Spring Training: A strong knowledgebase and open lines of communication help Jackson Hewitt customer support chief Tim Bechtold get seasonal workers in top shape.
by Aaron Lazenby
Jackson Hewitt Tax Service is a largely franchised operation with approximately 6,500 locations around the United States during the tax season—and a very predictable schedule.
“The first Monday in January is typically when it starts to rock and roll in the field,” says Tim Bechtold, vice president of customer service at Jackson Hewitt. “Even though people don’t necessarily have all their required paperwork yet, they’re running in with their pay stubs saying, ‘I think I’m due a refund! Can we start my return?’”
To make sure preparers deliver excellent customer service, Jackson Hewitt maintains a franchise support center in Sarasota, Florida, and has a call center in the Philippines that handles corporate customer interactions, such as complaints. A third group supports customers doing their own taxes online with the company’s software.
But getting workers up to speed can be tricky when approximately 75 percent of the franchise support team is seasonal—as are roughly 50 to 60 percent of tax preparers in the field. “It’s a challenge to get a lot of knowledge and information transferred and consumed by these two groups to make the tax season successful,” says Bechtold. “They’re relying on a lot of the tools and the systems we give them for just-in-time knowledge.”
Since implementing Oracle RightNow solutions, says Bechtold, he has seen a dramatic improvement. Here Bechtold, who has 25 years of experience in contact center management, talks to Profit about Oracle RightNow solutions that helped Jackson Hewitt increase productivity, lower costs, keep customers happy, and win silver in the 2011 Gartner and 1to1 Media CRM Excellence Awards.
Profit: How did you begin using Oracle RightNow solutions?
Bechtold: We did a pilot in 2009 to stand up a knowledgebase, and started to socialize that with our franchise community. We asked our seasonal employees to search this knowledgebase first to see if there were quick and easy answers to their questions before calling our support center.
When we first stood up the knowledgebase, the Oracle RightNow engineers and project folks told us that typically companies put in 25 to 50 FAQs.
We have a strong learning group, so we actually put in about 1,000 FAQs having to do with every facet of Jackson Hewitt, from navigating the software to bookkeeping, revenue management, and marketing. Even then, because of the great systems and tools that Oracle RightNow provides, we were able to tell if there was a question asked for which we didn’t have an answer and could quickly add it.
Previously, we delivered this training in PowerPoint presentations or 30-minute training sessions. But when you’re a tax preparer and you’ve got 10 people in the waiting room of your office, you don’t have time to stop and watch a PowerPoint. So we translated all that content into many bite-sized solutions in the knowledgebase and did a lot of cross-referencing.
And certainly Oracle RightNow search capabilities are world-class. So our preparers get just what they need, when they need it, in the form that they need it. That’s what makes the difference.
It was hugely successful that first year. We saw at least a 25 percent decrease in the number of calls, and another 10 to 15 percent the following season. Prior to using Oracle RightNow, we used to route all tier 1 tech support calls to a call center in the Philippines, which required a lot of training and travel expense. With the dramatic drop that we saw, we were able to eliminate those offshore temporary hires and direct the remaining calls to our Sarasota office, providing a few more local jobs.
We love the fact that we pay for what we use, and we don’t have idle resources sitting around in the off-season, which can be eight months long.
The knowledgebase has also increased productivity in our franchise and company-owned locations, because our preparers are able to quickly get answers, resolve questions, and provide a higher-quality tax return at the same time. And certainly the customer in those Jackson Hewitt locations has a better experience.
Profit: How did you prepare your employees to use the knowledgebase?
Bechtold: Once we deployed it, we e-mailed all the franchise owners. But we knew that people just don’t suddenly adapt to change, so we had to take the message on the road. Jackson Hewitt has an annual convention where all the franchise owners get together. We had a big presentation to take attendees through our statistics, so they could see the success of the first year. Everybody in front of me knew what the success rate was, because we could show them concrete results.
And we did follow-up. We sent out surveys on closed support cases to figure out who was using [the new system], who was not, and why. And we started to get those people that were using the tools to become the champions within their locations and the advocates to the rest of the community. We just got everybody talking about it, and that’s what made it a success.
Profit: Have the Oracle RightNow solutions impacted your training?
Bechtold: We’ve been able to shorten our training classes because we can deliver content to our seasonal workers through our Oracle RightNow solutions. So now we spend more time teaching them how to do keyword searches. That way they know where to find the knowledge they need when the time comes, rather than having had it all crammed in their head during training class and not having all of it stick.
We have been able to reduce our training time by about four or five days, which is a 15 to 20 percent reduction. Also, our learning group really tapped into the feedback they were getting from the knowledgebase about which content areas were getting the most hits. What were the preparers asking the most questions about? That way they knew where they had to reinforce the training.
Profit: How did you capitalize on that success?
Bechtold: We deployed the whole CRM [customer relationship management] solution. It was a big project that meant taking apart and replacing an existing system, which was about 10 years old.
We set up two systems, each with two interfaces. The first was for our franchise community. Each interface allows the folks in the field to dip into a knowledgebase. They can also use an Ask a Question tab to e-mail us, or use the Chat tab to start a live session with one of the support agents.
We didn’t have chat before Oracle RightNow. In prior years, our field workers would call a support agent and say, “Can I just stay on the line with you in case I have another question?” This would tie up our support agents.
When we stood up the chat channel, it satisfied their need to have a tether to an expert agent. Our surveys came back highly positive about this feature. The preparers can discreetly ask a question without causing their customers to lose any confidence. In the meantime our agents are multitasking: they’re taking a phone call or doing another chat.
The second interface on that system is for our corporate customer service agents in the Philippines. When a customer calls, an agent creates a case and routes it back to the franchise care designee to get that customer’s issue resolved.
Profit: And what does the other system do?
Bechtold: Our second system is for Jackson Hewitt’s online customers. It’s a simpler application, managing a pure B2C relationship. Customers come there, and they can e-mail or chat or make a phone call to our live agents and utilize the Oracle RightNow tools to get their situation resolved. There’s also a second interface for casual jacksonhewitt.com visitors who may be looking for an office location or what they need to bring to the tax preparation process.
Profit: What role did the Oracle RightNow team play in advising Jackson Hewitt on the project?
Bechtold: We have three tiers of support available for preparers at our franchises. Tier 1 can handle 40 percent of the calls. We used the Oracle RightNow project team to determine the process for escalating calls up the channel to the different workgroups, such as tax prep software or business management.
Oracle RightNow’s project managers, because they’ve done other implementations, brought a lot of best practices that we incorporated. They were very professional and knowledgeable, both in terms of technical expertise and in assuring me that they were taking a lot of responsibility to make sure the project came in on time and on budget.
Profit: Was it important to you that Oracle RightNow’s solutions are cloud-based?
Bechtold: Yes. Because our work is so seasonal, we do not want a premises-based solution with fixed licensing costs and fixed assets to manage, regardless of volume. We love the fact that we pay for what we use, and we don’t have idle resources sitting around in the off-season, which can be eight months long.
And because Jackson Hewitt customers access support through different channels, our people in the Philippines have to be as current on a customer’s case as our people who answer franchise support calls here in Sarasota. So, the fact that we can all dip into the same system and get the latest in what’s going on, and add notes and records seamlessly, no matter where we’re sitting in the world—that was a big plus for us.
Profit: How will you extend the Oracle RightNow solution moving forward?
Bechtold: We like the fact that Oracle RightNow is cloud-based and always one step ahead in developing new features in [the Oracle RightNow] CRM application that we can leverage to make our customers’ experience better, easier, and seamless. Regardless of whether they prepare their own tax return at jacksonhewittonline.com or choose to work with a professional preparer in one of our stores, customers expect the same high level of service and experience from Jackson Hewitt, and Oracle RightNow continues to help us accomplish that goal.
Aaron Lazenby is editor in chief of Profit.