Many of the 300,000 people in the United States who work at call centers are not happy campers. “People are yelled at [by customers] and treated like cattle [by employers],” says Ron Davis, “so turnover is high.”
Davis is cofounder and CEO of Tenacity (gotenacity.com), a company that uses the latest in machine learning technology and behavior therapy to make people happier and more likely to stay on the job.
Davis came up with the idea with cofounder Hanna Adeyema, now COO, when they were taking a class on digital innovation at MIT’s Media Lab, which required students to use the lab’s research to create a business. The two moved their idea to Seattle, where they were joined by CTO John Vogel, an engineering Ph.D. from Stanford who grew up on Mercer Island.
Using Tenacity’s cloud platform, call-center employees can engage in discussion groups and set goals for things like achieving fitness and reducing stress, receiving gift cards when they achieve their goals. “We find out what problems there are in the social network and what interventions we can make to improve them,” says Davis. “Eighty percent of what we do is mindfulness and fitness.”
When new employees feel disconnected, Tenacity might encourage them to invite a coworker out for coffee and take a selfie of themselves together, offering a $200 prize to the person with the most hits.
Call centers can be “a toxic environment staffed by millennials, the least resilient generation,” says Davis. By helping to build social connections, he explains, the company helps employees better handle stress while also improving customer care. “If they are resilient to stress and feel part of a community,” he adds, “then they can derive meaning from their jobs.”
Tenacity has raised $1.8 million in funding. It has only 10 employees but has won over such large clients as Concentrix Corporation, an outsourcer with 90,000 employees. Tenacity typically negotiates a deal by which it takes a share of a company’s net savings from reduced attrition. Employee churn can account for up to 15 percent of a call center’s costs.