Answering the call: StarTek turns new hires into “brand warriors”

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Norma Roberts works as human resource manager at the StarTek center in Grand Junction, where more than 800 employees answer telephone calls from customers of the clients StarTek serves. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Norma Roberts leads an impromptu tour through the StarTek center in Grand Junction, pointing out various features of the facility as she walks and talks: the training and conference rooms, the cafeteria and, of course, the massive space in which more than 800 employees answer telephone calls from the customers of the clients StarTek serves. The sheer size of the center, the largest StarTek operates, is remarkable.

From Roberts’ perspective as human resource manager, though, what’s even more remarkable is the transformation of the people who work here. New hires with few skills or experiences, many of them starting first jobs, become what StarTek terms “brand warriors” who serve on the front lines of customer service.

The process requires a combination of intensive training, a nurturing corporate culture and nearly constant feedback, Roberts says. But there’s a return on the hefty investment, she adds: qualified and happy employees promote customer satisfaction that drives financial success.

Roberts offered a separate overview of the StarTek operation as one of two keynote speakers at a Grand Junction conference focusing on career transitions. Speakers and participants discussed a variety of issues related to education and training as well as college, military service and employment.

Benton Crowell, a career transition specialist with CHP International, organized the conference. His company offers a range of management, training and consulting services. The firm serves as a private contractor to the Labor Department in providing services to Job Corps centers, including the center in Collbran.

Crowell said he invited Roberts to speak at the conference because StarTek offers a model for developing entry level employees with limited skills and experiences into a qualified work force — and does so profitably.

“Training is the trump card,” Roberts says.

StarTek, a Fortune 500 corporation headquartered in Denver, provides outsourced business services, including sales and technical support for clients in the retail and telecommunications sectors.

StarTek operates centers in the U.S. as well as in Canada, Costa Rica, Honduras and the Philippines, employing a total of more than 10,000. With a nearly 16 percent increase in fourth-quarter revenues, total revenue for StarTek for 2012 came to nearly $200 million. The company is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

StarTek opened a center in Grand Junction in 1999 that since has become the largest such operation for the corporation with about 860 employees, Roberts says. That level of staffing also makes StarTek one of the largest employers in the Grand Valley, she adds.

Maintaining that staff starts with a recruiting and screening process followed by three to nine weeks of training — a period during which perfect attendance is expected, Roberts says.

New hires spend an additional six weeks working with supervisors on a one-to-one basis and continue to consult with nearby supervisors when the need arises, she says.

StarTek spends about $6,000 in training each new hire, she estimates. “It’s a huge investment.”

In addition to the technical knowledge they require, employees receive training in communication and hone their interpersonal, problem-solving and social skills. Teamwork is emphasized as well, Roberts says.

StarTek strives to create a welcoming and supporting environment that promotes relationships, celebrates success and empowers employees to excel, Roberts says. The results of employment engagement surveys confirm that employees value that culture as one of the top reasons they work for the company, she adds.

Along with detailed job descriptions, employees receive daily, weekly, quarterly and annual feedback on their job performances as well as coaching to improve that performance, Roberts says. When behaviors don’t meet expectations, the emphasis is on changing behaviors rather than people, she says.

The goal is to develop brand warriors who promote clients’ brands and engender customer loyalty to their products and services, Roberts says.

It’s also a transformation in the work force that delivers quality customer service that drives business and profitability for StarTek, she says.