AO.com just picked up the Call North West medium (100-400 people) call centre of the year award, going one better than last year.
The judging panel visited the call centre and got to hear about the quirky things AO do differently by putting customer experience ahead of everything else. As a retailer their approach to great customer experience is what sets the business apart.
AO’s customer call centre is split into 14 teams with 150 full time staff and was visited by Call Centre Helper for a popular article in 2017.
However, since then, there have been a number of advances, including the AO Photo the AO Academy.
The AO Photo
The AO Photo is a prop to help staff remember who they are making proud through their customer handling and ongoing performance in their role.
At interview stage potential employees are asked to write down one person who would be proudest should they get the job.
When they are successful the applicant receives a letter with a reminder of the person who they suggested will be most proud of them, ‘When we saw you last you said you couldn’t wait to make your Mum proud, and we are equally excited to help make this happen.’
When new starters come on board, they do an exercise on their first day called The Shield. They are asked to put a collage together to present to the room about themselves.
On that collage is a photo of the person whom they want to make proud and why. The trainer then sends those photos down to the Academy Manager who orders them in time for when they come down to their desks three weeks later.
Gemma Horrocks, contact centre manager, has a picture of her nanna on her desk. It is an AO axiom that you should, “treat every customer like your Gran, by making decisions your mum would be proud of.”
Gemma said: “When I first started is was my Nanna that I wanted to make proud and to this day I still look at her picture and it inspires me to do my best for customers.”
The AO Academy is a 12 week process involving training, buddying and much self-reflection. The first three weeks of training involve an induction, learning about the business and call handling processes, and taking calls with a buddy.
The remaining nine weeks involve a glide path of targets to hit that start easy and bring people up to where they need to be.
There are lots of opportunities to listen to calls to work out what they should stop doing, start doing and continue to do and to sit with experienced buddies to pick up new skills and tips.
The key is that during the Academy process people are supported by buddies and floor walkers, they are integrated within the company, incentivised to do well and rewarded with a graduation ceremony involving dinner or activities paid for by AO and on AO time.
Everyone graduates from the Academy but with a university style grade from a First to a Third, which helps to further support people who need it.
Two AO Academy graduates are Nathan Trainor and Nafisa Jahangir.
Nathan is now an AO customer experience specialist and has been with AO for just over a year. He graduated from the AO Academy and now walks the floor helping those in what he describes as, “the Academy bubble”.
“I was in sales from the age of 14, working on my Auntie’s stall in Blackpool, and was excited to get started on the customer experience side. In sales you have to manipulate the customer to think your way, but in customer services it is about making the customer happy.”
“At first I found this a difficult change of perspective and in my first three weeks of being on the phones I wasn’t sure it was for me. If it wasn’t for the coaches who worked with me in the Academy I might not have made it. They helped me develop new, softer skills and taught me the tips and tricks that come with experience.”
“My first three weeks were spent upstairs learning about the business, consumer rights, trouble shooting on appliances and the customer journey. This was invaluable in giving me the confidence to engage properly with customers when I started on the phones.”
“In those first few weeks as an Academy group we got to review our calls with the coaches and learn from what we did wrong and share what we had done right.”
“Toward the end of my 12 weeks I was able to review my own calls and performance and there was a 100% noticeable improvement. All the training we do allows us to better educate the customer and to ensure we are giving them the right answers.”
“The other thing I love is that unlike the other call centre I worked in, AO gives you guidelines not absolute rules. That means I have more responsibility and the ability to change things and do my best for customers.”
“I was very proud to graduate from the Academy, we went out for dinner with our coaches and we had a little celebration as a group.”
Nafisa Jahangir, graduated from the Academy in 2018 and is now a customer experience specialist. She previously worked in a customer call centre for a nationwide retail chain and feels it is the right type of job for her because: “It’s all about the customer and wanting to help them, engaging and building a relationship rather than just solving an enquiry.”
Nafisa said the, “positive and friendly” atmosphere at AO compared favourably to her previous company and the AO training at the Academy has left a good impression, she continued, “I was just left to do training on my own and left to learn things on my own, but at AO we have Assistant Team Managers, Managers and Coaches who sit down with you and explain why we do certain things in a certain way and feedback on ways to improve.”
“For me, the best thing about the Academy is the 1-1 session, where we listen into calls to get a better understanding of how calls can be handled, for example, different call openings and how people take ownership. There is a lot of support available as an agent, we had coaches who were always there, willing to answer questions and advising us why we need to certain things in certain ways.”
“When asked what was the best thing about working in the AO call centre, Nafisa immediately said, “the team I have around me, everyone is willing to help, but also the free food, the benefits we get in terms of training and widening our knowledge.”
Looking back at her time in the Academy, Nafisa reminisced that the three key things the Academy gave her were: “How to answer calls, how to find the best solution for a customer, and help with how to put the customer at the heart of everything we do.”
To find out more about AO’s award winning contact centre, read our article: 17 Things You Can Learn from the AO Contact Centre