Anyone who manages, or has managed, a school or community athletic program no doubt is already aware of Gopher Sport’s products and their reputation for exceptional customer service. As a leading supplier of sports, physical education, fitness and early childhood products, the company has stood behind its products since 1947 with its unconditional 100% satisfaction guarantee.
In the last year, Gopher Sport has been sparking interest within the contact center industry for its forward-thinking operation and staff. Last May, the company’s contact center was recognized by the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) as a best-in-class operation with its 2018 award for Best Small Contact Center (centers with fewer than 75 agents). More recently, ICMI honored many of Gopher Sport’s team members as emerging leaders and innovators in the customer experience and contact center space. Ten of Gopher Sports’ contact center professionals were recognized as Customer Experience Movers & Shakers, including six frontline professionals.
Any contact center with that many standout employees is doing something right. Dedicated, high-performing frontline staff usually can be traced to strong coaching and training practices. In fact, two of the professionals recognized by ICMI in the Contact Center Training Professionals category were Gopher Sport employees: Sarah Gibart, Customer Service Supervisor, Education and Quality, and Chelsey Johnson, Education and Quality Administrator.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Gibart about the ICMI recognition, and to learn more about what makes Gopher Sport’s CSR training so remarkable.
A Long History of Mentorship and Leadership Support
Gopher Sport offers almost 15,000 products from 134 product categories, and with customer orders and inquiries coming in via email, phone, text, live chat, mail and fax, the learning curve can seem daunting for a newly hired customer service rep.
Gibart understands first-hand what it takes to get up to speed in the role quickly. She started at Gopher Sport as a frontline team member 12 years ago. “I had no contact center experience before walking in the door,” she recalls. “But I had strong supervisors and mentors who invested a lot of one-on-one time just getting me off the ground and running.”
Gibart was impressed by the time and energy invested by her mentors, as well as the payoff from their efforts. “Those mentors would get excited when I placed an order or took my first phone call—they were there for me the whole way,” she says. “That is what I experienced from the very beginning and I really wanted to give that back and watch people grow and be successful.”
She began informally coaching others and sharing tips with team members who needed help or who were struggling. She quickly moved into a leadership position as a team coordinator, and later, the role evolved to take on a training focus. Gibart credits the company leadership for their philosophy of helping people to follow their passion. “When you love what you do, you’re going to do a great job,” she says. “Our leaders here narrow in on people’s passions and do what they can to support people in pursuing that. I’ve had a tremendous amount of support from Beth Gauthier-Jenkin, our Vice President of Customer Care, and down.”
Dynamic Training Focused on the Individual
While Gopher Sport’s training practices may have evolved over the past 12 years, one thing that hasn’t changed is the support and encouragement that new team members receive. It’s a dynamic learning environment, and new-hires begin contributing on their first day by processing web orders, the most common type of order. Within two weeks, they are processing phone quotes and orders, and handling product questions.
Despite the fast pace, the Gopher Sport training team does not take a one-style-fits-all approach. “There’s not one specific personality type or learning style. Being able to identify on Day 1, when that person walks in the door, what is going to work best for them can be challenging,” Gibart says. “At that point, it’s not about the trainer—we’re focusing on what is going to get this person from A to D, working independently and with confidence. Diving into the work on their first day allows us to make a better judgment call about whether someone is great with technology and works well with electronic processes or if they’re struggling right out of the gate and we need to get some printed material in front of them.
“There isn’t one right way or wrong way with how we present the material as long as that person is hitting the specific degrees that we’ve outlined within each process,” she adds.
Gibart and her team often experiment with different types of training formats and techniques. It’s a collaborative process that incorporates feedback from trainees on how to refine or clarify a piece of training, or know when to discard it.
Streamlining Processes Prioritizes Training Efforts
Gopher Sport’s customer service team recently revamped its new-hire onboarding and training approach with insights from customer service training expert Jeff Toister of Toister Performance Solutions.
Like most contact centers, Gopher Sport’s operation is process-driven. Over the years, each of its nearly 300 processes had been well-documented with up to 12 to 15 pages of instructional content, screenshots and photos. Previously, new-hires were presented with binders containing some 600 pages of process documentation for reference. “No one is going to be able to absorb that much information,” Gibart says. “Today, we have a process documentation template in which no process is more than two pages. We’ve stripped away the screenshots and pictures because our writing should be so clear that we don’t need that.”
Toister’s recommendation was to focus new-hire training on the standard, most frequently occurring processes first and build from there. “Jeff explained that a new trainee is not going to remember how to handle an exception that comes up once every six months when they learn it in their first week, so we reduced the number of processes in that first training phase from 281 documents to 129,” Gibart says.
Streamlining processes and training has strengthened the new team members’ performance across metrics. It also has accelerated the learning pace, she adds. It used to take about a year for new team members to feel comfortable with the customer service portion of their training. That now happens between three and six months. In addition, “we’ve been able to promote people faster. It makes them feel good about coming to work, and they want to keep learning,” she says.
Passion for Customers Is Companywide
The ultimate goal of customer service at Gopher Sport is to exceed customers’ expectations by being easy to do business with. That is a mission that extends beyond the contact center, and there is a high level of passion for customers that permeates the company.
“When you walk through our organization, everything you see and hear is very customer-focused, whether you’re in our procurement area or in the warehouse or outside of customer service,” Gibart says. “‘Do whatever it takes to create a superior customer experience’—that is a message that is reinforced consistently from the president on down. We’re all working toward the same goal.”
Gibart says that being recognized by ICMI has been an honor—one that makes her team’s hard work worthwhile. “Our team is pretty strong,” she notes, adding that “with passion, there is always a way to accomplish your goals.”