5 Lessons in Leadership and Effective Customer Service Culture from Scott Wilson and Denis Keogh
At the heart of success lies a team, a leader, and a whole pile of hard work. I can’t think of a better part of the organization to highlight than the International Customer Service team, led by duo, Scott Wilson (VP of International Sales & Customer Service) and Denis Keogh (Senior Director, Customer Service ) who are based out of our European HeadQuarters in Dublin.
The team is made up of a diversified group of individuals with a total of thirty working in the international group (across both sales and service departments), from sixteen nationalities, at last count. Serving our European, Australian, and Japanese customers, the European Customer Service team answers approximately 4,000 calls per month and also handles the overflow calls from the US.
The role involves answering calls, replying to emails, dealing with customer issues (disputes and complaints), billing queries, technical issues, escalations, as well as driving the success of the customer satisfaction surveys.
Listening to Scott and Denis carefully, there are some great lessons for leaders looking to cultivate a better team culture. This feature will share five key lessons on their collective leadership and culture shaping mindset.
1. Build a High Performance Team
Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.Helen KellerAuthor
Conversing with Scott and Denis, I was struck by the rapport and the camaraderie at the heart of this duo’s delivery. Given their long tenure of working together, there’s an ease and comfort in their interactions. Not surprising, I suppose, as collectively, they’ve 31 years of service in the business between them. That’s no mean feat. Denis celebrated his 19th year of service with the company this year (congrats Denis!).
Naturally, there’s a deep understanding of the business and also knowledge of each other’s strengths, foibles etc. This is half the battle to winning in business. Good relationships and solid teamwork. Scott emphasizes that the team is given full autonomy to get on with the job at hand. One that you wouldn’t get from a more controlled work environment or a more dictatorial style of management. This empowers the team and provides each employee with a sense of ownership over their work.
The team has the discretion to submit for refunds when they can clearly see there is a known error or billing issue. As Scott puts it, they’re not afraid to say: “we’ll submit a refund for an overcharge” or ”we’ll give you some credit because that fax took too long”. This adds to a better customer experience and it can help avoid an obvious refund taking longer than needed. Giving the team decision making authority on such matters helps them deal with any issue quickly, which helps to keep customers happy.
If we weren’t confident in our team’s ability to provide a good service, we wouldn’t be sending out automatic surveys, we wouldn’t be asking for reviews on sites.Scott WilsonVice President, International Sales & Support
Scott and Denis care a lot about the happiness of their team. That much is very clear. Everyone’s contribution is valued. Those who work hard, embody the company values, and deliver the goods, are rewarded. The knock on effect leads to great teamwork and there’s a huge collective strength behind that.
There is also a small sales team in Europe too. What’s nice about the spirit of the customer service team is that they’ll always help out their sales colleagues. By reactivating an account or by signing a new customer. They gladly assist if a Spanish or Japanese speaker is needed or if someone is out sick or out of the office etc.
They’re very aware about adding numbers, creating corporate leads for Kevin in Europe or for Shiv and Angelo in Australia, they know how to spot an opportunity.Scott WilsonVice President, International Sales & Support
- Identify talent and develop people
Much of good leadership is down to curbing one’s own ego and possessing a genuine desire to help other people succeed. Because it demands less of the individual ego coming to the fore and more of a focus on the team’s success. There’s a big difference between management of people, projects/tasks, the need or desire to be in control, and leadership.
Leaders relinquish control, give space, focus on the wellbeing of their team, and have a vision for the business. They combine their confidence with a level of warmth that pulls people in. What’s more, they enjoy developing their people and find ways to genuinely lift people up. Both Scott and Denis demonstrate these leadership qualities. It’s encouraging to see those who’ve been promoted into more senior positions.
Look at Vincent Gauthier. He came in as a Customer Service Manager, Senior Manager, and is now the Associate Director. There’s Lia, Lorraine, and Anna from the EU team. And Yuki from Japan too. They all started off as CS agents and went on to become leads and supervisors. Having the ability to develop and grow talent and see their success is truly rewarding for us”.Denis KeoghSenior Director, Customer Service
You’ve got Mari in Australia who were reps and now they’re team leads. So we do try and encourage people to be better.Scott WilsonVice President, International Sales & Support
If you have passion and drive and you instill that in your team, they adopt those values.Denis KeoghSenior Director, Customer Service
- Lead with passion and drive but be humble too
There’s nothing more inspiring than being led by someone who truly cares about their work and who looks to serve the wellbeing of each team member. Denis is such an individual. He is truly passionate about customer service (he got his first taste of it with Dunnes Stores, Ireland’s leading retail store, at the tender age of 16).
Both Scott and Denis lead with an infectious energy that inspires the support of their team. They’re also genuine in their interactions (this includes colleagues from other departments). People pick up on cues of insincerity, there’s none of that with these two.
So they’re all incredibly smart. I’m probably the dumbest person in the room in that sense when it comes to the team. They are really sharp. So they spot things and they are very articulate when it comes to actually explaining what they see.Scott WilsonVice President, International Sales & Support
Another thing I admire about Scott and Denis (and other great leaders) is that their confidence is balanced with a good dollop of humility. They seek opportunities to learn from those on their team with greater knowledge or experience in other areas. The leader doesn’t need to know it all. High EQ and low ego.
- Hire for team fit
We always take the time to get to know the person and we are looking at the skills, but then also one of the things that’s really important is ensuring that the person is a good team fit for the organization.Scott WilsonVice President, International Sales & Support
Team fit. This is a biggy. Ensuring an individual has the right mindset, a positive attitude, and the willingness to work as part of a team are crucial at Consensus. But working life isn’t so straightforward. There’ll be the occasional bump to maneuver or conflict to resolve.
Scott spoke about the importance of his team getting along. Scott and Denis work together to nip any problems in the bud. Team dynamics can’t be undermined by individuals who don’t embody the values of the organization.
Getting the team right is half the battle, so they spend time getting to know an individual (at the interview stage). Team selection is a deeply considered activity at the European HQ. They’re also aware the team needs to be able to pull together and weather the storms when they arise (market conditions, recessions etc). Character matters. Big time.
You’ve got to look at what is going to be best for the team. What is going to be best for the company?Scott WilsonVice President, International Sales & Support
2. Focus on the Brilliant Basics to Deliver Excellent Customer Service
You’ll never have a product or price advantage again. They can easily be duplicated, but a strong customer service culture can’t be copied.Jerry FritzCustomer Experience Speaker and Author
Getting the basics right in any professional capacity is paramount to success. Scott and team play to their strengths and understand that truly serving the customer is their number one priority. This customer service culture has been built up steadily over many years (as long as both men have been in their positions).
Culture shaping takes time but it’s paying off in dividends now. There’s nothing more powerful than customers backing up that the hard work is paying off. The proof is in the pudding (as they say!). Read the TrustPilot reviews here.
- Solve customers problems first time, no matter how long it takes
Keeping customers happy, that’s the key focus for the team. Denis refers to the importance of getting the problem fixed for the customer on the first call. He is not concerned about the average call time that it takes to solve the issue. The focus is always on resolving the customer’s problem on the first call. He stipulates that most call centers have a call handle time of 3 minutes. This doesn’t exist at Consensus. We spend time with our customers to get the issues and problems resolved first time, every time.
For me, I don’t mind if somebody spends five to six minutes, even seven minutes as long as the issue gets resolved. So from a first-time resolution perspective, we don’t have that customer calling back.Denis KeoghSenior Director, Customer Service
- Always be transparent with customers
Besides the huge volume of calls that come into the sales and support center, there’s also the added complexity of geo compliance (or geo verification as Scott calls it). This is a process of verification. The team needs to check and verify customers identification documents: for example, Italian driving licenses, Japanese company registration forms and so on.
A customer can’t get a fax number without going through this process first. It’s heavy duty administrative work for the team, but it’s obligatory. Consensus, as an organization, must comply with each countrys’ regulations in order to avoid fax fraud. As Denis points out it’s the telecom regulators or authorities within government who are instituting these regulations to protect against fraud, scams, and terrorism. The need to identify people is critical to ensure compliance in this respect. The risk of fraud is reduced when we’re working with markets/countries who comply with these regulations.
French customers might have been able to sign up for a German number in the past. Now they can’t do that because they have to have residence in Germany or have a proof of address in Germany. But at least if we’re transparent and up front at the very beginning, they know that they can do that or they can’t do it.Denis KeoghSenior Director, Customer Service
- Deliver excellent customer service and get the customers buy-in to promote your service
The customer service team are now registering scores of 4.9 stars (out of 5) on Trustpilot. Which is phenomenal. The great thing about this is customers are happy to leave reviews when the service they receive is genuinely excellent. This is really down to their passionate leader Denis Keogh who has instilled these high standards.
Providing excellent customer service is the top priority because that’s just something I hold dear in my life.Denis KeoghSenior Director, Customer Service
People respond to good service and are willing to provide testimonials for a job well done. This speaks volumes about our customer service team in Europe. As Denis tells it, they got it to where it needed to be. With TrustPilot flying, they’re now working on Sitejabber.
The team are absolutely phenomenal with regards to the reviews they’re driving in. All you have to do is go on to Trustpilot. You’ll see the influx of reviews that are in there and the kind of comments that customers are leaving.Denis KeoghSenior Director, Customer Service
The strength that the international team is bringing in those reviews across whatever review site is needed.Scott WilsonVice President, International Sales & Support
- Save customers time
Another initiative that the European customer service team has been busy working on is the collation of the most frequently asked questions that customers ask (along with the corresponding answers) into a self-serving repository on our websites. This is helping to save time for the customer and reducing customer friction when they’re looking for a response to a question in a hurry.
Denis explains the process succinctly. The contact us online form provides a list of questions, the customer selects the most appropriate question. Let’s say, it’s a billing question. When this question is selected, it is linked to our internal CRM platform to automatically send that corresponding answer back to the customer. Which means the customer is getting the response in real time.
Presently, the team is looking to do the same for the corporate business and for the Japanese and Australian websites.
If we load all the questions that we get asked on a regular basis between billing, technical cancellation etc the customer then gets their answer back straight away as soon as they send it.Denis KeoghSenior Director, Customer Service
3. Live Out the Companys’ Values
Core values are the deeply ingrained principles that guide all of a company’s actions: they serve as its cultural cornerstone.Patrick M LencioniHarvard Business Review
Scott brings up the company values frequently during team meetings. More as a reminder as to who we are, as an organization, and as a guiding principle in how the team should go about their work. As well as how we should be engaging with one another, our customers and our partners.
This is an example of great culture building communication. We truly believe our values are key to helping us be successful. The Consensus core values are: We strive for excellence, Demonstrate empathy, Embrace innovation, Driven by data, and Communicate openly.
Everyone on the team in Europe has to embody our values. This demonstrates that the team cares about their work, relationships with colleagues, and the overall success of the business. Which is why Scott regularly communicates the values with the team. Leaders set the example and truly live out the values of the organization.
But no matter how good your company or your product is, if you’ve got people who don’t care about their customers and care about the business, it doesn’t matter.Scott WilsonVice President, International Sales & Support
4. Overcome the Challenges of Working Remotely
It’s the bit that I miss from not being in the office with people. Having this conversation face-to-face is always more fun. And I think that that’s the challenge that we’ve got is the spread out team.Scott WilsonVice President, International Sales & Support
The upside of remote work is that we’re gifted more time with our families. Those long office commute times, stuck in traffic, are long gone. Thank heavens for that! But there are some challenges to remote work too. Teams are spread out over many different geographical regions. Here at Consensus, meetings between colleagues go from the US, to Europe, to Asia Pacific. Zoom calls, day in, day out. That can be hard.
- There’s limitations to communicating on Zoom so schedule regular in person team meetups
As humans, we’re hardwired to engage with one another in person. Which is key to fostering individual and team relationships. Scott recognises this and has the wider customer service team, in Dublin, meet up regularly for a day in the office (every two weeks). It allows for chit chat and for the development of more organic discussions or conversations.
After a long day, you’re tired and maybe the communication of an idea, concept, or problem could have been better served in person (rather than on a quick zoom call). Sometimes, in person communication is much better for the more nuanced issues.
- Leaders connect with colleagues from other departments
As a Marketing professional, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Scott on a number of productive and collaborative projects. Also as our most senior leader in Dublin, he’s a good person (and professional) to turn to for advice on business related matters. Our chats (always over a cup of coffee) have always been positive and very pleasant encounters. Thank you Scott!
Scott and Denis and everyone on the customer service team, we salute you. The excellent TrustPilot scores, a team desire to get things done to a very high standard, everyone working as one cohesive unit, and having a bit of fun along the way too. Speaks volumes!
It’s inspiring to see such love and passion for the job and for getting the most out of a team (a distinct and visible trait in all good leaders). That’s something we can all learn from and hopefully aim to cultivate in ourselves.
The incredible spirit of the Dublin team (not forgetting the wonderful work the European sales dept do too) and the resulting success is tantamount to effective leadership and living out the Consensus values.
Bravo Team Dublin!
1.The Power of Communication, Helen Keller, https://www.teambonding.com
2.Increase Brand Loyalty through Customer Support, by Caitlin Zucal
3.Make Your Values Mean Something, by Patrick M.Lencioni, Harvard Business Review