At Activus Connect, our SmartVirtual™ business model has enabled us to continuously plan for future growth and expand our CX delivery platform around the world, while many customer experience providers are still struggling to provide high-quality service in a virtual environment.
Susie Buffam, our Chief Strategy Officer, has been a huge part of this success. Susie brings her strong background in operations management, strategy development, training, and performance improvement to the table. Her role primarily comes down to optimizing processes for the company’s current size and future scalability, as well as measuring client successes and improving upon them further.
We sat down with Susie to discuss her role, her strategic outlook for the company, the challenges of planning for a virtual business, and how CX delivery is evolving mid-pandemic.
What are the key responsibilities of a Chief Strategy Officer?
SB: It’s all about defining solid, efficient, repeatable processes that cover us for the long term. Felix and Minerva already have a plan in place, so it’s my job to flesh out that strategy and enhance it. I’m always looking at our main competition, assessing the best places to operate, and tweaking the long-term plan to better suit our target markets.
How does planning for a 100% virtual company differ from a brick-and-mortar organization?
SB: There are obvious differences, like the physical aspects of running a brick-and-mortar facility, but with the right management processes and monitoring tools, there’s not much strategic variation between the two delivery models. Whether it’s at an executive level or front-line staff, the challenges are the same—we have to make sure people are fully engaged with their work, engaged with their teams, and delivering on their workloads.
It’s more of a management issue than anything else as you need to be sure you’re assigning the right amount of work to prevent any drop in productivity. When there isn’t enough interesting work to perform, people will find ways to procrastinate at home or in the office—it doesn’t matter where they are.
From a virtual training and development standpoint, it can be challenging to know how people are feeling on any given day, or how to get the best out of them. Even so, by proactively reaching out and communicating more with your teams, it’s entirely possible to overcome this.
In the end, without the distractions of rent, electricity, facility maintenance, and other brick-and-mortar problems, you have much more time to focus on your people, which leads to happier employees and great CX delivery.
How is customer experience delivery changing amid COVID-19?
SB: For many customers, service has become a frustrating experience since the pandemic started. Most organizations were not prepared for it and not flexible enough to adapt quickly.
Customers are often held on calls for 30 minutes to an hour because everybody is working from home, but nobody is properly connected. Likewise, agents are frustrated at their employers for not being properly prepared, so they’re not delivering high levels of experience.
Life is quite unpredictable at the best of times, especially in the US. Dangerous weather conditions and natural disasters happen all the time, but there are still so many companies that have no resiliency or scalability built into their business model. Home-based, SmartVirtual™ CX is the only way to prepare for a crisis. It’s robust, it’s faster to staff up, and it allows you to reroute calls to any location where Ambassadors are based from a wider pool of talent.
What have you enjoyed most about your time at Activus Connect so far?
SB: One of my preferred tasks has been spotting talent and helping people maximize their potential. During the first year at Activus, I spent a lot of time on coaching and development, providing the tools our team needed to excel at their jobs and experience personal growth.
In most BPO companies, churn is an issue because people get shifted from one contract to another regularly. In my experience, there’s also a lack of consistency in terms of coaching and development because managers often move around, and each has a wildly different style.
At Activus we’ve been dedicated to developing teams for their specific roles while also preparing them for their long-term futures. We’ll train Ambassadors on how to communicate with managers, how to think strategically, and other bankable skills that make a difference to their careers.
Overall, I’ve been so impressed with the team here at Activus and their approach to CX delivery. My excitement over what they bring to the table encourages me to help the company grow, and I think anybody who joins us will share in that excitement.
What makes a good SmartVirtual™ Ambassador, in your experience?
SB: There are a lot of prerequisites, such as having a good internet connection and a quiet place to work. On a human level, the best Ambassadors are responsible, self-directed, excited to improve their work-life balance, and excited to work with a specific client.
Traditional facilities are usually situated in low-cost locations that limit your catchment area, especially as markets become saturated over time. It’s also difficult to find actual customers of certain brands who care about particular companies and know a lot about their products.
The great thing about SmartVirtual™ Ambassadors is being able to find the right fit for any client. With the wider reach work-at-home offers, you can find someone with a passion for fashion, or a passion for tractors, or knowledge and experience in anything your client needs. This background helps Ambassadors engage with their customers and provide a better service.
What are your plans and ambitions for Activus Connect as we move into Q4 and beyond?
SB: Professionally, I’m really excited about helping Activus develop its stable of long-term clients and deliver some compelling CX. Customer habits have changed, so they expect different solutions than before the pandemic. People want an efficient, personalized service tailored to them across all platforms. I’d like to see Activus use this shift in customer expectations to cement our position in the market.
Personally, I’d love to travel internationally again—it’s been far too long since we’ve taken the kids on vacation.
To read more about Activus Connect’s leaders, check out this interview with our Head of Operations, Marc Robinson.