Corporate Social Responsibility in the Contact Center

By Marilyn Tyfting

Good pay, competitive benefits, and quality working environments are essential conditions for employment in today’s modern contact centers. However, these are not the only incentives managers can use to attract and keep employees engaged. A concept that has become increasingly popular among many top-tier customer service providers is the implementation of a comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program. Today, many business leaders are seeing the positive human resources influences from these types of programs.

It is with this in mind that Telus International launched its CSR efforts four years ago to give where we live, work, and serve. As a global contact center provider, Telus International’s CSR efforts in Central America focus on children and education, supporting organizations such as United Way. In the Philippines, the focus is on community building and constructing homes for the homeless through our partnership with Gawad Kalinga (GK), a local charity for poverty reduction.

Employee Retention and Improved Morale: From an employer’s perspective, one of the biggest benefits of a robust CSR program is how it improves employee retention and morale. For call center agents, speaking on the phone to frustrated customers, sometimes in their second language, while simultaneously viewing multiple calling screens, can be both challenging and stressful. At the same time, in many areas of the world, such as India and the Philippines, call center employers saturate the market, competing aggressively for skilled agents.

While decent wages and benefits are common these days, CSR programs can be an important differentiator and can significantly help boost overall job contentment. In a call center in Central America, Telus International found that the implementation of a comprehensive CSR program helped lead to an 18 percent decline in attrition from 2008 to 2009 and an additional 12 percent from 2009 to 2010.

Build Brand: Another benefit of a robust CSR program is the reinforcement and development of a positive brand among employees and the community. Call centers are constantly looking to position themselves and their work environments as top-tier. Repeatedly, job candidates reveal that they were drawn to the organization because of the positive brand the company enjoys in the community. An employer brand can be based on many things: compensation, learning, development, and career progression, but it can also be significantly enhanced if the company gives back to the local community.

Discover Talent: A further benefit, and one perhaps not always considered initially, is a CSR program’s ability to challenge, energize, and help employees grow beyond the boundaries of their current position. Employees often come to their supervisors looking to move up the ladder. They desire experience in leading a team, organizing a project, and coming up with creative solutions to problems. However, based on their current position, it’s often difficult for them to demonstrate what they can do. CSR programs offer a nontraditional forum where employees can gain valuable skills. Agents can show that they have what it takes to lead by creating new, community-based projects outside of day-to-day operations.

Considerations When Implementing CSR: While the value of a comprehensive CSR program can’t be understated, there are a number of considerations that must be made before committing full force. To start, be sure to embark on CSR for the right reasons. Authenticity is essential, with all levels of management committed. While the bottom line can definitely benefit from CSR initiatives, the end goal needs to be the betterment of the community, not just the company. If the company benefits from CSR efforts, all the better, but return on investment can’t be the priority.

CSR programs also require commitment. Positive buzz generally takes years to cultivate. Since 2007, our partnership with Gawad Kalinga in the Philippines has seen almost 4,000 Telus volunteers commit 24,000 hours of service, building hundreds of homes in what is now known as the Telus GK village. Over successive years of service, we found that our employees became increasingly engaged in the project to the extent that many now volunteer in small teams on weekends. This type of commitment and dedication takes time.

It is also critical to be conscious of the costs involved. Organizations must realize that CSR, while volunteer-based, is not free. For a large call center, there will always be logistical issues in transporting employees, providing them with food and water, and supplying the materials needed to take part in the CSR activity. Furthermore, if you support a popular cause, you may get a greater turnout than expected – not just employees, but their families as well. Supporting the cause includes supporting the employees who take part in the activity. This requires resources in time, planning, and money.

A good way to facilitate a CSR program is to collaborate with a local organization or charity that shares your company’s values. Telus International has always been focused on nation building, community development, children, and education, so our CSR programs tend to reflect this. Other companies may target specific health issues or other issues of social change. Be sure to choose wisely and think about what resonates best with your employees and the overall company culture.

By developing a solid CSR plan with these considerations in mind, you’ll be well-positioned to realize the positive benefits that CSR can bring to both your business and your employees. Happy, engaged, and recognized employees are more likely to stay with a company they are proud of. The longer they stay, the better service they’ll be able to provide. Ultimately, a good CSR program isn’t just good for the community, it’s good for business as well.

Marilyn Tyfting is vice-president of human resources for Telus International, a provider of BPO and contact center solutions to global clients. Telus International is the global arm of Telus, a national telecommunications company in Canada, with $9.8 billion of annual revenue and 12.3 million customer connections. In 2010, Telus was named one of the most outstanding philanthropic corporations globally by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, becoming the first Canadian company to receive this prestigious international recognition. For more information, visit www.telusinternational.com.

[From Connection Magazine April 2011]

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