customers, and clients. Indeed, employee dedication builds a strong customer service team that results in great customer service and strengthened customer loyalty.

Advice for Future Leaders

Cristy embodies iQorian values through her leadership, professionalism, and the importance she places on each member of her team. These values remain at the heart of everything she does. She gains inspiration from her favorite quote, which is from the Dalai Lama who said, “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”

This transformative approach to leadership development celebrates the importance of listening. Cristy encourages future leaders to share their passion for their job and express their suggestions for process improvements. It takes courage for agents to share their suggestions, feedback, and recommendations. And, most of the time they are right. Leaders can grow by listening with the intent to understand, resolve, and take appropriate actions to eliminate pain points. Agents’ jobs are challenging; valuing their input and winning their hearts can inspire them to excel in their job and develop leadership skills to support their growth into future leadership positions as well.

Cristy believes that a leader’s success is directly tied to their team. Recently honored with iQor’s Top Star Award for her accomplishments and contributions to customer service for the customer service client program she oversees, Cristy sees it as a recognition of her team’s hard work and successes. She takes great pride in how her group has worked together to improve employee, customer, and client experiences.

What Cristy Does for Fun

Cristy is a minimalist with a passion for simplicity. When not at work, she participates in a virtual movement that encourages people to live sustainably and eliminate unnecessary clutter from their lives.

Learn more about iQor digital customer experience capabilities.