Technical support professionals thrive on helping others solve problems; it’s in their DNA. Provide these same people with the chance to give beyond the day-to-day, to serve the community in significant ways, and you have everything you need to make a difference in the world. No matter what you call it—volunteerism, community service, philanthropy, corporate social responsibility (CSR), etc.—many companies have embraced the responsibility to “give back” to society and are sponsoring global programs that get their employees deeply involved in community service projects.
Indulge me for a moment (and, if you’re of a cynical mind, set it aside). The fact of the matter is that when corporations decide to act, they offer thousands of individuals the unique opportunity to get involved, and to have a profound influence on improving the lives and circumstances of people in need. They also have the pleasure of watching the joy spread across the faces of young children and teachers, mothers and fathers, and of building deeper relationships with their colleagues and team members as they share a common goal in service.
This is a story about how one company—Telus International—has adopted and adapted the principles of corporate social responsibility. Thanks to the efforts of Telus employees around the world, children in Guatemala and El Salvador, families in the Philippines and South Korea, and the disadvantaged in communities throughout North America and the United Kingdom now have better schools, safer housing, and hope for the future. On top of all that, Telus International’s contact center employees walk away with a huge sense of accomplishment and stronger team relationships. “It’s great because we get to know each other better and have a better bond throughout the company,” says Jose Navarro, one of the team supervisors who participated in the Xela, Guatemala event. “During our days of service, we help the community where we live and work and help our employees ingrain themselves in the act of helping.”
Extreme Makeover Brings Better, Brighter Schools to Central America
During its Days of Service event last fall, more than 3,000 Telus International employees volunteered more than 10,000 hours to build classrooms, install restrooms, paint murals, refurbish desks, and revitalize school grounds. This “extreme makeover” benefitted more than 4,000 students, fostering new pride in their schools and improving their chances of academic success. “We make sure the children have adequate facilities to help them learn, play, and have an adequate education,” says Guillermo Montano, president of Telus International Central America. For this event, Telus partnered with the United Way in Guatemala and Glasswing International, a nonprofit organization, in El Salvador.
One of the events was in Xela, Guatemala, a small town about two hours from Guatemala City. Almost the entire local Telus team—some 294 employees—showed up at Escuela Oficial Rural Mixta to build and paint new classrooms and bathrooms. “We picked this school because it was too small for its 500 students,” says Danny Hernandez, a trainer with Telus. “Not only do they have the place to play around, they can now actually get that prime education they deserve.”
In Guatemala City, 1,200 employees joined forces to build four classrooms, rebuild the playground, and refurbish the desks at Escuela Oficial Urbana Mixta, Nimajuyu C, a public school attended by more than 1,200 children. The school was in terrible condition, according to Mario Lopez, Telus’s vice president of human resources. “It was really sad,” says Herbert Fuhlrott, one of the volunteers. “But now we’re seeing all the progress that we made in just one day, with the help of our peers and all the people we work with. It was just amazing.”
In San Salvador, El Salvador, 800 volunteers from the team participated in a transformational day of painting, building, and concrete-pouring at the Centro Escolar Refugio de la Paz. “We weren’t just beautifying the building, we were making it habitable for the students that rely upon the school for education, and, frankly, for safety and a future,” reflects Jeffrey Puritt, president of Telus International.
On the other side of the globe, in Manila, volunteers who had already built seventy-one new homes for poverty-stricken families began working on a second community, together with Gawad Kalinga, a development foundation based in the Philippines. “We took what was once an idea by an HR manager and turned it into a thriving community with fifty families having their own homes,” says Javier Enfante, president of Telus International Philippines. “That’s something that really gives me a lot of pride and fulfillment, and I think everyone in the company shares that feeling.” These employees continue to volunteer their time every weekend, building more homes, teaching livelihood classes, and tutoring residents in English, adding up to more than 24,000 hours of volunteer service since 2007.
Employee Engagement, Teamwork, and Staff Tenure Flourish
“The volunteers are role models for the young people. They want to become better people because of all these wonderful people around them doing work and being really committed to their future.” —Celina de Sola, Program Director, Glasswing International
Studies have shown that getting involved in community service projects improves employee morale and may positively impact employee attrition rates, an ongoing challenge for contact center organizations. Based upon the success of the Day of Service programs in Central America, which Telus began in 2009, the company reports that attrition rates in all contact centers decreased by 18 percent from 2008 to 2009, and an additional 12 percent from 2009 to 2010. The company also reports that overall satisfaction and employee engagement indices increased 4 percent. At Telus International Philippines, which launched its Day of Service program in 2007, attrition after one year was at 16 percent, the lowest among contact centers in that area, falling to 9 percent at the two-year mark, and just 4 percent at the three-year mark and beyond.
The benefits of improved employee retention, from lower hiring and training costs to more expert knowledge and experience to higher customer satisfaction and team performance, are no secret to support center leaders. “In addition to benefits and well-paying jobs,” says Puritt, “we believe our corporate social responsibility initiatives have contributed to this improved retention.”
A 2009 Hewitt Associates survey (conducted by an independent provider of human resources consulting services, which surveys approximately 5,000 organizations across all industries) found that Telus International had some of the highest contact center employee engagement scores in the world. The company’s scores placed well above global, North American, and Asia-Pacific averages, showing a 74 percent engagement score, far higher than the 57 percent North American average and 53 percent global average.
“What’s great is the opportunity to be a trailblazer, to lead by example, to really engage our employees in helping our communities,” says Puritt. “When our workforce, which is predisposed to higher energy and enthusiasm anyway, brings that enthusiasm to community service, it is truly infectious. Everyone has a smile on their face. They’re fired up and ready to go, lifting, cleaning, building, anything. They just want to pitch in because they get caught up in the fervor of the activities. This is what corporate social responsibility is supposed to be.”
Insider Tips for CSR Success
After more than four years participating in successful CSR projects with 14,000 team members across nine countries, Jeffrey Puritt has developed a keen insight into the critical factors for successful CSR projects. Under his leadership, the organization and its team members have won several awards, including BPO Employer of the Year from ICT Philippines, and, from the United Way in Guatemala, Heroes of Volunteerism, Heroes of Employee Fund Participation, and Golden Hero, for Guillermo Montano, president of Telus International Latin America.
What’s at the core of a corporate social responsibility program?
Corporate social responsibility, in essence, is all about recognizing that to do well in business, you have to do good in the community where you work, live, and serve. Our belief is that our CSR activity is harmonious with and strengthens our corporate brand and reputation. It supports our efforts to be an employer of choice, especially in our markets, where the competition for talent is becoming more and more fierce.
What are the business benefits of CSR programs?
It provides a rallying cry for our team members. We’re offering them an opportunity to give back to their countries, and there’s a collective sense of pride, purpose, and alignment that has meaningfully increased our level of employee engagement. More engaged team members are happier; a happier team member delivers a higher quality of service to our customers. So it creates a virtuous circle that fuels the overall company objective, which I think is entirely positive. Not unimportantly, prospective customers are also aligning
themselves with suppliers that have corporate responsibility as one of their values.
How do you select which type of project to support?
Find programs that align with your company’s corporate values and priorities so that there is a natural extension about who you are as an organization and what activity you’re going to support. It’s important not to jam a square peg into a round hole. Our values rest on the promise of making the future friendly for our customers and giving where we live. In the areas of the world where we operate, the number of folks in need is almost limitless, and the opportunity to have an impact makes it all that much more meaningful. Also, our dollars go farther. For example, for just $1,600 in the Philippines, we can build an entire home for a family of four, with running water and electricity.
What role do nonprofit or outside organizations play?
Partner with organizations that have a track record for and pedigree of success. Select an organization with values that are consistent with your brand, and be confident that the brands will align over the long term. We selected reputable, local charitable organizations as partners and have developed initiatives where our employees go out in teams on a recurring basis to continue their work year round.
How important is the number of people who turn out for an event?
Engage the majority of your workforce, no matter how big your group is. If you’re an organization of fifty people and you get them all out, it can be great. If you only get five, it’s tough to sustain engagement. In Xela, we’re one of the largest employers, with 300 employees. For our Day of Service, 294 team members came out. It’s about excitement, the emerging interaction when hundreds of people come out to support an event and fuel one another’s energy and enthusiasm.
What about program sustainability?
We’ll keep education as our primary focus in Central America, and affordable, safe housing and safe drinking water in the Philippines. But we’re also cleaning garbage out of the rivers, working on reforestation, and tackling other projects that have evolved over time. By leveraging some of the lessons learned from our parent company in Canada, we gained the critical mass and the momentum we needed to go from having an ad hoc charitable donation drive or an occasional weekend of volunteerism to a sustained program that doesn’t just culminate in a single national day of service.
For more than twenty-five years, Cinda Daly has managed teams, written dozens of industry articles and thousands of pages of technical documentation, developed training courses, conducted sales and service training, and consulted in the technical support and customer service space. In her current role, as HDI’s director of business content, she is responsible for HDI’s virtual events, research, and print and electronic publications.