Timeshare Company Wants Reps to "Think Vacation"

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Resort Condominiums International has taken a permanent vacation from the standard call center setup, with a flagship center that shelves desktop phones for computer driven telephony systems and shuns sterile color schemes for a tropical motif.


Spending three years on technological research and $28 million to open RCI Vacation Plaza, the Cendant Corp. subsidiary is expecting the decor package and all of its technological nuances to translate into happy employees. As the theory goes, happy employees mean happy customers along with increased productivity and ultimately a favorable impact on the bottom line.


RCI, Indianapolis, provides timeshare exchanges for properties throughout the U.S., Europe and the Caribbean. The company confirms more than 80 percent of all time share exchanges in the $6 billion time-share industry through 8 to 9 million calls in 1998, up from 7 million in 1997. Agents handle approximately 70 percent inbound and 30 percent outbound calls.


"When we started this project we had plans for a gray building and warehouse that we were going to make into a call center," said Ray Dennis, director of telecommunications and workforce management. "Then Ron Jackson stepped in and said, 'If when you walk in there, you don't think vacation something is wrong.'"


Jackson has been president and chief operating officer since September -- well after the company had embarked on plans for the new call center, which took just six months to construct following his sweeping design changes to the plans.


"We are in the business of selling dreams and excitement," Jackson said. "We fulfill what people dream about. I come from a hotel background, and there, if you create the right environment on the front end, the employees want to work there and they enjoy coming to work.


"As a result of that they have great attitudes, which creates a great environment,


which is projected to members," Jackson added. "Productivity improves and that creates a better bottom-line result for everybody. My goal is to send a smile right through the telephone."


The setting is provided by color-blocked carpets and soft pastel-colored walls along with $7 million in technological investments, including a computer-based telephony system, quiet keyboards and a gamut of software applications: a Windows-based system with a graphical interface and automatic number identification that links directly to real time screen pops. Additionally, the center deploys "softphones," which integrates telephone and PC operations and avoids the need for desktop telephony equipment.


"On top of visits to call centers at AT&T, MCI, Dow Chemical, and Kmart, we polled people to find out what was most important to them," Dennis said. "We had to establish things that would help the agent know what information was coming in order to provide better, faster service. Now agents know what customers are calling about and historical preferences, which are generated through screen pops. We capture all that information."


About 800 agents handle inbound and outbound calls for the company's 2.3 million members. Aside from the company's own client list, RCI also serves as a third-party agent for a number of resort-based properties including Hilton Grand Vacation clubs. The centers handle 160 800-numbers through RCI's and client operations.


The logistics have not prevented RCI from setting high call center service standards. The center targets a 30-second answer rate with a less than 5 percent abandon rate and under 10 percent busy rate, according to Dennis.
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