Inside View: Costa Del Mar

FROM THE SEPTEMBER 2019 ISSUE

Challenges and Priorities Survey

Anyone who spends time outdoors, especially on or near the water, is likely familiar with the Costa Del Mar brand. Costa sunglasses, known for their superior lens technology and “purpose-built” design, are a favorite among watersports enthusiasts. Born out of necessity, the company’s first sunglasses were developed by a group of hardcore fishermen whose outdoors adventures demanded durable, high-performance sunglasses that could protect their eyes in extreme conditions.

As a brand, Costa embraces the bold spirit of its founders whose passion for adventure and the great outdoors has been embedded not only into the brand but into the culture of the company. Founded in 1983 in Daytona Beach, Fla., Costa has grown into the fourth largest and fastest-growing sunglass brand in America. The company was acquired by Paris-based Essilor International in 2013, expanding its reach to the global marketplace, and more recently was part of the EssilorLuxottica merger.

Heather Bissell

Yet walk into Costa’s Daytona Beach offices, and the feeling is that of a laid-back small local company. Director of Customer Experience & Consumer Care Heather Bissell describes it as a big company with small-company roots.

“We’re a growing international company that is grounded in our roots,” Bissell says. “We still continue to operate with a homegrown, born-and-bred in Daytona Beach feel to our company. It’s very important to the company to maintain that culture, not just for our employees, but for our customers, many of whom have a strong local connection to us.”

The Contact Center’s Role as Key Customer Touchpoint

Costa’s vision is quite simply to be the best in both the products it manufactures and the experience it delivers to customers.

“We aspire to be the best sunglass brand,” says Bissell. “With the premium product that we’re putting on the market, we have to have a premium service behind it.”

The company carries out its mission by taking an “outside-in” view of products, processes and goals. Feedback is collected and analyzed for a deeper understanding of customers’ lifestyles and how they use Costa’s products, as well as to uncover their wants, needs and expectations. “That’s the key to providing a premium service,” Bissell says. “ Our customer base is very loyal, especially in and around the Southeast. As service providers, it’s essential that we know and understand who they are, what they’re using our products for and their expectations of service.”

Costa doesn’t have brick-and-mortar stores, so the contact center provides the vital human link between customers and the company.

“When customers contact us, it’s not like calling their cellphone carrier. They need to be given the branded experience that they would expect when they call Costa. It’s not as formal, it’s a little bit more laid back, and our representatives have the opportunity to interact. We don’t script anything. While we have quality assurance to make sure that we’re doing the things that we need to be doing, the reps absolutely have the opportunity to connect with customers and have conversations that are meaningful for the customer, not just the business.”

As the key customer touchpoint, Bissell stresses that clear and continuous communication between the center and all other functions is vital. Customer insights collected by the center is regularly shared and communicated with other departments, helping to drive a unified vision of service.

“Our team has become the vessel for customer insights,” she says. “We have become a viable part of the organization, and one that is considered to have a lot of value. Other departments want to spend time in the center listening to calls because they’ve realized that they can glean so much information from just listening and watching what goes on [in the center].”

Leaders Support and Empower Employees

Costa’s senior leadership team is responsible for modeling the behavior that supports its team-based work environment, and in fact, company leaders spend time each day in the operation promoting the culture and showing their support for frontline team members.

Bissell firmly believes that the most important role for leaders is removing the obstacles that prevent frontline team members from helping customers. When she arrived at Costa in June 2018, she discovered a few barriers in the form of preexisting policies to which the frontline staff steadfastly adhered. “A common comment was, ‘We can’t do that; it’s against the policy.’ It was a perspective that we needed to change. You’re never going to get into trouble for helping the customer. We had to get people comfortable with the mindset that they weren’t hired to enforce rules. They were hired to be helpful representatives for the company, and at times, that means thinking outside the box and that’s OK. Putting barriers in the way of someone’s ability to do their job puts barriers in the way of helping customers.”

Today, Costa’s customer service representatives are fully empowered to make decisions in the moment to do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer. Further, the frontline staff has considerable influence over the day-to-day processes and community outreach programs through employee committees. “[Frontline employees] essentially run our business,” Bissell says. “They help to guide and propose what we should be doing day in and day out.”

The following are a few of Costa’s employee committees:

  • The Recognition and Morale committee is responsible for tracking overall recognition and morale, and identifying opportunities for improvement along with actions. For instance, if attendance takes a dip on Mondays, the committee might come up with an incentive to improve it.
  • The Community Outreach committee looks for internal opportunities that align with Costa’s environmental initiatives, including recycling and campus cleanups.
  • The Escalations and Issue Resolution committee looks for any roadblocks or day-to-day challenges that hinder people from doing their jobs, whether that is a system issue or process that can be streamlined. “This is one of the most important committees,” Bissell says. “They are the eyes and ears on the floor. They come up with all sorts of ideas and thoughts on how to make their jobs better, and how to improve the experience for our customers.”

Each committee presents its ideas to the leadership team, she explains, “and then we give them the tools and resources to execute.”

Activities to Motivate and Inspire

True to its small-company feel, employees take part in frequent potlucks, celebrations and theme days. Whether it’s a luau celebration day to mark the first day of summer (and the peak sales season kickoff) or an end-of-month tailgate party to motivate staff to rally around a sales goal or a Halloween costume contest and parade, onsite activities are a fun break for employees and help to demonstrate leadership’s appreciation and support of the frontline teams.

“The [activities] don’t cost a lot, and some are no cost at all, but they’re meaningful for our employees. We make sure that we acknowledge that it’s busy and that we appreciate their efforts and contribution,” she adds.

Not surprisingly, Costa also participates in many community-oriented activities, particularly those that focus on environmental concerns and ocean conservation. For instance, on World Oceans Day (June 8th), the entire company was invited to participate in cleaning up a local beach area, followed by a celebration of the event’s success with an onsite barbecue.

“We try to stay grounded in the roots of our community,” Bissell says. “We are a water-loving company located in a beach community. It’s not simply a matter of donating a percentage of profits to a cause. We make sure that we’re involved. We give back as a company and our employees are an important part of it.”

While activities in the workplace and within the community help to get employees engaged and excited, if it’s not a place they want to be, then it doesn’t matter how many incentives are offered or pizza parties take place, Bissell points out. “You have to make the culture welcoming and inviting. Hire people whose values align with the company’s and continue to nurture the culture. Then focus on maintaining that momentum and raising it to the next level. Always be forward-thinking; always be challenging yourself.”