Denise Miller, general manager of Sundance Vacations, a wholesale vacation company with offices in New Jersey, Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Northeastern Pennsylvania, recently had the opportunity to be a guest speaker at “The Future Call Center Summit” at Disney’s Contemporary Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Miller’s in-depth presentation was entitled “Building Your Next Generation of Leaders – Developing, Growing and Career-Pathing High Potential Leaders and Associates.” Miller was accompanied by Lisa Miller, manager of Sundance’s Shamokin office. “I was truly honored to speak at this year’s conference and represent Sundance Vacations. My presentation focused on ‘Building Your Next Generation of Leaders,’ which holds a huge place in my heart since I have traveled the career path with Sundance and would like to see how many others do the same. I spoke about hiring for a good cultural fit, the interview process, training and development methodologies we use and career coaching,” Miller explained.
Miller certainly practices what she preaches as she continued her rise on a career path that saw her working various jobs including that of a Century 21 realtor and a home designer with Butz Lumber in the Poconos before joining Dowd Marketing, which now is known as Sundance Vacations. “Sundance not only gave me a career opportunity, it also served as my education, allowing me to grow as they have grown from a small business to one of the fastest-growing travel companies in the nation,” Miller offered.
For the record, Miller has been with Sundance Vacations for the last 19 years, starting her journey as a telephone service representative (TSR), quickly moving up to a senior TSR and then to assistant call center manager before leading her own call center for eight years. She ultimately accepted her current position as general manager and is in charge of nine managers, four call centers and training and inspiring new hires as they begin their journey with Sundance.
A synopsis of Miller’s presentation at the summit in the Sunshine State is as follows:
- Implementing a comprehensive internal orientation program
- Establishing agent cross-training programs with other internal managers to gain new persepectives and reinforce common practices
- Develop career-pathing programs for part-time and full-time employees
- Launching a pay-for-performance program offering higher bonuses and commissions
- Basing promotions on attendance, attitude and production rather than seniority – enabling rapid progression of top performers
- Providing a blended learning and recognition program
- Offering a tuition-assistance program
“My presentation was aimed at having participants walk away with new ideas for promoting and developing staff for new roles and new challenges instead of losing them to the marketplace,” Miller stated.
Miller said opportunity and advancement were a huge part of her presentation. “People want to advance. Although some love to stay right where they are, the younger generation learns quickly and loves to be challenged and wants to move up the ladder quickly. Coaching for advancement begins day one at Sundance and we love to see our employees blossom and take on new challenges. I spoke highly of our training program as we really have enhanced it over the years. The never can be enough training. Investing in employees is investing in your company and building your brand,” she emphasized.
Continuing, she said, “It was truly amazing to network with leaders and managers nationwide, as you learn and teach processes and best practices. Leaders like Bob Simmonds, vice president of Disney reservations, and Chuck Silker, vice president of operations’ integration and measurements for Arby’s Restaurant, inspires us with ‘game-changing’ ideas. Simmonds spoke of how something as simple as ‘consistency’ can take your production level to new heights, while Silker spoke about how ‘customer feedback’ changed his entire benchmarking processes to increase and maintain the highest quality of customer service.”
Among some of the ideas emerging from the summit was letting current TSRs coach other TSRs (with a manager present) during an evaluation. “I was surprised to hear so many state that they do this. Our brand is to sell fun and happiness and we should look for employees who can engage in selling our brand. Hiring for a cultural fit is key in any industry, while skills can be taught,” Miller noted.
As for Miller’s tenure at Sundance Vacations, she said she has grown as a teacher and leader, working with Generation X , Gen-Yers and now the growing and most challenging generation, XYers. “My objective is to inspire and develop individuals to their highest potential, as well as coaching for careers by motivating and empowering individuals to successfully achieve their goals. Although we occasionally seek leadership outside our company, it has been proven over and over again that hiring from within has been the most successful,” she offered.
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