About two weeks ago, I interviewed Doria Camaraza, who is is the Senior Vice President and General Manager of Fort Lauderdale Service Center for American Express. This was an interview I was excited a lot about because I've written about American Express a number of times and in pretty much any customer satisfaction or customer service ranking, American Express makes the list. As an American Express cardmember myself, the workings behind the 160 year old company were also personally interesting to me.
This is a pretty lengthy interview, so I've divided it into four parts. Part one includes an introduction to Doria and her background with American Express, a quick overview of the different service centers that American Express has around the country, and some information on how American Express hires and trains its customer service representatives (called Customer Care Professionals).
You can see part one of the interview by clicking "read more." A preview of part two is also included at the end of this part.
Question: Tell me a little bit how you got started at American Express, what your role is, and what you do at the company?
Answer: Believe it or not, I have been with this great company for 23 years. I started as a publisher for Departures Magazine. I then moved to our merchant business in the US, and then moved to our merchant business in Latin America and Caribbean. Five years ago, I joined the service center as General Manager here. My role is to ensure, through all of our customer touch points at the center, that we are delivering extraordinary customer care each and every day as assigned by customers. It is important that we are gathering feedback on all of our transactions with the customer and then feeding it back to our customer care professionals so that we continue to raise the bar every day.
Question: Is the Fort Lauderdale call center the main American Express customer service center?
Answer: Actually no, it's not. We have four service centers here in the US. Fort Lauderdale is largest and oldest, but one of four.
Question: Where are the other ones?
Answer: We have a service center in Greensboro, Salt Lake City, and Phoenix. We have a global network, and one of the neat things about the organization is that for the first time in the history of the company, it is managed globally. So instead of a US service network and an international service network, since the beginning of year we have had a global service network we call World Service.
Question: Is there a rhyme or reason to how calls are routed and how call centers are staffed? Divided up by divisions? Just a little bit of everything goes to each place?
Answer: It varies. In my center, we primarily serve our Centurion and Platinum card members. We have some of our credit and collections team here that serves our high balance customers; we have the dispute process team so if a cardmember has a billing dispute with a merchant we serve them here in this center. We have a large co-brand servicing team here as well as in Greensboro and a smaller one in Phoenix. We have business contingency plans for each one of our card products that allow all of us to essentially back each other up.
Question: How many representatives do you have in your center?
Answer: Here in Fort Lauderdale, we have about 2,500 customer care professionals. I also oversee another site here in South Florida where have approximately 400 customer care professionals handling billing and payments (or sending out statements and processing remittances.)
Question: How do you go about staffing them and hiring and training? Interview? Things like that?
Answer: At American Express, service is at the core of our brand. Since our founding 160 years ago, customer satisfaction has been a top priority for us - we want our customers to have a great experience with American Express at every touch point. Bringing the right kind of front-line employees into the organization is a critical component of building strong and lasting relationships with customers.
And a few years back, we actually revamped the whole employee process. We began to think differently about how we hire, train and compensate our employees. We now look for people who have hospitality, sales, and retail experience because we really believe if they have that service background in their DNA, we can train them on any one of our processes. We created new structured development opportunities and clearly defined career paths for our customer care professionals so that they are gaining more and learning more as they progress in their role. We invest more in our new hire program with twice as much time devoted to training as many of our competitors so that we are better positioning our customer care professionals. We've invested in technology tools that are easier to navigate so customer care professionals can spend time developing a relationship with customers and spend more time providing answers and solutions on each call. And last, we evaluated our compensation plan to make sure we were incenting the right behavior. Now, our customer care professional incentives are driven by customer feedback. It's something that we started four years ago.
Question: What are hiring processes like from application to when they start the learning process?
Answer: First, an applicant applies for an open position through our website. Then we do an assessment to determine math computation skills, how they would handle certain customer interactions, etc. Then we do a phone interview to learn about the applicants service attitudes or ethos. The next step is a face-to-face interview and then a meeting with the hiring leader.
Question: I would like to hear more about orientation process if you could talk a little bit more about it.
Answer: A year and a half ago, we actually revamped our entire new employee orientation process. We want to ensure that on the very first day, our customer care professionals know that they joined a great company. In each one of our service centers, we welcome our new hires and they go through a scheduled day of events. In Fort Lauderdale, for example, I am the first person to talk to the new hires as a group. We share our servicing ethos, our Relationship Care ethos, the history of our service center and the company. Throughout the day, we take them through the usual benefits enrollment.
Other senior leaders address the new hires during the day and we communicate how important the customer care professionals role are to the company. At end of day, we have a networking session where leadership teams and all of the Vice Presidents will stop by. During this time, new hires can enroll in employee networks, the backup child care center and other programs. Most important, the first day reaffirms their decision to work with American Express, and our decision to hire them. We try to create that "wow" experience, just as we try to create the same with each and every customer interaction. We want them to walk away that first day knowing that they joined the greatest company in America.
Part two will be posted next week and will include information on how American Express decides to hire new employees versus promote them from within, more information on the compensation and motivation methods the company is using, how they use Net Promoter, information on the company's "Relationship Care" program, and more.