Illustration by Nicolas Vicent

Whether you’re in a restaurant, hotel, on a factory floor or dealing with local law enforcement or emergency services professionals, employees’ work uniforms influence how you perceive the business or official with whom you’re dealing. Uniforms send an instant, visible message to customers, allowing them to immediately identify the nature of a business, its employees and their job function. They are a critical element of the brand identity and reflect a business’ values and, ultimately, the type of experience that they want to deliver to their customers.

No one understands that mission better than the customer support team at VF Imagewear, which specializes in designing, implementing and managing uniform and career apparel programs, including the Red Kap, Bulwark, Horace Small and Wrangler Workwear brands. VF Imagewear is part of VF Corporation, a global leader in the design, manufacture, marketing and distribution of branded lifestyle apparel, footwear and accessories. Its brands include The North Face, Vans, Timberland, Lee and Wrangler, among many others.

VF Imagewear’s customer support agents are experts in work apparel, but as their customers can attest, the service that they provide is anything but uniform. On a daily basis, the frontline staff strives to deliver on the oganizationwide mission to deliver addictive customer experiences through the service platform, innovative products and compelling brands, says Director of Customer Support Linda Cullum. “We’re the voice of VF Imagewear to our customers, so we take the mission very seriously,” she notes.

As the judges for the International Customer Management Institute’s (ICMI) Global Contact Center Awards might say: Mission accomplished. VF Imagewear’s customer support center was recently recognized by ICMI with its 2015 Global Contact Center Award for Best Small-to-Medium Contact Center.

The support center, which is staffed by 75 agents, handles service and support for its business-to-business clients, companies varying in size from small mom-and-pop operations to large global organizations, as well as its business-to-consumer side, which includes managed programs for government accounts. Agents are grouped by customer segment (B-to-B or B-to-C), but all are universally trained to deliver cross-channel support via fax, phone, chat, email, web and EDI. Daily transactions range from order entry to inventory lookup, product information and referrals, and returns. “We are the resource for information about our products,” Cullum says.

VF Imagewear has a long history of success as an industry leader for more than 80 years. What makes its customer service stand out among its competitors is the strong belief that the customer’s experience is the brand. So what is an addictive customer experience? Cullum defines it as, “a series of interactions that bind the customer both emotionally and psychologically to our brand.”

That view is part of an evolving culture within the contact center, she adds. Over the course of the past decade, the support center has focused on continually improving performance and aligning that with the customer experience. “We spent a lot of time establishing KPIs and making sure that the operational side of our contact center was successful,” she explains. “In the past several years, we have been focusing primarily on how that translates to delighting the customer—or making the customer addicted to our brand so that they don’t look to the competition.”

Superior Customer Care Requires Engaged Employees

Delivering on a mission to provide an addictive customer experience requires a team of dedicated, highly engaged employees. It’s not surprising that VF Imagewear’s leadership team places a high priority on employee satisfaction, and takes an active role in communicating openly with frontline staff. Cullum firmly believes that it’s important for leaders to interact with, and to show interest in, each and every agent in the center. “We listen to them, we coach them, we invest in them, and we empower them with the tools do their jobs well,” she stresses. “Trust is very important. We need to trust them, but they also need to know that we trust them to do the best job possible.”

Personal and professional development is a key contributor to employee satisfaction and engagement. VF Imagewear provides support center agents with various opportunities for continuous development and career growth. For instance, one program, called “Knowledge Is Power,” allows agents to participate in self-paced education. Agents earn points for reading books, participating in webinars and working on various department projects and committees. After accumulating a certain number of points, they can earn a pay increase.

Career-minded agents are also given priority when new opportunities for promotion become available within the department or outside of it. Cullum is proud of the fact that a high percentage of the center’s attrition has been positive—agents who have been promoted into other positions within the organization.

In addition to formal career paths, support center agents are encouraged to grow their skills by participating on committees. The center has several agent-led committees that form and improve internal processes and procedures, as well as interdepartmental committees to improve the customer experience.

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