“Make each caller feel better for having spoken with us.” – Ann Hastings, mom and founder.
Hastings Humans is a customer service call center in Austin, Texas. It’s different from many other call centers in that it’s a family-owned business. This ‘original start up’ was founded in 1948 by Ann Hastings and is now run by her two sons, Mark and Scott. They put a huge emphasis on being of service to their clients and their client’s customers, training their employees so that they can handle customer service for clients in the best way possible.
Recently, we discussed who comes first, customer over employee or employee over customer on the blog. Hastings Humans seems to have figured out the balance. The average tenure of a Hastings’ client is 13 years, much higher than industry norms, and the average employee turnover is 19%, compared to the average turnover at this sort of call center of around 51%.
We took some time to talk with Mark Hastings to find out how Hastings Humans makes numbers like this happen.
The Hastings Humans Interview
There is a quote on your site, “The Hastings Humans’ success stems from not just providing a call center but providing a team of people ready to truly support and represent your company and actually talk back.” Tell us a little about your “human” focus and how it might differentiate you.
We think a lot about how our customers depend on us to help them be successful with their respective businesses. We have a mindset in our company that when we are talking to our customer’s callers, we are the company they are calling – what we say and how we say it has to represent that company in the best light. In fact, if you call one of our clients and talk to us, our goal is that you don’t know it. We strive for the caller’s experience when Hastings takes the call to be as close as possible to when the customer takes the call themself. Our customers find that having a person available to talk to their callers at any time gives them a competitive advantage over their competitors who have a machine take a message.
Many call centers are metrics-focused. How do you feel about the typical call center metrics like, average-handle time and call resolution? What is your approach to quantitative team management and how do you blend it with your “human” outlook?
Our number one focus is having a satisfied customer base. Of course many businesses say that, but because ours is a subscription model, it’s even more important. We have to build and maintain an ongoing positive relationship with our customers.
That being said, the metrics that we look at are primarily satisfaction based. So we don’t hold it over our employees’ head that they have to maintain a certain average call handling time or meet a quota of calls per hour. Our primary measure of employee performance is in how competently and courteously they handle each call. We do that with an intensive program of call monitoring, evaluation, and coaching. A sampling of the calls handled by each employee is listened to by trained staff members who judge how the call was handled.
For example, they will score on courteousness by listening to whether the employee is saying “please” and “thank you”. We listen for proper enunciation and diction. And we listen for the close of the call – leaving the caller feeling like they were cared for. Many of these are subjective measures, but we feel confident that our procedures allow us to make the measurements fairly.
Of course, we still look at overall metrics like Average Speed to Answer and abandonment rate, but these are measures out of the individual employee’s control and are functions of staffing level and scheduling.
You emphasize being a family-owned business. How do you feel this has helped you in your approach to helping other organizations’ customers?
Being a family owned business helps us connect with that business owner who is – just like us – dealing with the challenges of daily business operation. We know what it’s like to have not only your business reputation on the line but also your personal reputation. That’s why we’re so passionate about keeping our customers and their callers happy.
Your employee retention numbers are impressive, particularly for the call center industry; describe what you have done to create such longevity. Tell us about the Hastings Humans culture and what you do to cultivate and reinforce it.
Ann Hastings, our mother, started this business in 1948 to help raise a little cash and raise a family at the same time. Little did she realize at the time how successful her company would become. She always treated her staff with respect and honor. Scott and I grew up in that environment and love to support our staff.
For instance, on the anniversary month of each employee’s hire date, we take them out to lunch at a nice restaurant. At the end of the lunch we ask them two questions: “What do you like about working at Hastings?” and “What would you change?”
Almost every time, the answer to the first question is something along the lines of how they like working in a family atmosphere or how they enjoy their co-workers. The answer to the second question sometimes reveals concerns that need addressing and we are glad to hear them.
How does this culture directly impact your clients and their customers?
I believe that the behavior that owners and managers model is the behavior that their staff, in turn, will exhibit to the people they interact with – namely, our clients and their customers. If we treat our employees with respect, courtesy, and fairness, we can expect them to do the same with our clients and their customers.
For other organizations in high turnover industries, how would you advise beginning the process of creating a culture that results in longer employee tenure?
Much of this starts with hiring smart. Some advice I got, years ago, was to never hire out of desperation. In other words, be patient and hire the right people for the job – even when you don’t need them right then. Always show them respect and show them that you expect them to do the same with their peers, your clients, and their customers.
Finally, as the world increasingly moves to omnichannel service models, where do you think the call center industry will be in ten years?
Ten years is a long time as far as technology goes. Since commerce is a human activity, I feel that there will always be a place for the human element in client interactions. The tools will be very different, and who knows what communication channels will be available then. But companies that can quickly adapt and do so without antagonizing their customers will always be successful. The companies that ignore the long term consequences of their actions will decline and eventually fail.
Find out more information on Hastings Humans on their website: www.hastingshumans.com