Queen of the contact center

Elisa Lowry is vice president of operations for Jacksonville, FL-based Venus Swimwear and its sister catalog, undergarments title WinterSilks. As such she is responsible for the operations of both divisions including customer contact, fulfillment, and distribution as well as all aspects of information technology. Lowry has been with Venus since the swimwear mailer’s inception in 1984; she’s been vice president for the past 15 years. Having started with Venus in its early days, Lowry has worked in almost all facets of the business, including writing catalog copy, picking and packing orders in the distribution center, and fielding calls in Venus’s contact center.

You were the voice on the company’s automatic call distribution (ACD) announcements. How did that come about?

During an upgrade of our phone switch we lost all of our announcements. I suddenly had to be the recorded voice on the announcements. I remember being very conscious of slowing down enough to be understood clearly, but all it made me do was laugh. The more I recorded, the more I laughed. It took me like eight times before I got it right. Having been born and raised in the South, there’s a reason I don’t make my living doing voiceovers. I tried hard not to say, “Thank ya’all for calling Venus.” But when time is critical, you step in and do whatever is necessary.

Does Venus monitor the CSRs’ phone calls?

Yes, we developed a SuccessWatch program inhouse that has become a valuable tool for our management staff and our agents. The mandatory requirements include verifying source codes, correctly repeating back customer information, and of course, friendliness. We then offer bonus points for opportunities to exceed the customer’s experience.

Do your CSRs handle e-mail correspondence as well as incoming calls?

Not every agent in our contact center is multiskilled. We have a small group of agents who handle our e-commerce customers. They all have the ability to take an incoming call, answer an e-mail, or conduct live chat. Since I personally am not a great multitasker, it amazes me that they can accomplish this all at once.

What’s your biggest nightmare from a contact center perspective?

We live and die by service levels and abandon rates. If a customer hangs up, how do we ever know they will call us back? So I don’t know if it is my biggest nightmare, but it is my ongoing nightmare that we’ll miss the mark in scheduling or forecasting and never have the opportunity to show a new customer just how great we are.

Biggest challenge in the contact center?

We are an employee-focused company. We try to make it fun and accommodating…murals on the walls, pajama days, management washing employees’ cars, etc. So it is hard to keep employees “reminded” that we really do have a business to run.

“If I weren’t in operations, I’d be…”

I’d probably be in human resources. If I had my choice of any job in the company? I would pack orders. To me that is the final opportunity to make sure everything is correct and as the customer expects.

What is your contact center philosophy?

To exceed the customer’s expectation. The contact center holds the key to the impression we give our customer. Did we sound friendly and sincere on the phone calls? Did we answer a question intelligently and thoroughly? We ask our agents to empathize with the customer. We empower them to accommodate the customer’s request and go one extra step to exceed their expectation.

Most interesting thing or favorite possession hanging in your office?

Right now I have a cow theme going on in my office because a colleague of mine shared an article with me last year that quoted Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy sharing her problem-solving, Texas style, advice: Get the cow out of the ditch; discover how the cow first got into the ditch; make changes so that the cow never goes into the ditch again. During a quarterly stats review, I shared this with my management staff and related that our abandon rate was our “cow” and tasked them to improve with steps two and three. Obviously the cow analogy made quite an impression. For the holidays, I received all kinds of wacky “cow” things.