Customer Experience Featured Article

How iRobot Deployed Co-Sourcing to Achieve 95%+ CSAT

March 05, 2015

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iRobot thrives on delighting customers with innovative products that make life better.  As Director of Global Technical Support, my #1 mission is to ensure every customer is as thrilled with our products as the day they bought them. You can imagine how vital delivering stellar customer service is to me and my management team. Fortunately, we’ve been able to do that, achieving well above average CSAT on a consistent basis over the last five years, through great products, processes, and a great partnership.

But first, some background.

Changing Needs.  iRobot’s core business is building robots.  In 2004, we decided we needed to take a leap of faith and for the first time, outsource some of our customer care needs. It was a substantial risk for us, and we knew our success depended on choosing a partner who could replicate the same in-house quality that we’d created, as well as protect the iRobot brand.

Moving forward, we had several key initial requirements- we knew we would need a strategic partner who understood how to deliver an exceptional customer experience, but could also serve as a reliable voice of the customer for our R&D teams.  Because our products are constantly evolving, we need to be able to continually track customer feedback and bring that data from our customer community back to the business, to make intelligent upgrades to the products.  

As a robotics manufacturer, our Consumer Package Goods business is unique, and we knew we would need an outsourcer who could accommodate outside the box needs for a fast growing, mid-sized company like ours. We would need a company large enough to support us, but small enough for our mid-sized operation to matter. We would also need a provider who was highly collaborative and flexible, and would go beyond the normal boundaries of call center requests to do things such as make outbound, “cuddle calls” a few weeks after the product was purchased, ensuring the customer understood the technology and was happy with it. It was also imperative that our provider possess extraordinary communication skills with both our customer base and with our management team. We had to have agents who spoke excellent English, could comfortably converse with a North American audience, and effectively resolve customer issues. 

Finally, iRobot’s innovations are constantly being delivered to market. This meant that our outsourcing partner would need to be able to train and retrain their agents on evolving product features on the fly.  While all of these requirements sound like a tall order, we eventually found what we were looking for in Alpharetta, GA based near-shoring company, Clear Harbor.  Clear Harbor provided us with everything we needed, but brought a highly-collaborative model of service and support that only a specialty company could bring. Their charter- which was to never be, “big for big’s sake” with a focus of being strategic despite the size of the project appealed to us, and gave us confidence that they would provide us with the collaborative partner we needed.

But there were early obstacles.  Before we engaged Clear Harbor, customer feedback was owned by a previous  outsourced call center and getting product feedback had been challenging.  Working closely with Clear Harbor trainers were implemented a CRM system to help us gather customer feedback and streamline call center operations.  This new infrastructure allowed us to “own” this data and make actionable decisions based on it. That said, the data we get back is only as good as those agents who are collecting it, so we had to ensure information conveyed back to management was accurate. Clear Harbor helped a great deal with that, relaying data up to highest levels of management in real-time so we’re now able to make quick and informed business decisions on product direction.

They understand the importance of training and the call center managers make sure trainers are leveraging the latest technologies to deliver new information.  Trainers deliver constant feedback to the agents and challenge agents to be on top of the new material – Work for these call center agents becomes exciting, and fun.   They enjoy their jobs and it shows when they are on the phone servicing iRobot customers. 

Co-Sourcing vs. a Transactional Model.  Working with a company with a co-sourcing collaborative model has been indispensable to our being able to attain 95%+ customer satisfaction scores. In fact, we wound up not only increasing overall satisfaction, but increasing revenues by over several million dollars on an annual basis as a result of this close collaboration. Surprisingly, we were able to incrementally sell new products and at the same time still achieve these high CSAT #’s, a clear testament to the quality of service our agents are delivering.  The right outsourcing partner will drive new ideas and perspectives that can not only support, but enhance your business, and fortunately for us that’s been our experience.  

Best Practices for working with a remote customer care team:

Having worked closely with Clear Harbor for the past ten years, here are a few observations and suggestions.

  1. Choose the right call center for your specific support needs. Is your support primarily transactional? Then seek a transactional partner. Does your company require brand protection and voice of the customer feedback? Then you might want to look into a co-sourcing model instead.
  2. The call center you choose must protect your brand as well as your customer experience quality. Because of their size and approach, Clear Harbor was in a unique position to work more closely and collaborate with us more than other outsourcer’s we’d considered. We view this model as key to the successful results we have been able to achieve.
  3. Collaboration will be critical to any successful outsourcing relationship. Make sure the company you work with provides insight into their own best practices and brings thought-leadership to the table. In our own case, it wound up making a substantial difference in revenues for us that we previously hadn’t considered.
  4. Make your agents feel a part of the team –To us, external agents are iRobot employees – We frequently fly in agents to headquarters so they can experience what it is like working at iRobot headquarters. This team approach has made a big difference in agent engagement and morale.
  5.  Be involved.  Even though your call center is off site, you can be as involved as you choose to be – iRobot is very involved with the call center.  All of our agents are English speaking and highly articulate, both in conversation and about our products. iRobot has access to all calls and we can log in and listen to them real time . And although the call center is remote, we have direct access and communicate by phone or email twenty or more times a day.  This constant connection allows us to operate as if the call center is just down the hall.

About the Author: Maryellen Abreu is Director of Global Customer Support for iRobot where she is responsible for all aspects of product support for iRobot customers worldwide. This includes the strategy and management for outsourced call centers and support infrastructure. Abreu has extensive experience deploying global CRM infrastructure, web self-service and voice recognition systems. She has a passion for leveraging technology to measure productivity, reduce costs and improve customer satisfaction.  You can contact Maryellen Abreu HERE

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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