What is culture? In my mind, it is the principle that will guide employees to behave in a certain way - the operative term being, guide, not force. Culture is also the sum of all behaviors of all employees. It is intangible. It cannot be seen, in and of itself. It can be encouraged, and enforced, by co-workers. It cannot be regulated by superiors but can be quickly destroyed by them. As a company grows, maintaining the culture can be challenging.
I've worked in the pest control industry for nearly five years, and I am regularly amazed at the customer experience stories I hear as I listen to our employees and customers. I've led service contact centers in different industries for many years and have rarely heard the kinds of stories I hear in this industry. Since I joined the company I've had the privilege of traveling to all our offices, meeting every employee and presenting on customer experience topics. As I've done that, I've heard some of these amazing stories. At first, I thought they were wild exceptions, but I soon discovered, they were far closer to the rule.
Every day, our hundreds of professional pest control technicians visit homes and businesses across California and Northern Nevada. These men and women are the faces of our company. Our technicians develop relationships with their customers. They get to know their needs surrounding pest control, but they also get to know them, and their families, as people, like their neighbors.
I've heard stories of technicians helping customers, and non-customers, find missing pets, and even springing into action to try and help find a missing toddler (that one ended fine with the family locating the bemused child hiding in a coat closet).
And then there's the story of our technician that went to a customer's home to help convince their child that she needed to stay out of her bedroom for several days because he was addressing a pest issue in there. That was just a ruse. The family came up with that story to keep the young girl out of her bedroom while they did a full makeover so that they could surprise her with a newly renovated room for her birthday. The young girl was a die-hard football fan and dreamed of a room that better represented her love of the Oakland Raiders, her favorite NFL team.
One maxim of contact centers that has been true throughout my career is that people don't call your company just to say you're doing a great job. At Clark Pest Control, they do. One such call we received stood out to me, and probably always will, as the greatest story I've ever heard.
A nurse called our contact center to share a story about one of our technicians, Robert from our Auburn, California office. She noticed that Robert was regularly visiting an elderly patient who had recently undergone major surgery. The patient didn't have many other visitors, so she assumed Robert was his son, especially since it appeared they shared a very close bond and that Robert showed tremendous care and compassion during their visits. After seeing him there several times, the nurse was surprised to learn from the patient that they were not related but that Robert was just his "pest guy."
Our culture is one that encourages employees to do what's right for the customer. It is one that balances productivity with humanity, and always favors the latter. From our humble beginnings nearly 70 years ago as a company with just one employee, we have grown into one of the largest pest control companies in the U.S. by focusing on our customers, not just by making that our culture, that was a by-product.
For most of the lifetime of our company, we operated without anything that even remotely resembled a contact center. As our company grew, and there grew a need for such a thing, we had to make sure we were staying true to our culture of putting our customers at the center of everything we did. Our contact center began, just as our whole company began, with only one employee. As our contact center has grown through the years, we, too, have been challenged with maintaining our culture and staying true to the culture of the company. Here are just a couple of things we have done to ensure our growth didn't mean we would lose our customer-centric culture.
Everyone talks to customers
Throughout my career, and even in my experience as a customer (I like to think of myself as a "professional customer"), I have seen an inverse relationship between the size of a company and the likelihood that you will be able to speak to a manager if the need arises. In some organizations, there are strict rules about the "chain of command," and there are many "gatekeepers" designed to keep leaders (and especially senior leaders) from having to speak with a customer. As our company and contact center have grown, we have made sure that there are no roles that are exempt from speaking with customers. And that there are no rules that suggest a customer (or an employee) must follow a "chain of command." This may seem like a no-brainer, but in action, this is one of the most fundamental aspects of who we are. It helps keep everyone focused on addressing customer concerns and improving our service.
The customer is at the center of every objective
Every department's objectives are easily connected to the company's goal of growing the business by focusing on the customer. Because of that, having an individual team member AHT goal does not line up with our culture of allowing employees to spend time with their customers. That allows our employees the freedom to do what they need to do for the customer. It's not to say that we don't manage to AHT targets, but as I have written about before, we just don't have it as an individual team member goal. We use AHT results to discover which process improvement initiatives need our focus. Not having individual team member AHT goals does not instantly build a customer-centric culture, but it helps reinforce that we want our team members to do whatever they need to do to resolve a customer concern. Could we become more efficient if we aggressively managed AHT? Sure, but it goes against our culture.
Aligning our department's culture with the company's culture didn't happen as the result of a project. It happened because, along the way, employees from across the company helped ensure that this new department stayed true to the company culture. It happened because we have continued to hire employees based on their ability to work on behalf of their customers. We are not perfect. We make mistakes and work hard to get better with each one. Our culture isn't a topic that comes up regularly, but it is there, always guiding our behaviors.
If you're attending ICMI Contact Center Demo in November, I'd be honored if you attended my session, "How To Scale Your Culture As Your Contact Center Grows," on Wednesday, November 14, from 3:30 - 4:30 PM. I'll go into more detail on some of the challenges we've faced as we've grown, what we did to get around those challenges, and will share more practical tips you can use to scale your culture.