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The Long Read: our journey to world’s best service team
In February 2021, Truphone was awarded the World’s Best Customer Service Team by ContactCentreWorld for the second time. Here, Oliver Pink, head of communications, interviews Maria Perez, Head of Service Experience to discover the strategy behind the achievement.
Tell us where the story first began.
Our journey began back in 2012, when we began creating a wholesale cultural change in customer service, we started off with a programme called INSPIRE. The executive team set us a huge goal to actually become the world's best service team. Not just the winner of the award, but a fact that we believed in and our customers believed in too.
At that time, I was thinking, ‘This guy is a loony, how would we do that?’ Because we were such a small team. But we transformed bit by bit. We changed how we engaged our people. We changed how we really bring to life the customer stories, and really made sure that we kept in touch with what the customer was feeling and what they wanted.
We had managed to shift the entire spirit of the team—in a very organic but a very real way. I would see team members who would stay at work long after their shift because they promised something to the customer. We’d created a culture of real responsibility.
How did that translate to the award?
By the end of 2013, my director took me aside and said: "Okay Maria, over Christmas, please enter us for the ContactCentreWorld competition.” The next year, the news arrived that we’d reached the regional finales for both APAC, held in Singapore, and EMEA, held in Portugal. I was invited to present.
Our team was sat among huge brands like DHL and ANZ (The Australia and New Zealand Banking Group) with their vast ecosystems, deep pockets and hubs of busy contact centres. I was concerned Truphone – with its 40-strong customer service team split across two offices and two hemispheres – would get lost in the noise. Established brands can buy back favour with refunds and goodwill gestures; we were a startup who just couldn’t afford for things to go wrong for our customers.
Truphone won both awards and we were put forward for the world championship in Las Vegas in November. I will never forget it because it was my birthday and I was away from my family for the first time. I was homesick but I'm not going to deny it was a lot of fun celebrating in Las Vegas!
The next night, we were awarded the world's best customer service team.
That’s so exciting, how did you react at the time?
I remember thinking about a wall in the Manila office onto which we had plastered the words "We are the world's best service team’—before actually entering the award. It was huge, and there was no tearing it down so I was just so grateful we won.
Back then I used to look up at it thinking" How do we ever achieve that?" But then step by step, my director showed us that it’s in little things that we change, in the pursuit of that single ideal that really focus the mind and help us get there.
Why do you think we stood out to the judges?
The INSPIRE programme focuses on celebrating the small wins, asking the customer for feedback and engaging the employees to make the little changes that matter.
When we hire, we try to hire based on characters, not only CVs. And so, it created a life of its own. I have a very small team of very committed people, that's why even as the business has expanded—new types of products, new types of customers: consumers, IoT, finance, other mobile operators, we’ve been able to maintain the level of service professionalism across the board.
In other contact centres, you would have a team for inbound calls, outbound calls, emails, chat support—all very disparate. At Truphone, we have a small group of service delivery managers who, because they get to interact with the same people all the time, they know the pain points of these people, they understand the demands, they are able to build rapport, they are able to care for these customers. It means we are able to keep our operations lean while supporting a massive user base with different needs.
And when did you feel we were in a good place to re-enter the race for World’s Best Service Team?
In late 2019, I talked to Harry Odenhoven, our global COO and told him that I want to win us the award again. The Contact Centre World award is very competitive, and you get to see and hear the best practices of all sorts of service industries in the world meaning it’s a really useful exercise—even aside from winning.
All entries are anonymous so it’s just the submissions and the facts that are judged. We first got through to the EMEA regional finals in February 2020. Of course, only a few weeks later the world locked down due to the pandemic and the format changed. No longer would we be able to present in person: everything was via video submission. I worked closely with your team [Communications] to create a presentation – from home – that looked slick, professional and got across, as much as possible, the same impact as if we were there in person. I drafted in my sister, a photographer, to help with the backdrop and lighting direction.
What themes did you decide to bring out in the submission?
We were clear from the start that instead of avoiding the pressures of the pandemic, we should confront them. This was a year like no other and – for better or worse – we were a different team as a result. It felt disingenuous to pretend otherwise.
We had such amazing support during this scary time, and the service we continued to pass onto customers reflected that—our NPS actually grew to 57 in the six months since March. What’s more, our new virtual environment meant we had pretty amazing evidence of this support—all the great team building events now taking place over Teams and Zoom and were recorded.
We won the regional championships in October and once again went through to the world final. And then we got judged in February and we got named the world's best service team.
What does the second award mean for you?
I am so very happy that I could just give it back to the team, that they know exactly how well they are doing in the industry and what kind of service they are giving because a lot of, say, support centres, or even if it's in-house, most people are just waiting for the next paycheck, not caring so much for the job.
To be able to proudly show how our operations shine under pressure felt incredibly important. And it was likely because a calm response to strange situations is something that comes naturally to a team with such a customer-centric focus. It was also not our first time dealing with something similar: not long before the pandemic struck, we also had a big volcanic eruption near Manila and had to send everyone home in the middle of the night.
What’s remarkable is that the customers didn't feel it at all because people who were already at home were volunteering to log in and take the calls, and the team in Lisbon took on extra cases to help customers. It created a spiral of good emotions within the team, the idea that people know they were able to help their teammates, to go above and beyond to support customers makes them feel good—and therefore the customers feel it too.
This is what makes it more than just a title: we haven’t just won the world’s best service team; we have grounds to believe we are the world's best service team and that’s incredibly powerful.