A Conversation with Ruben Jimenez moderated by Martin Ayala from TaskUs.
Newzoo's Global Games Market Report estimates that 2.3 billion gamers worldwide will spend a total of $137.9 billion on games this year and this number is expected to grow to $180.1 billion by 2021.
With thousands of new video games launched every year, player support is naturally increasing with demand. But how will gaming companies keep up with customer support tickets while maintaining a flawless gaming experience?
I sat down with Ruben Jimenez, Senior Director of Client Services at TaskUs, to learn how his team has successfully increased the quality and volume of tickets for an established gaming company.
Our gaming partner is a leader in the gaming industry with a variety of game titles, unique IP and hardware requirements. By providing support for two distinct geographies and enhancing user experience in regards to quality and training, we have become their strategic weapon in creating a world-class gaming experience.
For privacy reasons, the name of our gaming client will not be used and instead will be referred to as ‘Client A'.
Martin: How did TaskUs help ‘Client A' increase resolution rate?
It wasn't a single module or change on the program that had to be done to increase their resolution rate per ticket. It entailed an overhaul of the lifecycle of the employee and the team we were bringing on board. When you look at how we have partnered with Client A, the biggest benefit since the beginning was that they were focused on creating a unique customer experience. Client A provided us with an overall blueprint on what to focus on in the future which was the teammate's quality of life and combining the program with two distinct profiles: gamers and customer support experts. This ensured that we brought on the right talent for the industry and worked with the player experience in mind.
Initially, when we brought on teammates, we were looking for active gamers who played on the console of our partner. However, we quickly realized that although we wanted to have 60% of Client A's team to be gamers, we also realized that it's essential to diversify the population with industry experience. We augmented our search to include people who had previously worked in the BPO industry and customer or technical support. This helped us achieve a blended group that understands the overall community while simultaneously providing empathy and a focus on resolving tickets with actual answers. If teammates did not understand their KPIs, resolution and or if they struggled to identify how to hold themselves accountable, or how their leaders will hold them accountable, then Client A would be susceptible to attrition and training waves. Perhaps worse, it would also cause dips in performance and negatively impact gamer retention. With this perspective, we were able to set up the peripheral with the client to gain an understanding of what they're looking for and our team set up a rigorous interview process in each of our global operational sites. Out of all applicants, only 9-10% were hired because we wanted to go through the language assessment and ensure that they were vetted by recruiters, operations managers, and our team leaders. We gathered their collective feedback, collaborated on the strengths and weakness of each employee, and provided recommendations to Client A.
Our next phase was focused on training and establishing a blueprint for success. However, Client A provided minimal guidance on how to train employees and relied on our team as experts to assist them in building a training curriculum. My team and I built a training agenda that consisted of 20 days of blended training in both the classroom and hands-on experience in a sandbox environment. This enabled us to not only train teammates on the concepts but also how to implement those concepts and simplify the production process. Our high-quality and high-resolution rate success is attributed to our fundamentals in regards to leadership, coaching, and reinforcing positive behaviors such as consistently utilizing the knowledge base, personalizing responses, and identifying other concerns when teammates were unsure about a specific process or issue.
Two ingredients in our TaskUs "secret sauce" is the accountability and autonomy that we empower our teammates with. For example, we created a quality platform that revolves around peer to peer feedback which allows teammates and leadership at all levels to provide feedback to teammates on their ticket quality. This platform created a quality form that designated the ticket and issue type along with the teammate who worked on the original ticket. For instance, we looked at certain policies and reviewed the strengths and weakness which helped to identify opportunities for improvement. Additionally, we also incorporated a check and balance system that enabled us to challenge any feedback we disagreed with. So, for example, if I didn't like you and wanted to continuously give you lousy feedback, this behavior would be quickly triggered in the system and the operations team along with supervisors would audit that information. This provided us with a wider net to be able to gather data and provide feedback to our teammates instead of solely relying on coaching and quality methods. When a peer is telling another peer that they did a phenomenal job, those behaviors become positively reinforced. Conversely, when a peer is making a case around a mistake that was made by another peer, it makes them want to prove that person wrong or get back to where they were before. This type of feedback system creates a level of healthy competition amongst the team.
The last thing that we focused on was Client A's adherence to macro-based technology which meant that they implemented "in the box" answers to speed up overall tickets. However, we noticed some issues where customers whose macros were not customized resulted in an increase in tickets. To avoid this, we began coaching and developing ‘freehand gripping' where we would use macros as a foundation but included customization to provide more of a human-like interaction. Before freehand gripping, our average tickets to resolution was four but once we implemented it, we reduced tickets to resolution by 33% which led to a better overall customer experience. Although our overall tickets per hour went down, our actual resolution went up along with a more meaningful experience where customers felt listened to. Client A audits 100's of our tickets and they truly valued the experience we created with freehand gripping and eventually implemented it across their enterprise. They wanted customer interactions to be meaningful so that gamers would get back to gaming, and that's precisely what we did.
Ultimately, the empowerment of the teammates and creating a platform for them to be able to give peer to peer feedback and hold each other accountable helped us increase their quality per ticket per hour.
So after the aha moment where Client A saw that you're doing these freehand responses really well, how did you scale that?
We created a peer-to-peer quality platform that enabled us to scale freehand responses. When we started, it was easy to coach our team of 50, 80, or 100 people because we had enough leadership and quality analysts that could provide that type of feedback. However, once we broke past 100 employees and grew to 500, the amount of data that we started to gather from leadership was insignificant compared to what we were able to accumulate and produce on our own; this is what prompted us to create the peer-to-peer platform. The quality of the overall program increased as we were able to gauge our trends on ticket types, common errors, and course correction. Client A is like any other client that we have in the gaming or social media industry--they want to hold their data tight to avoid any leaks. When we initially requested a simplified process for tracking ticket types, volumes, or trends it was rejected multiple times. But because we were able to get creative and use the wider net of our teammate population as we scaled, we were able to maintain the right behaviors without depending on client data sources.
How often do you reference the digital QA platform? Does every level from teammate to operations to clients services review it too?
Our operations team reviews it on a consistent basis. I look at it once a week to make sure that overall trends are staying positive and if I observe an anomaly, or see something doesn't make sense, I would do a deep dive with operations to walk through it. This has enabled us to make new tool recommendations in addition to the ability to handle new language volumes.
Does that add to the level of agility in the way you can respond?
I think it's multi-pronged. They do have a platform that tracks overall ticket volume which we use in combination with our peer-to-peer network which allows us to quickly identify why we see a spike in a queue or country. From there, we use our data to gauge the significance and identify behaviors that are being driven by the volume. Where Client A is very different than a lot of other gaming companies is that they not only have their own games that they produce but they also sell hardware that any game can be played on. However, when customers ask for support, having a teammate with some level of expertise across the gaming spectrum is valuable, but it's also daunting for a teammate to know every single game and be an expert on all of them. Instead, we have them focus on the overall player experience and how we can drive customers back to the game. If we see a trend of teammates not understanding a glitch or are unable to understand an issue, we escalate that very quickly and either create training or a different type of coaching to get them up to speed.
That's interesting. So you're doing a one to many, where almost 1,000 people globally are supporting gaming hardware or multiple titles, and you're doing that YOY, QOQ. Do you see any spikes with new game releases?
Yes, but the interesting part about it is that the games that we predict spikes for may or may not actually spike. However, sometimes when a new game comes out of nowhere, we will slowly see tickets increase. When this happened to Client A, they went from being 10% over the forecasted volume to a 25,000 ticket backlog. This is where the overall agility of having a peer-to-peer feedback environment and the client's overall ticketing platform came in handy. It presented us with the data that called for more headcount and we mitigated some of this damage with specific training along with flexibility and willingness from both parties which helped us overcome this challenge.
You mentioned that Client A challenged us to build the training program from the ground up. Did they have a training program before that they didn't find valuable, or did they want to see what we were made of?
They didn't think the training program from the previous outsourcer was valuable. Right now, Client A outsources with two companies. They didn't like the other outsourcers tight rigor with training; they wanted to try something new and wanted Taskus to help create it. Client A flew out to Manila and spent 40 days during Wave 0 and Wave 1 training because they wanted to understand who we were as a company. Culturally, we were a great fit and that's the biggest reason why they partnered with us because they saw how much we cared about our employees and their overall experience. They especially loved the overall attrition rate that we carry because it is far below the industry standard which was crucial because Client A wanted consistent teammates to go through a series of training cycles and develop a certain level of expertise. For us, that led to our team growing and developing the overall workflow. We started with Tier 1 account issues, and currently, we have escalations and billing, multilingual account issues, and a unique line of business that focuses on specific games.
Client A expects our team to have quick answers, and when complex game specific questions are asked, we can pull up game replays, review the footage for glitches, and provide feedback to engineers while also accounting for overall trends. This level of expertise is only achievable if you don't have a high turnover rate. If you're constantly churning and burning people out, then how do you get that level of expertise? For TaskUs, our culture helps us drive that side of the business and attain that level of specificity that maybe others struggle to get right.
What were the KPIs evaluated and changed? Why?
Initially, when Client A came to TaskUs they wanted to focus on their product to ensure quality and not focus on KPIs. However, Client A did not have a way to define quality; our team had to define how to measure it. We looked at the individual interactions to understand what the gamer experience should be. If a gamer called in for a password reset and provided all the documentation on the forefront but was missing a drivers license, but provided all other relevant info we asked ourselves: why are we complicating this person's life? By having a gamer go through the process of scanning their driver's license and sending it back to us we believed it was creating a hassle more than it was getting them back to gaming. This is an example of the type of constant feedback we would provide to Client A.
As the process evolved, we identified and established that tickets per hour should be in the 8-10 range which meant that we could not only provide quality output but also ensure that teammates were not feeling the pressure or burden to rush through tickets. From a quality perspective, we have taken a non-numerical value approach, tagging for overall quality and relaying the feedback to Client A. From there, we coached our teammates to solve big-ticket items while also focusing on the pieces that were missing and coaching to those behaviors to fill in the gaps and create a balanced teammate.
Another big aspect is KPIs and attrition rates. Martin, what does 2% percent monthly come out to annualized?
24-25% annualized attrition. You really want it to be at that rate and don't want any less than that.
And that's where we're at--right on that golden number. Attendance is 98-99%. Basically, that 1-2% of it is unplanned but that's not to say that we don't have planned time off, which falls into our normal 5% buffer. With peaks and holiday periods where we have additional time, we bump it up to 8%.
In the gaming industry in general, do you feel like that's typically where the company wants to come in and focus on the product and not numbers, or would you say this is just a Client A thing where they want to do things their way?
It's a different approach. Other players in the gaming industry that we have spoken with want to have an overall customer experience, however, gaming companies are peak driven by seasonality. When new games are going to drop, it's all hands on deck. During this time, people are so focused on "how do we get this done" so that gamers get the service they need while the company weathers the storm which isn't always the best approach. Instead, companies should be proactively looking at season over season peak rates and its effects in order to understand their potential to adjust and set up their workforce for success and avoid burnout.
So in summary, you created projections for the following quarters, seasons, or certain time periods when they were releasing a game or when they were experiencing a higher volume of gamers online?
Yes. Client A has seasonality and spikes but because we do a lot of frontend and backend hiring and preparing, it allows us to take those peaks in stride.
How did you approach Client A in a consultative way?
This was a challenge. As a long time leader in the industry, Client A had previously worked with a lot of consulting companies, one of which was one of our competitors. Initially, their outlook was that they were the only ones who knew their culture and processes and were not receptive to talking about it. Over time we were able to change this by being consultative through our teammates. Teammates handle the daily activities for the client and were empowered by the TaskUs cultural mantra of, "If you bring something up, no one is going to shut it down--we are here to listen." This was a truly pivotal component of it all. Our teammates provided us with feedback on processes that were either broken or needed refinement, and we delivered their feedback to the client and made a case for improvements to Client A's overall processes and policies.
Our teammates high level of credible feedback also enabled us with the privilege to access Client A's Confluence software. If our team identified an issue, we could submit a change in the software and Client A's team would receive a notification and would approve or reject it with an explanation. Through this, we became a consultative partner long-term rather than it just being project based. When consulting is only project-based or only provides one single value add-on, then it has to be perfect and something the client has never thought of before, which is difficult. For Client A, they believe that our consultative approach and efforts are unique and through this TaskUs was able to add more value consistently over an extended period of time.
So is it safe to say that we mirrored their flat organization and then sprinkled in empowerment as a theme, and applied that to a traditional contact center environment?
You hit it on the head--that's exactly what we did! We wanted to be a mirror image of who they were without losing who TaskUs is as a brand. Even though TaskUs has titles and does not have a flat hierarchy, it sets the tone and culture to our teammates which was critical from launch to inception. Client A shared their employee handbook and onboarding playbook with us, and we were able to digest it and share it with teammates and get them to buy into who they were partnering with.
Since the teammates were so empowered, do you feel like there was a higher ESAT for this particular client? Do you think the desired results were acquired faster because the teammates were so heavily involved in shaping the way the business moved forward with issues?
100%. ESAT historically has been the highest in our Lizard Bear Lair site. Once people hear that TaskUs is hiring for Client A, we receive 1,000s and 1,000s of applicants. Although they all might not be a fit, it still benefits other programs because we are able to take that recruiting power and divvy it out to other areas of the business.
How long does it take to do a deep dive for an analysis? Would you say that your approach to analysis and operations is to be both reactive and proactive?
For anyone to say that they are not reactive is probably not a true statement--everyone has to be reactive in certain situations, but there are critical pieces to being reactive. Once everything is done postmortem, teams can learn how to avoid those situations in the future by using downtime to learn how to be proactive. When there is downtime, people have the tendency of being complacent and staying at the status quo. However, this is where my team and I pushed ourselves to create the peer-to-peer QA platform in addition to other processes within the platform to drive proactive actions. From an overall time frame perspective, we are pretty agile and move quickly to try and get things implemented within a week or up to 30 days, depending on the scope. If something is reactionary, there hasn't been a time where I felt like the client has not responded and adjusted in a timely fashion.
Let's use recruiting for an example. Two months ago, Client A came to us with a volume spike and needed 200 people in 30 days which is a pretty big ask. To get 200 quality people was going to be a challenge, and internally we took that to our primary stakeholders to come up with a plan. We went back to the client and told them that we could get 180 people, but we also guaranteed the same quality of a team of 200. We were able to hire 180 teammates in 25 days! 56% of our classes that we hire for are requested within a 30 days or less timeframe, and we have never missed a class for Client A which is pretty impressive from our operational side of the house. Performing postmortem analysis on all of our recruiting hires and attributing it back to how they are performing in either the classroom or feedback from their trainers and overall performance on their KPIs has been the key to our proactive successes. We were able to identify the commonality that we wanted in candidates and are continually refining our recruiting skill set to ensure that we're always obtaining the best talent.
What are the top 2-3 challenges that you faced during this process?
The first challenge was building credibility with Client A--which was one of our most significant challenges. We had to convince the client that we were not a typical BPO company. This was difficult because the client worked with BPOs in the past who often claimed that they were a people first organization who will bring fresh ideas to the table, but there is always a lot of skepticism on the front end. However, we showed them that we had the right leadership and worked hard to break their inner circle by rolling up our sleeves and truly understanding their business. Perhaps most importantly, we listened to their needs and pushed backed on some of their requests because frankly, they were not realistic. For example, Client A wanted to measure quality without measuring quality which was not possible. We told them that it was absolutely imperative that we have quantifiable ways to measure quality in order for our teammates and leadership to focus on what they are going to drive from a day to day perspective. The dangers of not doing this is that it will lead to teammates having completely different processes which works against companies who are trying to scale because they have no way of dispersing all of the information.
Did you have any challenges with tools and access to data? How did you provide feedback around launching homegrown tools in new geographies and being vocal about the importance of data?
That was the second challenge, but it wasn't a tool issue--it was more of a reporting issue. When we couldn't get the data we needed, we took proactive approaches and communicated the issues with manual tracking and recommended automation in its place.
Any last comments on how to increase quality and tickets per hour?
At the end of the day, player experience is the guiding light and an investment I'd ask any partner to make. It takes investment in the frontline - training and redefining quality and sharing data with your partner. These are all things that take time along with trust.
Thanks, Ruben for the time, great to listen and see how you approach player experience in the gaming industry.