SquareTrade was established in 1999 with a single vision to provide customers with protection plans for their electronic consumables. Crucially, SquareTrade wanted to change the negative perception of these policies by covering the breaks, spills and mishaps of every day life. Head quartered in San Francisco, CA with offices in London, UK, SquareTrade has rapidly become a leading light in warranty product innovation and has an unwavering laser focus on customer service rarely matched by their competitors. SquareTrade regularly win awards (including multiple Stevie’s) and receive high praise on consumer review sites across the globe: Apple Store 4.5 stars, Amazon 4.7 stars, Google 4.9 stars. SquareTrade are enjoying explosive success with sales exceeding 90% growth in 2012 and now protect over $2.8b of customers goods.
THE BUSINESS CHALLENGE
Customer Experience – SquareTrade’s Leadership Team has a wealth of experience in customer contacts, with many of them having worked for large electronics/ IT/ services companies in the past. SquareTrade main a small highly skilled team of internal agents onsite, some contacts were outsourced to the Philippines and Pakistan. Although significant cost efficiencies could be gained by doing so, SquareTrade struggled with the balance between this and their UK Customer Experience, with cultural differences between Agent and Customer often driving a degradation in Net Promoter Scores (NPS). There were challenges in brand messaging and engaging the voice of the customer, particularly when claims were being denied.
Cost Efficiency – SquareTrade made the strategic decision to aggressively pursue additional business across the UK and EMEA region, both direct and via their reseller network, successfully contracting with two of the leading supermarket chains in the UK. As a small organisation focused on providing value to customers, SquareTrade did not want the distractions and costs of building out additional call centre capacity in the UK, nor in Europe, as their business expanded.
Flexibility – The combination of these two factors caused concerns around sustaining a customer contact strategy that would deliver and sustain their award winning customer experience, at an efficient price point, whilst also meeting the unpredictable customer demands in a fast developing market. The decision was made to offer out a competitive tender for onshore contact services in the UK. It is worth noting that the utilisation of a distributed home based workforce had not been considered because of the perceived transaction complexity. Despite this view, Arise was invited to tender.
SCOPE OF SERVICES
Arise was successful in the RFP process and was awarded the contract, based on the flexibility and associated cost efficiency of our innovative Work at Home model. By the same degree, a joint commitment to client brand values, translated through an experienced and mature agent network, inspired confidence that service standards could continue to lead the industry. Arise was also confident that the high level of competency, and a superior knowledge transfer, process would support the complexity of transactions being serviced. Both parties agreed to begin the contract with a pilot phase to observe any limitations of the Work at Home model, specifically due to the complexity of claims handling. This would also allow a period of diligence around the forecasting of demand patterns, given the limited retrospective data available and continually changing business demands.
Arise was to offer a range of voice based contact services, supplemented with email communication. Voice and email would be both inbound and outbound, reactive and proactive involving Customers, Resellers and Service Depot contacts. Due to the technologies involved, both SquareTrade’s and Arises’s telephony platforms would need to be utilised, as would SquareTrade’s CRM system.
Arise Agents would handle enquiries from prospective customers considering purchasing SquareTrade products, delivering Sales through Service. Those same agents would be multi-skilled enabling them to process warranty claims end to end, from 1st notification of loss to settlement or repair. The agents would be empowered to underwrite payout decisions and would also be required to actively enhance the customer experience by liaising with the service depots who repair the customer’s goods. To add to this complexity, each agent would be assigned a ‘task queue’ effectively prompting follow-ups to prior contacts or cases managed. This latter element posed a challenge to Arise due to the flexibility offered to the Agents in our model e.g. Agents may not service consecutive shifts or days. These tasks would incorporate all of the above BPO activities, whilst also producing and distributing customer correspondence, facilitating shipping of consignments as well as troubleshooting customer challenges and escalating broader issues in the customer journey driven by technology or process gaps.
Due to the embryonic nature of Client’s presence in the UK market, contact volumes would be incredibly difficult to predict and require speed and flexibility in supply. Arise would also be required to fully utilise Agents time, managing workflow from front to back office, inbound to outbound in real time, driven by the ebb and flow of call volumes. At the time, as a service solution, this would present Arise with their most complex group of transactions attempted in the UK Client Portfolio.
Arise deployed 15 FTEs on day one of the programme, and then focused on supporting them on their rapid journey to competency. In many young companies, processes are both fluid and often subject to change at short notice. At the same time, SquareTrade is agile enough to be able to react almost real time to negative customer comments gathered from the public online review forums or NPS surveys, and frequently change these processes in order to further enhance or improve the customer journey. The result of launching a new programme into this kind of environment, almost reduced the certification process to ‘An Introduction’, and the subsequent knowledge transfer process continued ‘in flight’. Despite this, Arise was able to rapidly improve early Net Promoter Scores (NPS – a key metric to SquareTrade) and quickly begin to produce like for like results to the internal site and exceed the incumbent vendor. In terms of flexibility, Arise leveraged the part time Agent network to deliver over 100% increase in supply to support demands from a new sales promotion by one of SquareTrade’s customers.
In supporting positive NPS scores, there can be a number of other indicators that suffer degradation. Pleasing a customer by paying out on a claim is a good result for the customer, but not for SquareTrade, particularly if the Customer was not entitled to the cover. Agents are empowered to ‘do what is right for the customer’ on SquareTrade’s behalf. Such a level of trust is closely monitored, through key measures, e.g. approval rates (% of claims that are approved) and QA processes. Encouragingly, Arise has been able to maintain a level around the accepted tolerances, and yet still exceed the incumbent’s NPS scores on ‘denied’ claims. This translates to Arise ‘saying no’ more often but still creating a positive experience for the customer and helping the customer find resolution through other channels, e.g. original manufacturers warranty.
SquareTrade had one single reservation throughout the RFP process – could Arise translate the essence of their brand in to everyday interactions with their customers ? The measure of that would be both NPS and the reviews placed online independently by the very customers who experienced the service (good and bad). From reviews placed on reviewcentre.com covering the first four months, 80% were 5*with only a handful scoring below 4*. Many of these cited outstanding customer service and expectations being exceeded in terms of empathy and understanding from the agent.
As technology advances, and customers become more tech savvy, the world of customer contacts and engagement is changing rapidly. Consumers want to self-serve on simple transactions but demand speed and efficiency when a call is necessary. As a result, more and more organisations are investing heavily in technology to meet these expectations, but struggle to pass the remaining complex transactions to their outsource partners and often retain them in-house. Arise has clearly demonstrated that outsourcing can deliver award winning, complex customer service across sales, service, FNOL, claims adjudication and claims management.
The scope of services being delivered to SquareTrade today, not only demonstrate that complexity should be no obstacle to flexibility and cost efficiency, but more importantly the need to have a brick & mortar call centre to house such complexity is a thing of the past. Arise has been successful in deploying real-time workflow management ensuring that non-contact BPO activities are used to bolster utilisation of capacity during lower demand periods. This also ensures that outstanding tasks are seamlessly managed across the agent pool by constant review and allocation to the next available Agent.
Arise continues to push the boundaries of what can be delivered with a highly motivated self-employed distributed home-based workforce. The unique service management methodologies employed and innovative knowledge transfer solutions used, encourage speed to competency and drive results which are critical to the Client and / or Customer.
The future of work is virtual and there are no boundaries, just better results.
ARISE IN THE UK TODAY
Arise has been able to launch their innovative business in the UK and offer the BPO / contact centre market a viable alternative to on or offshore outsourcing. Arise’s 4 year journey with ShopDirect Group in the UK (and Arise’s 16 years experience in the USA) have produced significant opportunities to refine and develop the service offering. This has paved the way for other clients to view home working as a mainstream method of delivering flexibility and superior services to their organisation. Arise now services calls in the
UK for a number of leading organisations, including:
◦ UK’s largest telcommunications services company
◦ UK’s two largest supermarkets
◦ UK’s second largest roadside assistance company
◦ UK’s second largest parcel distribution company
◦ UK operations of the world’s highest rated extended warranty company
◦ UK operation of the leading global resort ownership network
◦ UK’s leading subscription media company