Using CSR Certification to Clean House

By Allen Bernard

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Eighteen months ago Wind River had a problem. As a provider of mission-critical operating systems to the likes of NASA (think the Mars rovers), Lockheed Martin and the Department of Defense, it's customer service engineers were taking longer — sometimes days — to determine if a caller was entitled to support than the time it took to render that support.

This in of itself was irritating enough but, the trouble was, when a caller called they were often in the middle of something dramatic like a helicopter test flight. Something had to change if the company's reputation wasn't going to continue taking a beating and, by proxy, it's up-sale efforts.

"We were wasting time in the past where we might spend a couple of hours or a couple of days determining if this person needed support and that's just not going to work for those kinds of customers," said Barry Mainz, VP of Worldwide Customer Operations for Wind River.

It wasn't that Wind River's customer support representatives (CSR) were giving out bad information, it's just that they were mostly engineers dealing with highly-technical issues so their people skills were a little soft. Also, the company was more concerned with who was entitled to support than actually giving it.

"So, we needed to enhance our processes internally and build some better systems such that what the customers were expecting, which was support right away, was in line with what we could deliver," said Mainz. "We weren't holding up our side of the bargain, so to speak."

To find out just how many people actually received support they were not entitled to, Mainz looked back over the last 6,000 calls. What he found was very telling and lead to the first major change in his operation. Out of 6,000 callers only person not entitled to support got it. That's 0.000166% of all callers.

Solving the Problem

Based on this new revelation, Mainz implemented something he called "parallel support." While the CSR helped the caller he or she also initiated the process of seeing if the caller was entitled to support. That alone took a big chunk out of Mainz problems but he knew they could do better all around.

"Hey, what makes sense? How can we apply reasonability to this? Does Lockheed (Martin) really care whether or not (were in the middle of a new CRM rollout)? They're going to tell us, 'You confuse us with someone who cares it's going to take 18 months to roll out your favorite application, do something now.'"

To do something "now" and long-term, Mainz contacted Service Strategies, a service improvement company, to define what was needed and to help Mainz, just three months on the job, get the company certified in SCP (support center practices).

SCP is not dissimilar from ISO, ITIL, or any other industry-developed best practices standard, it's just focused on customer service, said Ben Stephens, VP and principal at Service Strategies.

"How do they improve? Well, they improve by A) doing the things they're suppose to," said Stephens. "(SCP) is a methodology — this is how run a support operation."In Wind River's case the problem was with external technical support but SCP certification can be used in-house as well to improve internal help desk operations. And, since it's an operational certification program (not one aimed individually at CSRs) once certified, your help desk processes, organization and management will be codified. So, when individuals move do on, which they will, the certification stays.

First and foremost, for SCP to work, you have to identify where your organization needs help. Service Strategies provided the gap analysis and the SCP books (yes, that's right books) to start the ball rolling. Once Mainz knew where the improvements needed to be made he implemented them.

"Basically, it was really a mirror that was shoved up in everyone's face everyday about how you were performing and, when that happens, you start getting better," said Stephens.

SCP helped Mainz change the way his CSRs talked to customers, the way they were paid (bonuses are now tied to customer satisfaction metrics), and the processes his CSRs used to manage requests.

Since SCP is a best practices methodology, part of being certified means helping others in undertaking the program. Mainz, for example, received advice from his peers at other companies on how to handle the sensitive issue of change the way he paid his CSR's bonuses.

The Takeaway

Now that the hard part is over and Wind River is SCP certified, Mainz can see results. His customer satisfaction ratings are way up, the company has been able to come up with a new premium support and services package that is selling well and he didn't loose any CSRs in the process.

He also has a continuously evolving methodology (SCP version 2007 is due out soon) to make sure his organization doesn't back slide once he moves on to new projects.

"Support is a competitive differentiator and we have a competitive differentiated support organization here now at Wind River where we didn't before," said Mainz. "And people are buying our technology and are engaging with us because of our support."