|APRIL 2, 2004 |
|A Day in The Life of: Contact Center
They wear headsets for a living and are on the
front lines every day, providing customer service, taking feedback,
and ultimately helping to create new and improved Intuit offerings.
Tucson, Ariz. — 5:45 a.m.
Niccola Thomas, a support engineer for
Master Builder, arrives for work. Her shift starts at 6 a.m. and is
one of the earliest at the Tucson site. She likes the early morning
hours — Tucson offices are at their quietest and the 17 Master
Builder support team members have quality time together. “We have
the luxury to talk to each other, compare notes, and help each other
out with issues” she explains. Then the headsets go on.
Tucson is Intuit’s largest contact center,
with more than1,300 employees, approximately half of whom are
customer-facing. It provides sales and solutions for customers with
questions about or wishing to purchase TurboTax, QuickBooks,
Quicken, Retail Solutions, ItsDeductible and other Intuit products.
Employees work in five foot-square cubicles, four
to a cluster. Ceilings are high, cubicle walls are low and numerous
voices bounce off every surface. Besides two
15-minute breaks and a 30-minute or one-hour lunch, support
engineers wear headsets throughout their shifts and their focus is
strictly on the customers on the other end of the phone.
Thomas’ biggest challenge with her physical
surroundings is low cubicle walls that allow other support
engineers’ conversations to float into her ears. Luckily, it doesn’t
happen often. “Many new employees talk loud because of all the
conversations going on around them,” she said, “but we’ll just coach
them to soften their voices, lower their tones.”
There are other challenges to working in a call
center environment, as well. T.C. Younger, a support engineer for
QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions, jokes about the ‘Intuit 20,’ the
inevitable pounds support engineers gain when they start the job. “I
gained 50 pounds,” he said. “That’s one physical aspect of spending
the work day in a small area.”
“One of our goals as management is to constantly
improve the environment here for Intuit employees,” said Linda Kern,
communication manager in Tucson. “We choose an initiative every year
based on feedback from the annual employee survey. It may be related
to the work environment or amenities; it involves improving our
tools or reducing the complexity of our support
Several recent efforts have focused on employees’
physical and emotional well-being. Chair massages are now available
inexpensively on-site two days a week. Intuit Tucson launched an
award-winning employee Wellness Partnership, which includes an
indoor walking-track, free cholesterol screenings and other efforts
targeted at helping make Intuit a great place to work.
Thomas has worked in other call center
environments, but agrees that Intuit stands head and shoulders above
the rest. “It can be stressful enough being on the phone, but our
entire environment is designed so as not to put any more weight on
our shoulders,” she said. “Intuit really invests in people to
prevent them from feeling stressed.”
Tucson — 9:30 a.m.
Ruby Erkkinen also
arrives early for work. Her shift is from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., but
she is usually at her workstation well before then. “It gives me an
opportunity to log onto my computer, get the applications set up and
look at all my e-mails,” she says.
A support engineer for the core QuickBooks team, Erkkinen says
her daily call load covers a full spectrum of questions. One caller
wants to check on an order, the next needs help downloading a tax
table. Other calls focus on software installation, file conversion
and configuration. “During tax season, there are a lot of calls
about reports and forms not printing properly,” she says. “During
product releases in the fall, calls are about shipments and
Support engineers come from varied backgrounds.
Some have had years of experience in call centers; others came from
sales, marketing and technical backgrounds. QuickBooks group sales
and technical support gives new hires nine weeks of training,
including courses in customer service skills, communication skills
and product knowledge.
Erkkinen started in the call center last
December. Before coming to work for Intuit, she traveled the world
for 20 years as an information technology consultant. She moved to
Tucson because she loved the desert, but had no intention of
lounging in the sun. One day she walked into
Intuit’s Human Resources department, and expressed interest in how
her skills might help the company. She was told technical support
would be an ideal place to start, because it would provide a good
way to look around Intuit and see which area she wanted to join.
The biggest transition so far has been the time clock — a
necessary evil in her current position. “I’ve never punched into a
time clock before,” Erkkinen said. Eventually she wants to move into
a management position, but is happy with the skills she is learning
now. “Coming into a call center was a great place to learn about the
company and to understand the customer base.”
Edmonton, Alberta — 11 a.m.
Intuit Canada’s contact centre is in full gear as
customers call about QuickTax, Taxwiz, Quicken and QuickBooks. When
support representatives started getting hoarse voices, team leader
Jeffrey Lin encouraged them to take a 15-minute break. “Answering
200 calls a day can be pretty hard on the throat,” he
The Edmonton contact centre averages 10,000
customer calls a day. Lin manages 15 support representatives and
takes over calls that escalate. He said he looks forward to talking
with irate customers. “Honestly, it’s one of my favorite things,” he
says. “There’s always a solution we can provide them, it’s never a
To be in customer service, one must want to help
people, Lin said. “It’s about creating an experience when people
call us. We try to build a rapport with customers, and sound
animated instead of automated. We try to stress that they are
driving the company and without them, we’re nowhere.”
Lin said products are often changed, and
improved, because of feedback obtained by service representatives.
“If customers find a software flaw or a problem in the help manual,
they’re going to tell us,” he said. Support representatives track
comments and alert managers to recurring ones, which are referred to
business units. “If it’s small changes, like shipping procedures or
Web site errors, we can make those right away,” said Lin.
Even though his job is a far cry from the double
major he studied in fine arts and visual communications design, Lin
has no desire to leave. “I’m the only artist I know who’s not in
debt,” he said. “My experience with helping customers handle their
taxes has been invaluable for me personally.”
Reno, Nev. — 12 p.m.
Stan Morrice starts his lunch break. He is a senior
representative at Reno’s call center, where 150 employees take calls
about Intuit’s payroll products. It was not too busy that day, since
the year-end rush of clients needing answers about payroll taxes had
Morrice was previously a technical support
supervisor but after company restructuring, he was offered a
position as customer service representative. “I went from managing
people who did it to actually doing it,” he says. “It was very
different from what I expected.”
In his new job, Morrice quickly learned the value
of verbal communication skills. “It’s different than working in a
store where you’re facing customers and reading their body language.
Your resources are your ears. The challenge is to show callers
through your voice instead of your hands what to do,” he said.
Because his shift began at 6 a.m., Morrice was
ready to walk around and get some fresh air by noon. Besides lunch
and break times, support engineers also attend regularly scheduled
meetings to receive company announcements, updates, and most
importantly, job motivation. Reno also offers its support engineers
multiple fringe benefits, including free breakfast days, chair
massages, lunch coupons, and happy hours on Friday afternoons. Those
events bring a high level of camaraderie among support engineers,
Morrice said. “There’s a lot of teamwork here.”
After four years in customer service, Morrice
intends to keep moving upward. “To move to a higher position, it’s
helpful to have been on the front lines,” he said. “We are the first
exposure customers have to Intuit.”
Fredericksburg, Va. — 2 p.m.
Christin Williams is relieved as the 2003 tax
season enters its final stages. As a customer service agent for
ProAdvisor software over the last three years, she answers calls
from accountants and tax advisors busily preparing their clients’
tax returns. Calls typically peak when new marketing material is
mailed out, she says. And there was an added wrinkle this year. “The
season started a little earlier this year, in November instead of
January,” she says.
It’s been a particularly busy year for Williams’
group. The shipment delays of QuickBooks and tax products produced a
higher, earlier call volume than normal, as well as more irate
“This is the time when tax pros make the most
money,” she said. “We tried to help them through their frustrations,
but it was very stressful because, call after call, every single
customer was upset. Maybe one out of 20 calls was positive, but that
one call would make my day.”
Luckily, agents can always voice their opinions.
“If I had a bad call and needed somewhere to vent, I could go into
my manager’s office, close the door and get it off my chest,” said
All call center sites have an open-door policy
and encourage their staffs to go to their managers with any
problems. One example is Tucson’s Opinions Count program, where
employees can send their suggestions for change or express concerns
via the intranet and receive a written reply within 48 hours.
The sites also provide support engineers with
customer feedback on their performance, from post-contact surveys
that give support engineers and their supervisors objective data
they can use for development. Working at a call
center is one of Intuit’s most stressful jobs, but Williams said it
has taught her empathy. “If a restaurant brings me a burger with
onions that I specifically requested not to have, I just pick them
off and go on with my life,” she said. “Mistakes will happen, no one
Tampa, Fla. — 4 p.m.
Bill Baerwalde’s day is winding down.
Little more than an hour remains on his nine-to-five shift. As a
senior technical support representative for Track-It!, he takes over
escalated phone calls from businesses whose help desk technicians
need assistance to keep their networks running.
Most of his day was spent recreating scenarios in his lab to
understand clients’ situations, and then meeting on extended
conference calls with clients to explain his
Tampa has a team of 19 agents focused mostly on
technical support for Track-It! customers. They may have more
serious issues than Quicken customers calling from home, but both
calls are similar, said Baerwalde. “When it comes down to it, they
are both customers who want to get their issues fixed,” he said.
Like many service representatives, Baerwalde has
improved his communication skills. “When I’m in conversation with
anyone, I’m able to get to the heart of the matter quicker,” he
said. “I can identify the cause and symptoms when other people may
Baerwalde has been at Tampa for two years,
joining Blue Ocean software as a contractor before Intuit bought the
company. He likes Intuit and plans to move upward.
“This position is a good step in the door because
you’re affected by all sides of the company,” he said. “You get so
much experience that, if you want, you can move to marketing,
development, support or sales. If you want to stay in this area,
supervisors and managers are always needed here to keep this
department running smoothly. There are always opportunities.”
Tucson — 5:45 p.m.
T.C. Younger is close to calling it a day.
He’s finished answering calls from his dedicated client list. As a
support engineer on the QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions team, he
takes calls from 420 clients, the only ones to have
assigned support engineers.
Since moving to the Enterprise team from the
main QuickBooks support group last December, Younger says he has
developed a closer rapport with his customers. “I was in the
QuickBooks core support team for four years, but I rarely talked to
the same customer twice,” he says. “Now I can provide more
strategic, efficient advice because I know my customers better.”
Younger has other projects to keep him busy, as
well. One-fourth of his time is now spent on a process excellence
project in order to become a Six Sigma green belt. His goal is to
recover one-time support revenue. “We’re losing money due to the way
calls get routed through the system, so customers are sometimes
supported for free,” he said. “I’m looking for a way to prevent
calls from getting through without a one-time support agreement
Younger also spent six weeks in India last fall
to share best practices with Intuit’s global service affiliates. He
was glad for the opportunity to help his fellow representatives
improve their customer service. “I was able to identify system and
workflow improvements that can be resolved in the short term or in
future contract negotiations,” he said.
Younger has had opportunities to apply for
management positions, but for now he is not interested. Working as a
support engineer allows him to balance his work at Intuit with his
life at home. “In this job, I don’t have to worry when I go home at
the end of the day,” he said. “I can leave my work at work and that
makes me happy, and my family especially happy.”
With his shift officially over, Younger takes off
his headset, turns off his computer and calls it a day.
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