Contact center attrition is one of the biggest challenges brands face. The continuous cycle of hiring and onboarding new agents and ramping them up to full productivity can cost a customer service organization roughly $10,000-$15,000 per employee.
Then there’s the impact on service quality. High-turnover teams can’t coalesce around the brand’s mission, and it shows. Customers rarely experience the joy of interacting with cheerful, confident, high-performing agents who’ve been around a while—and who know how to turn great service into immediate and future sales.
Many legacy brands continue to struggle with (or are resigned to live with) contact center attrition. But for fast-growing companies trying to scale their customer service teams, the costs are far too high.
ezCater, a high-growth online marketplace for business catering, has served over 34 million businesspeople and partners with over 60,000 caterers across the U.S. For ezCater’s customer service team—now up to 170+ agents (aka “Customer Service Ninjas”) spanning multiple locations—high turnover has never been an issue.
Are there lessons here for other brands, both new and established?
We recently asked Petra Wise, Director of Customer Service for ezCater, to explain how the company has convinced so many of its agents to stay.
Focus #1: Build a Culture of Service
A strong, service-oriented culture is the glue that binds customer service teams and the fuel that powers them. But it’s not an easy thing to create. Having agents in multiple locations makes it even more difficult—and much more important—to eliminate any disconnect and instill a greater sense of purpose.
From the beginning, ezCater not only positioned itself as a service leader, but has purposefully operated that way. Its brand story reads in part, “We have a team of 5-star customer support professionals who are ready to help. Call us and a real Customer Service Ninja will answer. No ‘Press 1’ nonsense.” It’s a clear, unequivocal brand promise that’s conveyed early and often, both directly and implicitly, to every member of the customer service team.
“Customer service is ingrained in the company culture, so much so that leadership gets regular reports on customer feedback through Trustpilot, Stella Connect, and other sources. Our culture is the bedrock for our service team, but there’s a lot more to it than that.”
–Petra Wise, Director of Customer Service, ezCater
Focus #2: Find the Right People and Develop Them Fully
Petra and the rest of the Boston-based ezCater leadership team are very deliberative when it comes to building out the customer service team and giving agents the knowledge and tools they need to excel. The goal is not only to ensure a high quality of service, but also to make agents feel valued, make their jobs easier, and help them advance their careers.
Petra looks for people who are interested in ezCater’s business and in a customer service career path. She also takes a very active role in the decision-making process. “We don’t set it and forget it,” Petra says. “We’re very involved at every step.”
Coaching, Training, and QA
Petra and other ezCater leaders travel to different contact center locations to conduct intensive new-hire customer service training. From there, on an ongoing basis, the QA team monitors agents’ Stella Connect ratings and feedback; in the event of a low score or customer complaint, QA leaders listen to the calls in question and either inform supervisors of the need for micro-coaching or approach agents directly.
Petra also plans to use front-line feedback to inform refresher training programs. “We’ve gotten so few poor scores,” she says, “we haven’t identified a need yet.”
ezCater’s Customer Service Ninjas are called “ninjas” for a reason: they’re empowered to do what is necessary to make any issue right. (According to Petra, “It should work like magic.”) ezCater’s customer service team doesn’t adhere to a skills-based model, and calls are rarely escalated to managers.
Agents also have full ownership of the customer feedback they receive. About 30% of customers respond to survey requests, and most star ratings and comments arrive within the hour, allowing agents to see the real-time impact they’re making and motivating them to self-correct and raise their scores.
Focus #3: Look for Ways to Boost Morale and Engagement
In addition to the stress of handling unpleasant calls, one of the biggest drivers of attrition among customer service agents is a feeling of detachment from other team members and the brand. Petra and her team go above and beyond to keep agents’ spirits high, strengthen team cohesion, and recognize and reward service excellence.
Keep things positive
ezCater Customer Service Ninjas’ average star rating is 4.8 out of 5. A lot of positive customer feedback flows through agents’ dashboards on any given day. According to Petra, this helps agents spring back from the occasionally negative encounter and maintain a positive outlook.
“Stella Connect is a great level set when agents are having a bad day,” she says. “It also gives management a precise view of how the team is performing overall.”
Recognize and reward excellence
Slack is the management team’s favored tool for keeping agents in various locations motivated and engaged on a daily basis. Managers often post outstanding customer reviews there for all to see, giving high performers a morale boost and inspiring their peers to perform better.
Customers are invited to reward outstanding service as well. ezCater’s Stella Connect survey requests include the option of recommending coffee, lunch, or a $50 Amazon gift voucher, and agents are rewarded based on what customers suggest.
Promote work-life balance
In customer service, flexible work schedules are rare. But Petra believes they factor heavily into employee satisfaction, productivity, and performance. To maximize all three, ezCater does something unheard of at most companies: it offers its customer service staff at its headquarters unlimited paid time off.
Make it fun
The simplest joys, both at work and during agents’ off hours, can have a big impact on retention. ezCater’s “glam squads” help decorate shared work spaces, and agents are encouraged to attend various team-building events such as snowmobile outings, “beer o’clock,” and movie nights.
The Bottom Line: Make Retention a Top Priority
If you’re tired of absorbing the costs of high contact center attrition, ezCater’s story offers five actionable takeaways.
- Focus on getting the culture right by clarifying what’s important to your company.
- Highlight top performers and share big wins.
- Use technology—including a transparent customer feedback flow—to bridge distances and empower agents.
- Invest heavily in the team via robust customer service training programs and vacation time.
- Make fun an essential part of the job.
As widespread as it is, sky-high attrition isn’t a given in customer service. ezCater’s success is proof of that. By giving agents everything they need to thrive in their jobs and become indispensable brand assets, companies like ezCater are challenging some of the biggest legacy brands to rethink how they manage their customer service teams.
Petra Wise is Director of Customer Service at ezCater, Inc. where she leads a team of almost 200 Customer Service “Ninjas” in 5 locations. Petra has extensive experience in growing customer service teams and finding efficiency gains resulting in lean, low cost customer service without sacrificing quality. At ezCater, she has helped quadruple the Customer Service team in the past 2 years, while maintaining the highest level of customer satisfaction. She has also focused her career on fostering culture and employee engagement in her in-house, as well as 3rd party, Customer Service teams.
Some of the initiatives she has pioneered in her customer service roles have been developing innovative automation techniques to improve customer experience, selecting and launching numerous successful 3rd party call center partnerships, and building new customer service technical infrastructure that improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness within the customer service organization. She is passionate about empowering her employees so they can provide a top notch, low effort experience for customers. When not empowering her team you can find her at home in North Attleboro, MA with her husband, three children and her dog.