MyCustomer spoke with one of the winners from the 2017 European Contact Centre and Customer Service Awards to learn about creating happy call centre staff.
Travel brand Booking.com was flying high after it scooped an award for ‘Employer of the Year - Great Place to Work’ at the 2017 European Contact Centre and Customer Service Awards.
And Louise Locke, director of customer service at Booking.com, believes that the award provided a timely reminder of how special the company’s culture is.
“We are known as a very humble organisation – it’s just what we do. So to be recognised as a great place to work is a real privilege. It has enabled people to really think about how special and unique the company is - because we just consider it to be the norm,” she notes.
“Everyone was very pleased and excited. This is a good thing we’ve got and it is made by the people that work here - they are the ones that make the difference.”
Of course, it’s no secret that happy and engaged staff are a crucial component to a successful service operation – with research from the likes of Gallup indicating that companies with higher engagement levels also experience higher customer advocacy on average.
“It has a huge impact on performance,” agrees Louise. “If employees haven’t got the happy factor, or feel engaged, or feel that they belong, then it is bound to impact their day-to-day job. We always have to pay attention to what people are actually feeling.”
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With that in mind, here are five of the secret ingredients that Booking.com uses to make it a great place to work and drive up employee engagement.
1. Ensure staff have strong opportunities for development
Booking.com has around 15,000 employees worldwide, providing a lot of potential for career progression both at a local level and internationally. But this is also supported by the company’s commitment to training and personal development through hundreds of free internal and external courses.
“An agent only has to be in their role a year before they can put themselves forward for any other role in this site or anywhere else in the company,” says Louise. “We have a development programme where staff can sign up to train to be a team leader, and we have a very successful record on that – we currently have 53 team leaders that work here today and at least 15 of those have come through the apprenticeship scheme internally. And that’s just in the last year.”
People need to take control of their own destiny and we’ve enabled a pathway to help people get there.
There are also other programmes that enable staff to develop their skills.
“Everyone has their downtime each week to work on various skills that we’ve identified that you need to be proficient in to do with various roles. So, for example, in this location we have training, recruitment, IT as well as obviously customer service, and we have identified five top skills, and we give people time to do training either via self-learning, shadowing or workshops in their downtime, so that when a vacancy appears, they are better equipped to be successful in getting that job.
“It is a huge enabler of people self-driving their own development. People need to take control of their own destiny and we’ve enabled a pathway to help people get there.”
2. Provide tailored staff benefits
As well as the long-term development opportunities available, there are also day-to-day living and working benefits which support staff.
These include 1,000EUR discount annually on hotels or accommodation they book through the site, daily three-course meals, and premium advantages for those working non-standard hours, paying up to 80% extra for unsociable working hours.
While we have core company benefits, we also reflect the fact that there are different cultural expectations relative to each city.
Louse says: “The average age here in the London centre is 23, so they are looking for different benefits than perhaps other demographics. They are not necessarily looking for huge pension benefits or healthcare benefits. They want the real tangible stuff such as food, money and transport, and so that is what we supply.”
But with centres in cities throughout the continent, the benefits are also tailored according to location.
“We have different service centres across Europe and each one has a different make-up of people because of where they are. So while we have core company benefits like the food, we also reflect the fact that there are different cultural expectations relative to each city, so we adapt our benefits accordingly.”
Booking.com employees also have full access to many free online training courses on-demand.
3. Give staff a voice
One of the fundamental principles of Booking.com’s culture is to ensure that every member of staff feels that they have a voice.
“Everyone is encouraged to talk about what they like, what they don’t like, and have an opinion,” says Louise. “We may not do everything that people suggest always, because that is completely unachievable, but being able to share your thoughts is a core principle to encourage people to feel part of the company they work for and that generates an inclusive culture.”
The performance of the company also benefits, according to Booking.com, because if everyone is in a position to offer constructive feedback to one another, it inspires self-improvement and collaborative working.
Everyone is encouraged to talk about what they like, what they don’t like, and have an opinion.
To aid communication, the company holds Town Halls, and provides Q&A sessions.
“Most of the time the people speaking at Town Halls are not management but are individuals who are talking about a topic or a project they want to run or something they have observed in the market," adds Louise. "This is a multi-faceted way of getting people to feel that they belong but also grow at the same time.”
4. Measure on behaviour metrics rather than hard data KPIs
Booking.com’s key people measures are based on value-based behaviours rather than hard data-based KPIs. This reflects its belief that behaviour drives positive customer engagements which is fundamentally the most important role of the customer service team. If employees are acting according to the company values, then the company believes the hard numbers will come naturally.
“We do have performance KPIs as well, but the important thing is people’s behaviours,” explains Louise.
“For example, if somebody’s attendance has been poor for the quarter, they’ve not only let themselves down, but they’ve let the team down and also let the customer down as they’ve not been available to do the right work at the right time. Therefore, we look at whether somebody understands the impact they have on their team and their core product.
Fundamentally it’s how people behave in our workplace which is the key start point rather than whether they have hit the numbers.
“Things like how they’ve adapted their communication style; how they support eachother in the team’ how they have been proactive towards sharing information; and how they’re proactive about ensuring they’re up-to-date with our procedure changes, shows that they have responsibility in their role. Off the back of that we see the KPI performance and we can see how we’re doing and we have the standard measures. And ideally we match the two together. But fundamentally it’s how people behave in our workplace which is the key start point rather than whether they have hit the numbers.”
5. Give back to the community
Booking.com not only cares about its employees but also about the community that they are a part of. The brand believes that by giving back to the community, it not only has a positive impact on local areas, but also engages its employees by empowering them to give back.
“With the age of our employees, and the culture we have here, they all understand how their actions contribute to the planet – they are very green people,” says Louise. “So we have the Booking Cares project, which gives every member of staff one workday each year to volunteer time to work with local organisations. Often a group of our staff will all go together to help with projects to improve the area and contribute to the health of these places.”
And other community-based projects are ongoing.
“There are a group of 50 people cycling from London to Cambridge to raise money for charity, as well as other charity-based events. We also collect clothes for the homeless. And we open our office once a year for friends and family of employees to come in and experience our environment. So we involve staff in what is going on around our particular facilities on multiple different levels.”
About Neil Davey
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.