Illustration by Nicolas Vicent

One of the advantages of a small startup business is the flexibility to quickly adapt and respond to your customers’ needs. On the other hand, larger, established organizations offer credibility within the marketplace and the ability to cultivate internal talent through broad career paths.

At NCR Silver, the customer care team has the best of both worlds. NCR Silver is a cloud-based point-of-sale (POS) software solution for small businesses that operates on the iPad and iPhone. Although it is backed by NCR Corporation, a heavyweight in global technology that was founded 131 years ago, NCR Silver functions as a separate entrepreneurial unit.

Shortly after its mobile POS platform was launched in 2012, NCR Silver began to experience the typical growing pains associated with a tech startup. Initially, much of its resources were focused on developing the product and bringing it to market. Post-launch, a small help desk was put in place, but call volume soon outpaced the capabilities of the existing phone system and staff to efficiently handle the workload.

NCR Silver’s customer care team (from left): Logan Pounders, Kim Panchal, Lindsey Lisk, Catherine Preuit, Douglas Jones and Alberto Polanco
NCR Silver’s customer care team (from left): Logan Pounders, Kim Panchal, Lindsey Lisk, Catherine Preuit, Douglas Jones and Alberto Polanco

“That is a pretty characteristic scenario when you have a startup, but at some point, customer support has to demonstrate its value for the business to really gain traction,” says Director of Support Douglas Jones. “As the help desk entered its second year, there was a lot of frustration being voiced by our customers, so we started to look for a change in our long-term vision for customer care.” Jones joined the unit in January 2014 to provide strategic direction and alignment with customer-centric goals.

Over the past year, Jones and his team focused on several key areas to bring about dramatic improvements in efficiency and customer satisfaction:

Providing Easier Access Via Multiple Channels. Limited access to support reps was a top complaint among NCR Silver’s retail and restaurant clients. Jones immediately added email as a support channel, and by June, had expanded phone support into a 24/7 customer care operation.

Soon after, the team introduced live chat to its lineup (via Salesforce), which customers enthusiastically embraced. “Traditionally, in customer service, you’ll see between 7% and 14% as a high-water mark for chat volume,” Jones says. “We introduced it in November 2014, and we’re currently averaging 30% of our contacts through chat.”

Customers can also access the support team through Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin—and soon it will be launching live text support that will allow NCR Silver customers to text the customer care team directly to begin a chat session on their mobile phone.

Upgrading Technology to Increase Efficiency. Expanding the customer care access points required efficient technology solutions capable of handing the needs of an ever-growing client base. The first priority: upgrading an antiquated phone system. “From a phone system perspective, we were in the Dark Ages in a lot of ways,” Jones recalls. “It was 2014 and we didn’t have Caller ID.”

Making the investment in a more robust phone system not only provided the ability to work remotely, he notes, it was the catalyst for several other improvements that the customer care operation soon implemented: call-back functionality, call recording and more accurate forecasting and staffing (via access to call metrics). The center also added a CRM solution to provide instant visibility into customer information and previous interactions, which helped support center staff to improve call-handling times and first-contact resolution.

While the phone system upgrade added much-needed capabilities, one automated tool was quickly eliminated: the IVR. “When you call our 800-number, you get a live person,” Jones says. “You don’t have to go through the process of pressing 1, pressing 2 or providing information that you have to repeat when you’re connected with a customer care agent.”

Elevating the Human Element. Technology alone can’t drive customer-centric goals. “You only get there if you have the right people doing the right things and they feel confident about what they’re doing,” Jones says. “We needed to understand who the right type of people were for our support center, and the qualities we were looking for. We redesigned the hiring profile from an agent’s perspective, and that allowed us to change the interactions.”

A comprehensive training process was put in place that allowed agents to thoroughly interact with the software in order to troubleshoot it. A closer relationship with the product development and sales teams has also improved the information flow through the customer care center.

With additional training and strong resources to support them, customer care agents are not only empowered to resolve customer issues, they are confident in their ability to do so. The staff began to see customer care as a career path, not just a job. In fact, career growth was another key area that Jones focused on when he took over the group—making sure that the staff understood the opportunities available to them and helping them to identify development plans. “Too many people look at customer service as a dead-end job. I look at it as the springboard to a company,” he says. “I’m extremely proud of the fact that, in one year’s time, we moved our first person from support to development. That’s a huge win. When we start treating our customer service agents like professionals, they start acting like professionals. And when they start acting like professionals, they treat our customers like we want them to be treated.”

What were the results of the past year’s efforts? In January 2014, the team’s answer rate was 81%, with an average speed of answer of just over three minutes. By December 2014, call volume had increased by 233%. With the same number of staff, the team answered 98% of calls with an average speed of answer of 31 seconds. “We’re able to work in an efficient fashion and in a way that allows our customers to reach out to us in the form that they prefer,” Jones says. “Our customers view it as a quality-add. That is conveyed by our NPS score, which, as we exited 2014, was +41”—up from -39 in February 2014.

In addition, customer escalations are down—in fact, they’re almost nonexistent. It’s a rare week if Jones receives one, compared to January 2014, when he dealt with as many as 10 to 15 a day. “I’m the Maytag repairman—that’s where I am today,” he jokes, adding that his time is now spent on the types of activities that contact center leaders aspire to do—coaching and developing his staff.

Real the full story here.