How to rapidly scale and still maintain the highest customer service standards – Interview with Ed Ariel

Corporate cateringToday’s interview is with Ed Ariel, VP of Customer Service at ezCater, the only US-wide marketplace for corporate catering. We talk about preserving your customer service standards through a period of rapid growth, ezCater’s unique elements within its culture that have supported that growth, empowerment and what it means for them.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Customer experience, personalisation and how not to be creepy – Interview with Tara Kelly – and is number 226 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Highlights from my conversation with Ed:

  • Ed has helped ezCater grow their customer service team from 10-11 people three years ago to approx. 120 people now.
  • Their philosophy from the beginning is to be insanely helpful to their customers in order to make their customers lives easier.
  • To do that they spend a lot of time hiring people.
  • In the Boston area their hiring costs average around $8,000.
  • Their difference comes from the amount of time and effort they spend in identifying and hiring the best people.
  • One of the things that they look for, apart from a customer focus, is something else in a potential employees life that they have been or are passionate about.
  • The other main thing they hire for is culture fit.
  • They also use a concept in their culture called ‘psychological safety’, a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. It can be defined as “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career.
  • Before they integrated this concept into their culture, it was taking new recruits 5-6 months to really ‘get’ what ezCater was about.
  • They call their customer service people ‘ninjas’ and it is their responsibility to be continuously on the look out for operational improvements.
  • They don’t have annual reviews but foster continuous, open and honest communication.
  • This also means that there is no annual pay review and employees can get a raise at anytime they believe that they have out performed their salary.
  • All they need to do is go to management, tell them why they think they deserve a raise and management will review that and then explain to them if they agree, if not why not and what they need to do to improve over the next 3 months, say.
  • They have had instances where an employee has had 2-3 raises per year using that process.
  • ezCater don’t use traditional KPIs (AHT, Time on hold, calls or emails taken etc) in their contact centre. Rather, they focus on quality metrics, like quality of their calls and how they are getting along with their team etc.
  • They also don’t use scripts.
  • Their customer standards include:
    • How they open and close a conversation;
    • Documenting what happened on the account; and
    • Whether they resolved the customers issue and made their life easier and/or saved them time?
  • Many companies talk about empowerment but many don’t achieve it as many people don’t understand what it means to be empowered in their organizational context.
  • ezCater work hard with their people to help them understand what that means and allow them to focus on making their customers happy. That means that mistakes are made but that’s OK as long as the same mistake doesn’t happen again.
  • Nobody gets fired for making mistake that makes a customer happy.
  • Their QA team monitors the levels of adjustments that are being made. They are not looking at each and every adjustment or person involved only the level relative to their overall bookings and revenue.
  • Their adjustments are way below the industry average.
  • They manage the quality of their suppliers by allowing customers to rate them for quality, price and timeliness of delivery. All customers see these ratings on ezCater’s website.
  • Read their reviews on Trustpilot for an insight into the things that ezCater do for their customers and how their customers feel about them.
  • ezCater spend more than average on hiring, more than average on training and pay slightly above the market average.
  • Ed’s advice is to hire the right people, put the right sort of philosophy in place and then help them ‘get’ it.
  • Only hire ‘A’ level people. Help them stay that level, help them reach that level again if they slip to a ‘B’ or help them move on if they slip to a ‘B’ and can’t get back up to an ‘A’ level standard.
  • They also spend just as much time on retaining their employees and have a dedicated supervisor who is responsible for setting quizzes and organising activities to keep employees engaged with the firm, other teams and each other.
  • EzCater describes itself as having great technology that is run by insanely helpful people.
  • Wow service/experience for Ed and ezCater is when a customer’s order goes straight through and is delivered with very little effort or need for interaction with the team at ezCater as they understand that, for their customers, this sort of activity is one they want to spend as little time as possible on.
  • Are you looking for food for a training event or a meeting or as a perk for your employees then check out ezCater.

About Ed (taken from his ezCater bio)

Ed ArielEd Ariel is VP of Customer Service at ezCater and brings more than 20 years of experience building, implementing and managing comprehensive customer service and business process improvement programs and teams. Ed has a winning record of simultaneously boosting customer satisfaction and company profitability by building and directing great teams and equipping them with top-notch technology. Ed has held leadership roles in customer service, operations and risk management at Fidelity Investment Systems Company, TNCI Operating Company and AT&T. Ed holds an MBA from Bentley University and a BA from the University of Massachusetts/Amherst.

ezCater was founded in August 2007 in Boston, Massachusetts, and is the only US-wide marketplace for corporate catering.

Check out ezCater, say Hi to them on Twitter @ezCater and connect with Ed on LinkedIn here.

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Vanessa Pike-Russell Flickr via Compfight cc

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