Setting an Industry Standard for Contact Center Culture 

There’s an interesting contradiction in the desirability of working for big companies. Size comes with name recognition, resources, and a lot of directions to grow in, but the anonymity of being one among thousands can make those directions difficult to access. The vastness of the organization can squash an employee’s sense of possibility rather than inspire it. The value prop of working at a start-up turns on that logic; small is good, it means you’ll grow.

Jennifer Bok began her career at insurance behemoth Nationwide right out of college and has stayed ever since. Clearly, Nationwide is doing something different in making its size an asset for its employees. While agent attrition rates top 60% on average, Bok’s call centers buck the trend. Turnover is low, and when it happens, it’s “positive” — a move to another department or role.

In an interview with CCO David Honig and Head of Partnerships Max Schultz for our podcast series Frame FM, Bok describes how she sees her role as a champion for her people and shares a philosophy of management that’s helped Nationwide set an industry standard for employee satisfaction.

The Contact Center as Talent Pipeline

“I see my contact center as an entry point,” says Bok. While many organizations take turnover cycles for entry-level roles as unavoidable, Bok sees things differently. “My goal is to retain talent at Nationwide, not at my contact center.”

Widening her retention lens allows Bok to invest meaningfully in her employees. As someone who began her career at Nationwide right out of college, she empathizes with the challenges of navigating entry-level work, which often have more to do with employee uncertainty than skill. Bok understands that, especially for people at the beginnings of their careers with limited visibility, exposure is vital.

To support a culture in which exploring options is encouraged, Bok temporarily “loans” her employees out to other departments. The benefits are multidirectional. Bok gets to know her employees better, her employees get to learn more about where their talents fit in best at Nationwide, and other departments can learn from the specialized knowledge agents bring to their teams.

Bok sees her agents as holders of one of any company’s most valuable assets: the customer voice. This understanding is a boon for everything from cloud engineering to a collaboration space, and Bok puts real resources behind developing people. Her agents spend significant time with other teams — a few days a week for several months — to learn skills and highlight their value, so that when a position opens up, they’re primary contenders.

It’s important to note that Bok isn’t going rogue here. Nationwide has built structures to support this kind of development. “I have a fantastic leadership team that supports this work and they know I am a talent pipeline to the rest of the organization. I have a very diverse talent group in my area. Why not, instead of going off the street, pull right here from my team who’s already acclimated to the values and who we are at Nationwide?”

Using Data as Bridge Between Teams

Bok brings the same human-first approach to leveraging data. Rather than a magic bullet or replacement, Bok sees data as one piece that enhances a robust ecosystem. “As the technology continues to evolve, we need to take the human element with it, and develop an awesome customer experience wrapped around an awesome employee experience.”

The human-first data approach isn’t just a vision; Bok practices it in her own role as an executive, building relationships with other leaders that allow her to share call center insights across the organization.

“When I hear something from my team that I think would make a huge difference, I’ll reach out to my technology partner, and be like, Hey, here’s what I heard, here’s an example of this call, listen to it yourself — what can we do about it? Or here’s a theme we’re seeing with tickets, can I meet with the business partner to see if it’s a problem with their application?”

“Really?” exclaimed co-host Schutz. “Will they actually listen to the call you sent?”

“Sure, they’ll listen to it,” Bok replied. While many organizations suffer from siloes around customer support, Nationwide has nurtured a culture in which data serves as a bridge between teams.

A Legacy of Passion for People

Bok’s enthusiasm for people is obvious and contagious. When talking through panels to lead at this year’s CCW Conference, it was quickly clear to organizers that her topic should be developing people.

Bok is happy to contextualize her professional achievements in the achievements of her team, and sees her greatest impact in the ways she’s been able to champion their talents to support their lives.

“As you help people move up in their career, you’re helping people make more money, save more money, potentially put their kids through college. All those great awesome things that make life, life. I was a part of that too in some small way.”

For more insights on culture and leadership, check out our interview with Bill Wise CEO and Co-Founder of Mediaocean.