Nicor National's Call Center Training Strategy A Winner : Earns JD Power & Associates "Outstanding Customer Experience" Award for Fifth Year in a Row
The telephone is very quickly becoming the black sheep in customer service. Once considered the most ideal channel for customer support, a recent study conducted by Econsultancy found that 48% of survey participants rated the telephone as the most frustrating customer service channel. Survey participants rated the telephone as being three times more frustrating than e-mail and eight times more frustrating than live chat.
These findings are even more alarming in the utilities industry, where less than 10% of the respondents rated the service level provided as satisfactory; lagging far behind the retail, banking, travel, and automotive industries. This trend, however, does not apply to the industry’s knight in shining armor: Nicor National’s customer support call center.
Considered an extreme outlier in the utilities industry, Nicor National’s call center has been recognized by JD Power & Associates for the fifth year in a row for providing “An Outstanding Customer Service Experience”. The accolade, impressive enough for any type of call center, has industry professionals wondering how they can follow in their footsteps.
To shed light on this “black swan” phenomenon in the utilities industry, the RCCSP Professional Education Alliance, the accreditation and certification body for the call center industry, recently took a closer look at what makes Nicor National’s call center so good at providing an exceptional customer experience.
Excellent customer service in a call center necessarily starts with the agents. Nicor National goes beyond the simple recognition of this fact, incorporating this tenet into its corporate culture. With over 200 agents, this can be very challenging. So how do they do it?
“At Nicor National, this starts with creating an environment of empowerment of exceptional service,” said Barbara Porter, Vice President, Business Development & Customer Service, for Nicor National. “This goes beyond simply understanding our customers’ expectations. Our streamlined organizational culture is very clear on one thing: our frontline employees are the most important asset. Everyone else understands that they play a supporting role to everyone who deals directly with our customers.”
A supportive environment is one part of the equation. Nicor National attributes a large part of their successful customer service strategy to their Training & Career Pathing Programs. “For us, call center training is critical,” explained Porter. “It’s how we make sure we have an empowering culture where everyone contributes.”
Nicor National’s call center training is truly innovative and one-of-a kind. Just how serious are they about knowledge management? To start, they created what they call the “circle of excellence”, which includes coaches, trainers, and the quality monitoring specialists. This circle of excellence is a holistic coaching ecosystem that ensures agents receive the proper reinforcement on the skills and behaviors that affect their customers’ expectations and that drive customer satisfaction.
Every year, all call center agents go through benchmark customer service training. Additional training includes:
- How to go “above and beyond” in the service they provide.
- Refresher training on soft-skills and foundational topics.
- Performance improvement coaching.
In addition, all call center agents receive at least 40 hours a year of advanced skills training. All in all, Nicor National’s robust call center training strategy is the driving force behind the company’s relentless commitment to continuous improvement.
And if you think they’re satisfied with earning the JD Power & Associates distinction for the fifth year in a row, think again. “Nicor National is always looking for ways to improve on the service provided on the previous year,” said Porter. “Our fifth consecutive certification reinforces our commitment to excellence for both our employees and customers. We firmly believe that employee engagement positively affects customer satisfaction and contributes to better business results. The environment we create for our employees is nurturing and collaborative, and our customers benefit from that workplace dynamic.”
At the heart of that “nurturing environment” is an unparalleled pursuit of excellence, driven by a well-defined training strategy, and an organizational culture that allows employees to be empowered to do what’s needed to keep their customers happy and satisfied.
About The RCCSP Professional Education Alliance
RCCSP is a progressive industry-supported and industry-recognized accreditation and certification organization, maintaining and coordinating the most comprehensive portfolio of certification credentials available to call center professionals.
About Nicor National
Nicor National is a d/b/a for Nicor Energy Services Company, a non-regulated subsidiary of Nicor Inc. (NYSE: GAS). Nicor National markets "Home Solutions™," a proprietary line of customizable home warranty and energy efficiency plans that can be co-branded with utilities and energy partners to maximize financial performance and build and sustain customer satisfaction.
For J.D. Power and Associates 2011 Call Center Certification Program™ information, visit www.jdpower.com.
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Edited by Chris DiMarco