U-Haul Call Centers Hustle to Help College Students in Unexpected Moves

U-Haul, the well-known provider of trucks and vans for do-it-yourself movers, has a network of 22,000 locations across all 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces. The company is the go-to for many as students migrate to college in the fall and back home again in the late spring. With a long history of these moves, the company's customer service agents are well versed in the challenges students face moving in and out of college dormitories.

But with schools across the country closing early due to the COVID-19 outbreak, U-Haul not only needed to quickly scramble to meet the needs of students making unexpected moves home just before spring break, but needed to do so while working remotely, company officials revealed during a webinar this week hosted with Verint Systems, U-Haul's contact center technology provider.

U-Haul's experience provides some good best practices for other companies now scrambling to adjust to the coronavirus.

For many of U-Haul's contact center agents, working from home was nothing new. The company started to move to a work-from-home environment about a decade ago, and now about four-fifths of its 2,500 agents normally work from home, said Joel White, forecasting manager at U-Haul.

"Customers are obviously the lifeblood of the business; without customers we don't exist," White said. "We are always trying to watch what customers are doing, what they are asking for, and what situations are affecting them in their moves."

So the company looks at behavior patterns when customers, like students, are moving each year, White added. The company is also looking at patterns as the country deals with uncertain times, like the current pandemic.

Among the steps the company took to meet the emergency needs of students, U-Haul implemented the following:

  • It offered 30 days of free storage.
  • It leveraged the knowledge of veteran remote contact center agents who are skilled with service, focusing on customer needs rather than on sales.
  • It leveraged workforce management software to let agents add hours (when extra hours are available) or swap shifts with instant approval. Service levels are maintained because customers still have the full scheduled complement of agents to serve them.It deployed a manager whose sole job is to manage customer engagement.

White also shared the following lessons learned:

  • Set key performance indicators as a team, so that employees understand how they impact those metrics, which then shouldn't be affected by moving employees form an office to working at home.
  • Continually address minimum technology requirements employees will need to adequately service customers.
  • Communication is different for work-from-home agents. Agents need web cams with laptops so that everyone can see each other for meetings.
  • Keep team sizes small, even if many employees are part-timers. Over the years, U-Haul has shifted from one manager for every 100 work-at-home employees to one manager for every 20 work-at-home employees. The company has the latter ratio for employees who work in the office as well.
  • Have managers survey employees every two weeks to see how to best meet their needs.
  • Invest the time to understand the business and trends to support employees and customers as business conditions shift.