(This article first appeared here, on Fonolo’s tried, tested, and true customer service blog.)
“How does ADP do customer service so well?”
Amar Sidhu leans in and chuckles, “That’s easy — we’re customer-obsessed.”
Sidhu, the Senior Vice President of Service Delivery at ADP Canada — and leader of over 1000 associates on a day-to-day basis — knows what he’s talking about.
I sat down in conversation with Sidhu at the tail-end of 2019, the year that his team took home the prestigious Customer Obsessed Award from the Customer Service Professionals Network (CSPN) annual conference.
Joined in this conversation was Jessica Cryer, CSPN’s VP of Business and Customer Service Strategy, and during it, we dug deep into how ADP Canada was able to achieve such a feat.
As the conversation unfolded, it became increasingly clear that the secret to a solid customer service program at a household name like ADP comes down to nurturing a positive culture: top-down, bottom-up, inside-out, from agent to leadership, and then on to the customer.
This is their story.
The Path to Leadership
Amar Sidhu has a rich history at ADP Canada, taking up leadership there in 2013, with three as the VP of Customer Care, and four years as Senior Vice President of Service Delivery under his belt.
But the roots of these leadership roles were grown outside of his current home base of Ontario, and rather in Vancouver; an SFU alumni, Sidhu still considers it his home base: “Home is where the heart is, so I’m still a Vancouverite at heart.” His career kicked off with a campus hiring event out west, where he landed a job at RBC. There, he served as a regional sales manager before progressing to become Head of Outbound Contact Centres, a role he served in for five years before moving onto multiple leadership roles in that company. “RBC is where my customer experience, customer delivery, and service delivery expertise were nurtured,” he remembers.
These were significant roles at a big national brand that only someone with the skill to lead large memberships could handle. “I am really passionate about leading large diverse groups,” Sidhu says. “By ‘diverse,’ I mean anything from geography, to gender, to age, to location – everything you could imagine. I love meeting large groups and love invoking change.”
“It doesn’t matter if you’re selling nuts and bolts, or you’re in the HR space, or in banking where I grew professionally – to me it’s about driving that customer experience to be better than anyone else and continually asking yourself how to exceed expectations.”
Sidhu attributes customer passion as the drive behind succeeding into more senior roles. Eventually, ADP called on him to join their ranks, and within one year they promoted him to manage the National segment, a responsibility he did not take lightly. It was ADP’s culture and leadership that crystallized the pursuit of being ‘customer obsessed’ for Sidhu, forging the path towards a never-ending pursuit in bettering ADP’s customer service offerings. “Frankly, I would credit my drive to our CEO being so obsessed about investing in people – hiring the right people, retaining the right people, and having trust in the knowledge that the people will do amazing things for you and your company.”
But that’s not all he credits his successes to: “I’ll be honest: The number one contribution to my own success is the success of everyone that I have the opportunity and privilege of leading and growing and developing. They are all doing amazing things driving a different level of customer experience which, in turn, helps me as well.”
Sidhu’s laser-focused approach to customer service and customer experience were also nurtured by managers in his professional past. While in Regina, he remembers one manager saying to him with conviction: “Make it easier for the customer to do business with you and you’ll always win.” Yet another manager, this time from Scotiabank, offered this memorable thought: “If you make the right decision on the spot, the better the customer experience. You never go wrong with making the right decision for your customer.”
Both are now mantras which Sidhu lives and works by.
ADP Canada: The Inner Workings of Customer Service
ADP, a B2B (business-to-business) enterprise, services corporate clients that run the gamut from small businesses and entrepreneurs to multinational and global brands. ADP is able to solve hundreds of complex customer queries every day, and much of its ability to do this lies in its mechanics. Indeed, it aims to keep pace with its famous proof point: “One in five Canadians get paid by ADP,” signaling how massive its client base truly is.
It’s unsurprising that ADP is framed as a customer-obsessed brand: Globally, the company is host to 60,000 employees, 2,100 of whom make up the Canadian satellite, of whom 1000 work in customer service and under Sidhu’s leadership. So, the proof is in the numbers: Nearly 50 percent of Canadian ADP employees are in customer service. That’s a statement.
To be able to manage an entrepreneurial-type client (which might be less than 10 employees) and a multinational one (which can be upwards of 10,000 employees), ADP has the necessary business arms and legs in place. “We’ve got a solid set up, beginning with 1-800 or contact center agents,” Sidhu explains. “We’ve also set up one-to-one customer-agent relationships, which we call a “dedicated model.” We also have team models or help desks in place, which offer more complex support than a contact center but less than the one-to-one dedicated model.”
While chatbots, social media support (ADP has a client-only support page called ‘The Bridge’), and traditional voice channels are present in the ADP ecology, again, the success of the customer support structure rests on the back of human interaction. The “dedicated model,” which sees 100 clients developing a relationship with the same five ADP associates, was designed to increase what the brand refers to as ‘client intimacy,’ a powerful piece in the customer experience puzzle. Says Sidhu:
“Once you strike that balance, where they are certain you know their business, and they feel they can ask you anything, especially around something as sensitive as a pay cheque, you know you’ve gotten there with the customer by building a trusting, long-term relationship with them.”
Culture Starts at Home: ADP and Investing in People
Employees, associates, agents. Whatever their title, customers aren’t the only people that ADP is ‘obsessed’ with. The focus on cultivating the best people in the industry to work in its ranks is notable: A point of pride for the company is that it employs the highest number of payroll and HR certified associates of any competitor in Canada.
While employing good people is a goal and a dream, it can also be a challenge. Keeping talent motivated and inspired is top of mind for Sidhu, who as a result encourages supplementing the education of ADP employees, whether that’s CSPN training, CPA training certification, or accounting certification (among others).
And it’s working.
“Our Associate Engagement Scores, which is associates telling us how engaged they are, have grown about 30 basis points in three years – double-digit annual growth,” Sidhu explains with pride. “So, we’re doing a lot of the right things. For me it starts with caring: Until they know and they feel that you care about them, nothing really matters.”
This humane and empathetic approach guides the company and its leadership on a mission to continuously better the employee experience, and in turn, the customer experience. The culture is rich at ADP Canada in the customer service portfolio; this is because the relationships amongst associates and leadership is humane and high in quality, not superficially embodied in the form of pizza parties or occasional balloon-decorated gatherings. Those celebratory events in the workplace can be meaningful, but the employer and employee relationship needs to be mutually beneficial, where employees know their ideas are heard by senior leadership, and in turn, leadership can see plainly and transparently the issues faced by associates and customers.
This is why Sidhu is a jet-setter, rarely in Toronto for long stretches, instead skipping across the Canadian landscape frequently to hold round tables and get the low-down from CSRs and other front-line agents.
“I always ask two distinct questions: 1. What bugs you? And 2. What bugs clients? And they’re very transparent with me,” Sidhu paints a picture. “It’s a program I initiated here called You Speak, We Listen. It is a testament to the fact that if you show that you care, you listen, and you actually make changes based on their insights, that means more to them, and keeps them engaged – our end goal.”
The Tools of the Trade: Technology and Metrics
People obviously power this ADP operation to an astonishing degree – but they are buoyed by technologies with which to effectively reach customers, and metrics that keep them careening forward.
On the technology front, Sidhu is particularly impressed with consolidated desktop technology, something which has changed the customer-associate experience for the better. “One of the worst things you can do to your agents is force them to open 16 windows to answer a simple question,” he explains. “The information is all over the place. With that in mind, we’ve invested in one technology called the Client Experience Hub (CEH), which has consolidated about 80 percent of an agent’s log-on windows into one area, making them more prepared to deal with incoming calls from clients with a history. That makes a big difference. That excites me (and them).”
When we talk metrics, there arises a strong opinion about one in particular. “There’s one metric I don’t like: AHT (Average Handle Time),” Sidhu says without hesitation. “That metric is designed for efficiency. We’re not about efficiency. We are literally about being customer obsessed – so, if whoever is calling needs to talk to the agent for 20 minutes 30 minutes 40 minutes, nobody’s going to say, “Well, why is your AHT so high?” So, that metric? Gone.”
While ADP Canada is aware of the less useful metrics, it’s even more aware of the strong ones. FCR (First Call Resolution) falls into the latter category, a signal of associates bending over backward to resolve customer issues so they have no reason to call back. This includes answering every and all dimensions of a customer question and anticipating what may happen in future, and what secondary and tertiary questions could arise – and dealing with those in the moment.
“The other big one for us is simple but important: Calls per client per month,” Sidhu says. “That’s my measure of how well we are doing with our customers. They’re not calling to say ‘Hello’ or ‘Happy Birthday’; they’re calling because they can’t get something done and they’re frustrated, they have questions, or something’s not working for them. If a customer is calling more than twice a month, then something is not quite right. Calls per client per month helps us identify weak spots and improve them.”
And that makes sense for some for an organization that’s really taking all the time they can to meet customer needs. Another metric, NPS (Net Promoter Score), shows that ADP Canada is doing just that.
“When we started about three and a half years ago, our NPS was in the single digits. We’ve improved it by about 35 basis points in three years – to me, that’s a great trend,” he glows. To me, I didn’t think it was possible to score that high when a client is the one doing the ranking.”
ADP and CSPN: An Award-Winning Relationship
Sidhu says of CPSN: “I’m a big fan of what CSPN does, what it stands for, and what their objective is in investing in customer service and client experience.” An important piece of the intensive culture-building that ADP Canada has done has been its relationship with the customer service network, who last year honored ADP with its Customer Obsessed award.
The CSPN conferences have become known in the GTA for their engaging workshops, inspiring speakers and panels, and intensive networking opportunities. The Customer Obsessed award itself acknowledges customer service teams who differentiate themselves in their industry, and are viewed as ‘customer obsessed’ by their own clients.
“This year was the second year that we’d given out industry-focused awards,’” says Jessica Cryer. “We were really excited and proud to give this Customer Obsessed award to ADP: It was an opportunity to spotlight an organization that puts the customer at the center of everything they do. The investment in training that they’ve made over the past year, and the way that they’ve improved their processes internally to make it easier for their employees to serve customers, have resulted in a fantastic customer experience for end users.”
This mutually-beneficial collaboration, coupled with years of hard work and time invested, are one of the many reasons ADP Canada is a leader in its field. The secret, as you know by now, is paying time and respect to every human being involved in the daily magic of a business: Customer. Agent. Manager.
“That’s kind of my story,” Sidhu says, sitting back.
And it’s a good story – one about unlocking the potential of people to power a brand.
Designing better ways to work through cutting-edge products, premium services and exceptional experiences that enable people to reach their full potential. HR, Talent, Time Management, Benefits and Payroll. Informed by data and designed for people. Learn more at ADP.com.
CSPN is a leading provider of employee-centric and CX training programs, consulting services, and networking opportunities, designed to empower organizations and harness the competitive advantage of delivering an exceptional customer experience.
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