In Part I of our recent webinar with Mark Harmon, Director of Partner and Performance Management at Choice Hotels, we discussed making the decision of whether or not to work with a BPO. From there, we looked at how Choice has refined its assessment strategy to ensure their BPO partners are the right ones.
In Part II, Mark talks to Stella’s Director of Client Success, Chris Vodola, about successfully managing these BPO relationships. From customer service training to recognition to accountability, here’s what he has to say about best practices.
Measuring the Performance of Your BPO
Like with any business relationship, Choice Hotels rates the performance of their BPOs against various KPIs, FLAs, targets, goals, and metrics. This gives them visibility into whether or not the partnership is performing as well as it should be. To that end, Choice has built a feeling of healthy competition among its BPO outposts that, in Mark’s words, “leverages the competitive mindset among providers to continually drive performance improvement.”
Having a few key people at Choice directly responsible for fostering and building those relationships ensures contact and communication on a regular basis, including problem solving. The keystone of this dynamic is pinpointing strategic partners at each location who are decision makers and influencers within the BPO organization.
Choice, says Mark, “takes extra special care to have good recognition and incentive programs that help the agent-level and supervisor population really feel connected to who we are.” He doesn’t discount the importance of facetime. “When we go and do site visits we try to spend time with those folks and recognizing top performers and really just get to know the people who are doing the work for us.”
One critical component in developing trust with partners is instilling a culture of accountability. “Making sure we’ve set clear expectations,” says Mark, is the first step in “pushing the accountability of performance onto our business partners in an appropriate way.”
The brand also devotes significant resources to ensuring BPO training is ongoing and relevant. “We’ve opted to manage the training content internally,” Mark explains. “We also typically do a certification for the BPOs and certify their trainers.” There are also regular check-ins and audits, and Choice is increasingly turning to technological tools that can help identify opportunities and challenges at the BPO level.
Ensuring Brand Consistency Across Your BPO and In-House Teams
Given their direct interaction with customers, how does Choice ensure it’s BPOs function as an extension of the team? “We really don’t look for consistency as much as we look for excellence,” explains Mark. “We built all these systems and tools and processes…but consistency and performance is no longer the goal.” He goes on, “By changing our mindset [to] consistency is one thing and excellence is something else, we’ve really continue to strive.”
When Choice’s BPO partners hit their goals regularly, no one gets complacent. Mark says the question then becomes, Why are we improving? “Because of great tools and resources and customer feedback, we know that every interaction has a sense of uniqueness. So how can you be consistently unique?” asks Mark.
How does Choice know when they’re meeting – and exceeding – their customer service and customer experience marks? “A tool like Stella which gives us so much feedback, so much insight, the customer information…we’re just in the beginning phases of starting to leverage that data in helping us understand the differences and uniquenesses in our different customer segmentation but also that there are similarities.”
“We have enough data to show us that different customers have different expectations,” he continues. “So how do we teach, train, develop, and coach our folks to be able to adapt to each customer’s needs with the intention that we drive improvement over improvement over improvement from an experiential standpoint?”
Coaching and QA in Your BPO
Coaching plays a big part in how Choice inspires that “consistent excellence” day-to-day. Says Mark, “We were definitely caught in the QA trap.” In an effort to execute consistently, the brand had inadvertently created an overly transactional process for its customers. “All of our efforts on one front were really being thwarted by this very boxed in approach to what we called Quality Assurance.”
Choice reversed course. “We threw that out,” says Mark. “We embraced a subjectivity component and turned that into a coaching guide.” He admits the change didn’t happen overnight, and that many of their providers took time to embrace this new view of compliance.
There was a collaborative organizational effort within Choice to, “identify key behaviors that agents were exhibiting or not exhibiting.” Today, Mark says the company now uses that information, much of which is culled from Stella Connect, to change training and influence coaching within the BPO partners.
Mark says that the power of recognition is just as important as coaching. “We sponsor an incentive program for all of our outsourced agents,” he explains. “I’m a firm believer in…the opportunity to perform and earn. We found that good incentive programs really help retention.”
The most coveted incentive reward among Choice Hotels’ BPO partners? The opportunity for high performers to travel to one of the brand’s incredible properties for a special recognition trip. “We are a hospitality company, after all,” laughs Mark.
Stella Connect Brings BPOs to Life
Interested in finding out how you can apply some of Choice Hotels’ hard-earned BPO insights to your business? It starts with Stella Connect.
Reach out to our team today to learn more.