Case Study: Zynga and TELUS International
When social game provider Zynga – the San Francisco-based developer of CityVille and FarmVille, among others – was looking for an organisation to handle its interactions with its nearly 300 million customers globally, it wasn’t just looking for ‘customer service’: it was much more interested in ‘customer delight’… For the provider entrusted with delivering this most critical of factors, TELUS International, the learning curve was steep but eventually transformative. We got together with TELUS International President Jeffrey Puritt and Zynga’s Ramon Icasiano, Vice President of Player Advocacy, Service &Communities, to find out more about what’s proving to be a very successful partnership born from somewhat problematic beginnings…
Outsource: Jeff, let’s start with you – can you give us some background on TELUS International?
Jeffrey Puritt: TELUS International is a wholly owned subsidiary of the TELUS Corporation, one of Canada’s oldest and largest telephony providers. A little over a decade ago, it embarked on an evolution beyond telco to internet-centric services: high speed internet and IPTV. We now have the largest IPTV footprint in Canada with well over half a million customers; we have about 7.4 million wireless customers, about 3.5 million traditional LAN line customers and 1.3 million high-speed internet customers.
The creation of TELUS International was essentially to try to leverage our expertise around customer care and supporting our own customers domestically, by availing ourselves of a global workforce to drive efficiency into our domestic operations. We identified tremendous delivery capability in the Philippines back in 2005; a business which we took a majority ownership stake in had already achieved some level of capability in serving other telco customers – in the US principally – as well as some companies in other industry verticals like energy, utilities, electronics. So in addition to handling TELUS itself – which was TELUS International’s prime mandate – having inherited, if you will, these other customers, we then had the opportunity to grow the business along those two activity streams: one enabling our parent company and the other growing the business of its own accord supporting other customers.
As a result of our origins, we approached outsourcing differently from most of our peers, in that our prime mandate was to enable our parent company, not to generate revenues. So we tend to be perhaps a little bit mercenary, focus less on churning transaction and more on actually identifying the dissatisfiers and then feeding information back to the client to help them find a way to reduce the number of transactions. Because obviously the customers are calling you not to thank you, or because they need a friend, but because they are complaining they did not get what they expected to get.
O: Ramon, can you give us some insight into why from Zynga’s perspective a partnership with TELUS International made sense – what were the drivers for you at this point?
Ramon Icasiano: At Zynga our mission is to connect the world through games. We have 292 million active players per month over the 175 countries (in 18 languages) that we support. We really wanted to find a vendor or a partner who would represent the voice of our customers and provide feedback across the globe, present in those geographies on a first hand-basis. For example, customers in Guatemala told our Central America team we didn’t have their flag represented in our games. This kind of feedback is key, making sure that our games are relevant, social, and that people are able to express themselves in those games.
We engaged in a quality play, in that we had numerous organisations bidding [for Zynga’s global customer service delivery] and we said to them that the organisation that provides the highest level of delight to our players wins our business. And slowly over time based on the feedback of our players it was clear that TELUS International had the highest degree of clarity around trying to delight our players. The hardest challenge for me was, I expected an outcome but I was not attached to it: it was really going to be about our players deciding which vendor would become our partner, to watch the feedback flow and tell us “you guys could do better if you did this”. Agents were telling us these were the kinds of ideas coming from our players, that’s the information we needed to continue to improve – and that really just solidified over time. This process has been going on for a few years.
O: So you did have multiple vendors competing during the decision process?
RI: The answer is yes, we had multiple vendors. We at Zynga don’t have per se a QA department. What we have is a team that looks at all of the feedback and measurements of all the players; we call this customer support. Then we also measure customer satisfaction which is an external measurement. We measure agent rating – so how an agent did on a scale of one to five. I cant give you the number but I can tell you that if we were a car in terms of the automobile we would be up there with the Mercedes… And the last piece is, did we resolve your issue?
JP: Just for additional clarity there: the statistical relevance of the data set is 100 per cent every single player interaction with the agent. Not just with TELUS International but with our competitors. The entire contest was based on a survey sample size. Every single interaction then is the subject of that survey. And so on a monthly basis Zynga would be in a position to tell each of their vendors how we were. Ultimately as a consequence of performing better than our competition, slowly but surely our competition would deselect…
O: How long was that process?
JP: So we launched our first program supporting Zynga in December of 2009.
O: How confident were you going into that?
JP: I would say that at the outset we were highly confident,because the opportunity arose because of referrals from other gaming companies we were supporting. In fact another gaming company has been a recipient of a Gartner CRM excellence award through our support so we were under the misconception that we were ‘all that and a bag of chips’ when it came to supporting gaming customers. As it turned out, though, in our zeal to be the most efficient, most productive partner for Zynga we almost missed the boat entirely.
To Ramon’s credit, within 60 days of the relationship, he came to us and said: “You guys are missing the point here. I am not interested in how efficient and productive you guys can be. I expect that from you. I don’t give you any credit for doing any of this. What I want from you is to delight our players. So you guys need to revisit how you think to do this because if you can’t do that you are not my partner.”
So we went back and revisted what we were doing and said, OK, instead of traditional metrics, if we are solely focused on customer delight, we need to change things – starting from who manages these programs and interfaces with Ramon and his team; starting from what kind of agent profile we use in order to recruit – so instead of traditional agents whom you want to have the requisite traditional communication skills and what have you, we started to recruit gamers. People who themselves were users of Zynga’s gaming platform. And then we built into their job description and expectation that every single day on the job they themselves had to level up in the games they were supporting to ensure they were better aligned with, and more capable of having the requisite level of empathy and understanding with, the community they were going to be supporting.
And changing the entire ecosystem to be better aligned with players’ delight and embracing the philosophy that Ramon shared with us the first time we met – like for example the guiding principle he called and we have now embraced as “the moment of truth”. Which is, when that player contacts you for support that is the moment you need to delight them. You need to meet and exceed their expectations: don’t treat them the way you would want to be treated; treat them the way they want to be treated. Which sort of puts the paradigm on its head, I think. And it was only once we figured that out that things started to really work well for us.
O: Did you go only to TELUS International to deliver that message?
RI: No, everyone got that opportunity. I think the problem was, they applied a high degree of logic to it. What the moment of truth requires is thinking and making an emotional connection with that player at that time. And the beauty of it is that the player gives us enough information: “I lost my cow”; I can choose to say that at a logical level I may or may not believe that, but at an emotional level, wow, that is a real artefact that you created and invested in. So because our agents level up, they understand about getting to an emotional level when something’s missing.
We don’t give TELUS International credit for hiring the best talent, the training, managing the site, the efficiency and effectiveness – these are things for me when you engage in a partnership that are core competencies. I think where this has become so mature is that we both come to the table looking at things like what we need to do to improve player delight. At times I may or may not like what I am hearing but they are being honest and saying “you need to improve this”; ultimately it’s a value-add transaction in terms of retaining players and engaging more, and that really supports the long-term virtuous cycle – versus the vicious cycle which is “let me take every contact possible even if I am not adding value”, and then it really does become transactional.
I have seen enough two-ways QA forms during my time, and classically “did you resolve the customer’s concern” is usually midway down the form and worth x out of 100 points; what we are saying is that this is binary, it’s yes or no – it’s not a degree of “you kinda need it”… That’s why we have seen so many other cases where internal QA measurements were much higher than actual player feedback. There is no ambiguity in terms of what we are expecting and what we manage in terms of a partnership, to externally how its being measured and the feedback we get from our players.
O: How do you put that in metrics?
RI: It’s not metrics, it’s looking for players; for example, through our support channel every agent gives out free stuff for Father’s Day or Mother’s Day… From a brand perspective, over an extended period of time, our players begin to expect that and our brand becomes this fun, approachable, easy-to-do-business-with brand. And that overall builds the delight of the player. The moment of truth definitely focusses on that and I think it’s trying to make that emotional connect with that player and going beyond that. So the resolution is obviously important: I can’t resolve your concern therefore you can’t be interested in the special offer or the special virtual offer I am offering. It almost feels like that you are being taken for a ride.
O: Jeff, how radical an approach was this for you to get to grips with?
JP: Well there are all kind of methodologies out there in our industry. But for us, on the back of Ramon’s sharing of his experience and expectation: it’s binary. They are satisfied and happy, or they are not; these are the only two scores that count. I say rather make it unambiguous, so from our perspective Day 1 starts with recruiting and training and supporting our entire team to achieve that outcome.
Ramon shared with me some time ago just how unambiguous success is or isn’t. He said to imagine for a moment a Farmville player who has been playing Farmville for over a year – and Farmville, like most software games, has some undocumented features – a bug…. One of the consequences of those undocumented features is that randomly and repeatedly one or more elements of the Farmville games disappear into the internet user world. And despite best efforts all of the emotion, time and investment the player has put into creating that attribute, that element goes missing. And there is something in that software code that recreates that outcome and thus far developers have been unable to resolve it.
When that occurs and the player activates a contact to customer care that is the moment of the truth, as we say, and the agent is trained to delight the player, starting with: “I am so sorry I know this is not the first time this has happened and I wish I could say it will be the last; unfortunately we are not there yet, but we are absolutely working on it and in the meantime please allow me a) to replace the attribute; b) compensate you for your time, effort and trouble; and c) whatever else I can do to try and make it up to you.” When that interaction is completed, statistically or empirically we know that those players continue to play.
Now imagine the converse situation where after playing for almost a year, for the first time ever, that cow goes missing and the player contacts the agent and the agent says “sorry, who are you again? Prove to me you are who you say you are; prove to me you have invested the amount of time, effort and emotion you say you have – and I am really sorry but the policy here is ‘too bad, so sad but you are on your own’.” The likelihood of that player playing again is close to zero. And in my view that is exactly what it is all about. That’s why customer care is so important.
RI: And that’s why really some of the other vendors fell away. I think the success criteria in this industry has been “set up really tight polices and procedures”. And I think we had to approach how we really measure it from a tech prospect and people perspective… We have this thing called the Golden Ticket: every quarter we take the top agent from all of our sites worldwide and they are allowed to spend a week in San Francisco at our HQ. These agents work with the developers, they meet the producers, they meet the artists, they live the Zynga life for a week – and what do they do? They go back to their site and they share player delight.
I do a roadshow on a regular basis; my goal is to meet and greet and shake the hands of every advocate we have on board. Over time, what is amazing is how when my team goes out to visit the site we are not acting like the client; we are acting like partners. Again we may not like what we hear all of the time but its fully committing ourselves to the partnership.
O: “Partnership” is an oft-used word in outsourcing – what’s your definition of success in the partnership going forward?
RI: I think If we are truly committed to the delight of the partnership we are going to have to do things, based on the feedback, we may not have thought of – really trusting the feedback of our players and acting on that feedback to continually improve not only our operations, but our scale.
JP: I am completely aligned with Ramon’s approach here. For us ultimately being a good partner means putting our partner’s interest ahead of ours – recognising that our obligation as a partner is to help them achieve their objective. Their objective is very clear: their mission statement is to connect the world through playing games. We need to be signed up for this and completely invested in it at an emotional level, so for us it’s not transactional, its cultural.
There is absolutely a cultural alignment that has occurred over our two-and-a-half-year relationship that starts with aligning around core values. That continues with having a shared philosophy around the importance of how we engage our team members in the ecosystem of delighting players; how we help them give a voice to both the players and the agents who are the ones that are interacting with them everyday. Empowering and motivating our agent population to do the right thing, to go that extra mile, be empathetic to the player experience and to understand something bigger.
At the end of the day while this is a business that we are involved in, I think both Zynga and TELUS International are fortunate in that all of our principles have at their core awareness and an understanding and a sense of responsibility to stand for something bigger. Look at zynga.org for example: a not-for-profit organisation Zynga created which has raised well over $10 million from its player community over its existence – for the Tsunami relief fund, the Haiti relief fund and so on. This is completely aligned with and consistent with TELUS’ values that doing well in business means that we have to do well in the community we work with and serve.
These are not soundbites or photo opp stuff: although it’s the right thing to do, we all believe at Zynga and TELUS International that objectively there is actually a direct correlation to our business activity. Because we are all about wanting our team members to be engaged in this player delight ecosystem, having the agents deliver happy experiences to their customers. And creating a work environment where their employees, if they are part of something bigger and better, just naturally fuels their engagement.