Contact centres multicultural?

Text: Wim van der Ven

From a marketing perspective multiculturalism seems a segmenting principle; pigeon-hole people and use a segmentation principle like origin, disposition, faith, interests, clothing and treat them as may be expected from the core values belonging to them. And with core values I mean a pattern of human activities in that specific situation.
When a mismatch occurs, we rapidly call that discrimination. And because of this you end up in an impossible discussion that does not leave a lot of freedom of speech. The dialogue halts. Pigeon-holing makes for distress, rigidity. While we want to achieve the opposite.

Fortunately, this galling outlook is not a part of the culture of Interpolis, the assurance branch of Rabobank, where there is one big contact centre to help the client that has suffered damage. Interpolis does that in a way that fits the experience and specific situation of the client. All grief comes together at our contact centre; from a stolen laptop to a house that was completely burned down by a fire in which the client lost everything.

Common core values
The culture of Interpolis mirrors society. All beliefs and customs come together here, all countries seem to be represented. But that is not the criterion on which we base the selection of new employees. The company culture of Interpolis has common values wherein freedom and trust play a dominant role. That is what we base the selection of employees on. Just like Interpolis gives out: “leave the receipts at home” and thus gives the client a lot of trust in “proving” the damage he has suffered, the employee needs space to help the client in his own specific way. The employee becomes entrepreneur and feels fully responsible.

The role of HR
Every applicant of Interpolis goes through a so-called ‘close-up day’ that is binding for definitive acceptance. On this day the candidate is assessed on entrepreneurship, client orientation, result orientation and autonomy. The employee acts self-directing and thinks like the client. He knows what he wants to reach and realizes his goals. A manager steers from a distance. This also fits into our working method where it is stated that the place where the employee is, is his work spot. Our employees can work from home. Totally equipped with all conveniences. Without management. The technology follows. Work can also be done on the road. With regards to the Collective Labour Agreement for instance, progression has been made by introducing a diversity day. In the past, everyone had the day off at Good Friday. This has now been swapped for a diversity day that everyone can use when they want to. Following on the own core values.

The importance of client orientation
I explicitly mention the importance of employees helping the client from their specific experience. It’s always important for an employee to be able to imagine himself in a situation. A client from Limburg will be excited when the employee handling the case suddenly talks about a solution in the Limburg dialect. The client has more trust in the company and feels warmth and involvement. It’s important that the client feels understood and appreciated, especially when he is being helped in his own language. I recently experienced a situation like this, a stroke of luck. The employee switches over to the experience of the client. This can’t go wrong anymore! Specific core values are placed together: language. The surrounding colleagues smile when they hear the conversation, but only understand parts of it. Limburg dialect is thus really a language!

Supervisors have a list at their disposal that lists employees who speak a foreign language. For when there is no other option. Sometimes we get a call from for instance a hospital in a far-away country, to discuss some data about where our client was hospitalized. In cases like this it’s very convenient to have an employee speaking the language of this country. We do observe a decreasing trend here, because English is a language increasingly used by many people world-wide.

Culture at the department
Sometimes we are surprised because the core values of a certain employee are so important that this has an impact on the entire group. We offer the employee the space needed and this is accepted by everyone. For instance when a team excursion with alcoholic beverages is not acceptable for some cultures. When this happens, the team looks for alternatives. And isn’t it nice that an employee provides nice snacks for everyone during Ramadan and thus boosts teambuilding.

Heterogeneity in the team delivers more creativity and more solution directions. Complex questions are discussed internally with colleagues and answered by the team. It’s wonderful to see how ideas come together in such a group. A Turkish client with damage wants to have the feeling that there is room for negotiations. Only then will he be satisfied with the solution. A Chinese client first wants to experience a basis of trust and then look for a solution. A client from Rotterdam wants to be helped fast and good, someone from Brabant thinks it’s important we know him.

Conclusion: freedom as guiding principle
My conclusion is that the term multiculturalism leans too fast towards pigeon-holing and that the main focus should be freedom as guiding principle in a contact centre. It’s convenient and refreshing when employees express their own core values and by doing so surprise their colleagues and the client. Common values are leading and should be followed by everyone. But there should also be more than enough space and appreciation for the personal cultural interpretations.

Wim van der Ven is Head Damage Private Persons Living & Recreation at  Interpolis

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