Illustration by Nicolas Vicent

When you think of brands that deliver service that “wows” customers, an automotive aftermarket parts and accessories business may not be the first thing that springs to mind.

CARiD is working to change that. The online retailer is focused on providing an engaging customer experience similar to the type of personal attention offered by a VIP in-store concierge.

That can be a tall order for a global operation with a presence that is strictly online. We recently spoke with CARiD’s Director of Customer Experience Gerald Major about the company’s vision for revolutionizing the online shopping experience for its customers.

One Site to Serve Them All

CARiD caters to three types of customers—the novice who has a very basic understanding of how an automobile functions; the autoshop professional who may be looking for specific parts to repair a client’s car; and the automotive enthusiast who is restoring a vintage automobile and is searching for hard-to-find parts. “The website was designed to provide all three types of customers with access to equipment and products the way they need and want it, and provide a wow experience that they can’t get anywhere else,” says Major.

Gerald Major, CARiD’s Director of Customer Experience
Gerald Major, Director of Customer Experience

Because CARiD customers span the globe, contact center agents are on hand 24/7 to provide voice and digital (chat and email) assistance. In addition to serving a client base with differing levels of expertise, CARiD agents undergo an in-depth training program to provide support for a highly diverse product line.

“There are 28 different automobile manufacturers, each with a variety of models, and, every year, those models change ever so slightly,” Major says. “Being able to keep agents current on all of those different products and deliver a specialized experience for the novice, the car enthusiast or the professional is a challenge.”

Combining Product Knowledge with Personality

To create a memorable experience for every type of customer, CARiD agents are largely unscripted. In fact, they’re empowered and encouraged to personalize each interaction. “We script the greeting and the closing. Anything that happens in between is up to the individual agent,” Major says. “They bring their own flair to the conversation.”

It requires a skilled service professional to be able to convey the type of confidence to quickly build trust with customers in such a complex environment. Major attributes his staff’s success to CARiD’s training and QM process, but he adds that it starts with hiring the right individuals.

What are the qualities that will ensure an agent’s success? Rather than focusing on past phone experience, contact center management looks for candidates with experience in a face-to-face service environment. “Individuals who have that face-to-face experience understand the value of focusing on each interaction as the most important one at that point in time,” Major explains. “Having agents who can take the time to focus on each client’s specific needs is what will enable the agent and the company to be the most successful. Our ideal agent is someone who is able to provide true concierge service, and who is willing and wants to interact with people, not just get them in and off the phone.”

Once the right candidates are brought on board, they undergo a comprehensive 90-day training program. It starts with an onboarding process to learn CARiD procedures and policies in a classroom setting. From there, new agents spend 10 to 12 days learning about the various automobile manufacturers, how they fit within the industry, and learning about the most popular products.

After the initial training process is completed, new agents spend time in an incubation process before progressing to the contact center floor. The incubation process teams one to three agents with a supervisor or team leader in an isolated room. Agents take calls in a safe, supportive environment while receiving one-on-one coaching and feedback.

An Engaging Environment Drives Agent Performance

CARiD’s contact center is designed as an open environment to foster collaboration and teamwork. Agents sit alongside supervisors and company leaders. “It’s very much part of our open-access culture,” says Major, who enjoys sitting in the middle of the bullpen. Besides providing agents with easy access to company leaders, sitting among the frontline staff provides leaders with a better understanding of the agents’ perspective of their day-to-day interactions with customers.

The team atmosphere helps CARiD to drive companywide KPIs, like customer satisfaction and NPS scores, through fun competitions. For instance, the company recently added a gamification element to its customer ratings and feedback process using Stella Connect, a one-to-one feedback platform.

“It enables us to truly get the voice of the customer from the agent’s interaction with them, whether it takes place via voice, chat or email,” says Major. It works like this: After every interaction, a simple feedback request is sent to the customer, which includes a photo and brief bio of the frontline agent. The customer is asked to rate the agent’s performance on a scale of one to five, and can also provide feedback and/or suggestions to the agent for improving his or her performance. Agents can view customers’ ratings and feedback via real-time dashboards.

Providing fun incentives based on customer votes and ratings also helps to keep agents engaged, Major adds. “They’re consciously aware that the interaction that they’re having with a customer at that point in time is the most important customer experience, regardless of any other calls that may be in the queue.”

In addition to customer survey ratings, the center holds frequent contests to drive performance for sales KPIs like order cancellations. One such contest is called “Capture the Flag,” in which the agent who has been able to convert the most cancellations into saves within a specific time frame captures the flag for the day. The agent with the most flags at the end of the week wins a reward, such as lunch on the company or a half-hour of PTO.

Opportunities Spell Personal and Business Success

Empowering agents to take control of their interactions while providing them with opportunities to earn incentives and rewards has paid off for CARiD’s employees, as well as the overall business. Agent engagement has translated into higher retention rates and sales.

“Employee retention is incredibly important for us because of the complexity of our product line,” Major says, pointing out that, despite the historically high turnover common in call centers, CARiD has several veteran team members who have grown with the company and helped it to evolve.

“That is part of the passion that you see across the organization. People are excited about coming in each day and being able to create a career and opportunity for themselves,” he says. “We want to keep pushing the agents to the next opportunity, but it needs to be within the confines of providing the client with an amazing experience.

“The automotive after-market parts and accessories business isn’t necessarily one that is focused on providing clients with a wow experience. We’re creating that opportunity for our agents and our clients.”

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