It’s time for contact centres to get socially responsible
- Outsource Magazine
- On February 22, 2011
In today’s competitive environment and uncertain economic climate, running a modern outsourcing contact centre has to go beyond the traditional “cost-effective” model. If you are going to succeed and keep winning new customers, you have to offer exceptional service to your client’s customers and move beyond what has previously been expected and accepted.
Good pay and healthy working conditions are essential but effective contact centre providers need to do far more now to ensure their employees stay motivated, engaged and inspired to deliver exceptional customer service. A recent innovation that has become increasingly popular among many top-tier customer service providers is to implement a comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program. Today, many business leaders are seeing positive human resources impacts from their CSR programs.
A well-run and effective CSR program can be seamlessly integrated into the existing business plan and company culture. But it is vital to get buy-in from as many key decision makers and internal influencers as possible from the outset. CSR programs should always align with a company’s core values and priorities as a natural connection between them will make it easier to implement and maintain over time.
The true benefits of being socially responsible
For those who are skeptical about the validity of such programs, a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that executives of many global companies believe there is more to CSR than just branding residuals (58% of CEO respondents rated CSR as beneficial to employee morale, second only to reputation/brand at 79%). Another recent study confirmed that executives rank employee motivation as one of the top reasons for their implementation of CSR activities, proving the industry is, at long last, seeing the value in these programs.
CSR can support local communities in a variety of ways. Programs can focus on environmental, education, sports or recreation projects, poverty reduction or healthcare, as well as many others. By opting to integrate comprehensive CSR programs, many companies are able to export their dynamic corporate values abroad. Companies are also discovering that, by providing an invaluable service to the local community, they are creating unexpected positive dividends when it comes to increasing skills in the local labour market, and improving employee morale, retention and empowerment.
Picking the right CSR partners and programs are important but the power of CSR is only fully utilised if you’re able to engage the majority of your workforce. Mass employee engagement fosters a collective pride, a strong sense of purpose and improved awareness of a company’s vision, and encourages your team to feel like they’re making a genuine difference in their community.
Key benefits of employee engagement
Retain your employees
From an employer’s perspective, one of the biggest benefits of a robust CSR program is how it affects employee attrition rates. A call centre career can be both demanding and stressful. Speaking on the phone to often-frustrated customers, perhaps in your second language, while simultaneously viewing multiple calling screens, takes patience and talent. In many areas of the world, particularly in India and the Philippines, call centre employers saturate the market, competing aggressively for their rivals’ skilled agents.
Today, fair wages and benefits are table stakes but CSR programs can be an important differentiator. Such programs engage the workforce and can significantly help job contentment. While difficult to measure directly, in one call centre in Latin America, TELUS International found the implementation of a comprehensive CSR program contributed to a decline in attrition from 2008 to 2009 of 18 per cent and, from 2009 to 2010, a projected additional 12 per cent.
Build brand, get employees talking
Another benefit of a robust CSR program is the reinforcement and spread of a positive brand among employees and the community. A good question to ask: do your employees consistently say positive things about your organisation? Call centres are constantly looking to position themselves as top employers. In addition to attractive compensation, candidates are often drawn to the organisation because of the positive brand the company builds through its philanthropic efforts.
For many people these days, fair pay is not enough. Rather, candidates are looking for that commitment to a higher cause and that sense of contribution to the community. We deliberately tap into this greater need by targeting our CSR initiatives locally so they are immediately visible and impactful to our team members. In one village, this means focusing our CSR efforts on building and refurbishing schools in a small town where many agents know the local children. The positive brand development stemming from this type of project is significant.
Discover hidden talent
A further, and sometime often overlooked, benefit to CSR programs is their ability to challenge, energise and help employees grow beyond the boundaries of their current position. Often employees come to their supervisors looking to move up the ladder. They are looking for experience leading a team, organising a project, or showing their creative abilities, but in their current position, it may be difficult for them to demonstrate leadership. CSR programs offer an answer to this problem. By creating new, valuable projects that sit outside the day-to-day operations, agents can demonstrate they have what it takes to lead. For an employer, CSR programs offer a window into talented individuals already in the company.
All of these benefits help the bottom line of the business. Happy, engaged and recognised employees are more likely to stay with a company they are proud of. The longer they stay, it’s clear the better service they’ll be able to provide. Ultimately, a good CSR program isn’t just good for the community but also good for the business.
About the Author
Marilyn Tyfting is VP of Human Resources for TELUS International – a provider of BPO and contact centre solutions to global clients. TELUS International – www.telusinternational.com – is the global arm of TELUS, a leading national telecommunications company in Canada, with $9.7 billion of annual revenue and 12.1 million customer connections.