In 2016, Vacasa’s reputation for impeccable customer service faced its greatest test. Our average daily backlog had swollen to 300 voicemails and 1,000 emails. We were experiencing meteoric growth as a company, but had failed to properly scale customer service. Something had to change, and in January, I was asked to help.
Today, our customer service team answers 90% of calls the first time and averages 30-minute response times to emails. Turning the ship around required a fresh take on logistics and a new set of priorities.
Here are the priorities that guide our decisions:
Harvard Business School released a study about what modern customers actually want when they reach out to customer service. They found that a fast, efficient solution is more important than empathy. We rebuilt our team with product-minded problem-solvers who resolve customer issues quickly then work within the organization to help identify whatever is causing the issue. Our greater goal with customer service is to help the organization operate so efficiently that customers have no reason to call.
Be strategic with your training
Our training used to be almost entirely focused on customer engagement. It took 90 days to get agents to a place where they were able to make much of an impact. This year, we got analytics involved and they helped us identify our top 10 contact categories. We built a two-week training around the categories and now, by 4pm at the end of their 2-week training, new agents are ready to help with Friday overflow.
Great employees do their best work when they understand that they’re valuable and there’s a path to move up and improve. Working a customer service line gives you an excellent foundation to move elsewhere in the business. Since I took over in January 2016, we’ve promoted 39 people out of customer service. Being a revolving door is something I want, not something I want to fight. The first person we lost to another team was one of our best agents. Now she’s a recruiter and helps hire more great agents. Letting her transfer was one of the best decisions I’ve made.
Use metrics for good
Call centers are notorious for using metrics to crush souls in their relentless pursuit to force better performance. We do the opposite. We only use metrics as a forensics tool to take a deeper look at the bigger picture. They’re indicators that we use to identify new training opportunities. If performance metrics are consistently low, we look at what’s happened. But with the right team in place, it really isn’t a problem.
Find flexible thinkers
We hire flexible thinkers who are going to care about solving problems for our customers. There are so many things to think about in customer service, and being able to adapt on the fly is essential. I get excited in an interview if someone’s done a bunch of different jobs. That usually means they’re adaptable, which is important when your day includes everything from helping a guest get in a lockbox to assisting a local operations manager force-move a reservation.
Keep it positive
Customer service can weigh you down. It’s important to focus on teamwork, camaraderie, and acknowledging the positive impact of what you do. We’re helping people get their vacations back on track quickly and painlessly. It feels good.
Identify natural leaders
Every team has unsung heroes—natural leaders who understand the vision and contribute beyond their job description. Identify and empower them. We reshaped customer service with the help of two incredible team leads. The three of us collaborated and hired 60 people in three months. The team we built has helped 1.7 million guests over the past year.
Empower your people
Customer service programs tend to be highly micromanaged. Agents lack agency; nothing feels good. We turned team leads into leaders instead of managers and pushed decision-making down to each agent. It’s efficient and better for businesses to hire great people and empower them to make the best decisions on behalf of our guests.
Customer service moves fast. When you’re always on your heels, it’s hard to build a long-term vision. Make time to do it! My goal is to improve our business. Everything we do helps inform a future product that’s so clean, customers will never have to pick up a phone or wait for an email. In the meantime, I want to continue to hire great people and advocate for more simple, self-serve solutions for customers.
By Nate Tomlinson, our Director of Customer Experience