We believe supporting your customer service team isn’t beneficial solely because it improves morale or because you have a duty of care to your employees (though both of these are important factors), but because it also results in better customer service.
Here, we hope to demonstrate that giving your full support to your customer service team is the best thing you can do for your business, customers and customer service. We’ll do so by examining seven different ways you can better support your team and look at the way each technique positively affects your customer service.
The most effective way to support your customer service team is to empower them to make decisions. While empowerment often means different things to different people, it can be achieved with relatively small changes within the contact centre.
Empowering agents does three things:
- Improves customer service – If agents are empowered to act on their own initiative, they provide streamlined, high-quality customer service.
- Makes agents responsible – Many customer service employees feel detached from their work and struggle to engage with the role. Empowering them to make decisions gives them a certain amount of responsibility and allows them to own the role.
- Makes employees less dependent – In many customer service centres, employees are overly dependent on their immediate superiors. This slows down the customer service process dramatically and overloads supervisors. By cutting out unnecessary back and forth between agents and their supervisors, you allow the former to be more independent and the latter to concentrate on more important issues.
Crucially, if you empower your agents to make decisions, you must support them when they do so. If they make suboptimal choices, it’s important not to punish them but to use the opportunity to learn and improve their performance.
Support isn’t something you only provide when things are going wrong. It’s something that’s built into the structure of an organisation. Your customer service team should feel as though they’re supported in every aspect of their work-life – whether it’s support in up-skilling for career development or support organising paternity leave.
One of the key ways this culture of support manifests itself is in organisational transparency. Clear and open communication is an essential characteristic of high-performance contact centres for three principal reasons.
- It establishes clear expectations. When employees understand what standard they’re expected to meet, it makes doing so that much easier. It also focuses attention on what’s most important.
- It fosters a culture of learning. We learn most effectively by doing things badly or by talking to those who know better. Open communication encourages employees to ask questions, raise issues and learn from their mistakes.
- It prevents problems being hidden. If employees feel that they’re unable to speak openly and honestly, they’re likely to hide potential issues and problems. Over time, these small, hidden issues can grow into serious threats to the business and the standard of service it’s able to offer.
Transparency can be difficult to achieve, particularly in larger organisations. Open communication largely depends on the leadership being present and available to employees of all ranks, and for management to take a proactive role in disseminating information and encouraging feedback. Allowing anonymous feedback can also be a considerable help.
Employees are either liberated or hamstrung by the technology at their disposal. For instance, up-to-date, powerful customer service tools, such as Chatbots and intelligent IVR, give customer service agents more time to focus on complex and valuable tasks by automating relatively simple, high-volume enquiries.
We believe that your choice of technology needs to achieve several things if it’s to benefit and support your employees.
Integrate into and improve an omnichannel system
In the modern workplace, information, customers and employees must be able to move seamlessly between channels. Any technology that erects obstacles to this free movement makes your employees’ jobs harder.
Filter into a central Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform
The right CRM allows agents to control the technology and access data harvested by it, without having to use separate programmes or software.
Automate enquiries that don’t push employees to their full potential
In many modern contact centres, human agents are still asked to resolve routine, high-volume enquiries that neither challenge the employee nor require them to use the full range of their abilities. This means businesses aren’t using employees in a way that maximises their value. By automating simpler tasks and allowing agents to focus on work that requires a more nuanced and complex approach, you extract greater value from the employee.
Amongst many customer service professionals, there is a growing fear that AI technology is gradually replacing human agency. Supporting your customer service team means both rejecting this idea (and demonstrating why it’s incorrect) and ensuring you use intelligent AI to assist employees and make their jobs easier.
Rather than replacing agents with AI, we’re looking to create a system in which AI technology complements and enhances the abilities of human agents and vice versa.
This can be achieved by:
- Allowing AI technology to gather useful data from customers and making this information readily available to human agents as and when they need it.
- Reducing the strain on human agents in the contact centre by reducing call volume with automation technologies, such as Chatbots, IVR and online forms.
- Encouraging channel shift. While moving customers away from expensive and time-consuming channels, such as telephony, makes good business sense, it also alleviates the strain on employees and ensures their work is far less monotonous.
Ensuring that staff are aware that your business is attempting to strike a balance between new technology and the needs and concerns of employees will likely reduce their resistance to change and innovation. This allows you to take steps forward without harming team morale. It also ensures that you’re supporting your employees during a period in which concerns over technology in the workplace are common.
Employees are happier and more productive if they feel as though they’ve got a sense of purpose and direction (The Balance Careers). One of the most important ways you can give them this is by assisting in their development and ensuring they understand that there’s a future for them with the company.
Encouraging the development of employees is key for several reasons.
- There is currently enormous competition for talent and employee emphasis has shifted from working your way up through the ranks of a single organisation to regularly hopping between businesses to further your career. When you consider that recruitment and training constitute a particularly large expense for a business, it makes sense to try and hold onto talented employees by rewarding their good work and demonstrating they have a future at your company.
- Creating a workplace environment that offers training courses and opportunities to upskill and develop personally ensures that employees recognise and appreciate the chance to learn. In turn, this helps foster a culture in which learning and open communication are valued and widely practised.
- You get more from employees who feel that they’re going somewhere. Quality of work and productivity are intrinsically linked to how the employee feels about the job they’re doing.
There are numerous ways to help your staff in this respect. While grabbing a moment with each customer service agent and asking where they’d like to be in a few years’ time is a good start, you’ll also need to begin thinking about how you can help them achieve their goal.
This means introducing internal and external training sessions, looking at career ladders to see whether employees are moving through the company in the most efficient way possible, and considering what characteristics and skills you want in your next generation of leaders.
Some customer service teams only see their manager when something has gone wrong. This is problematic for various reasons.
First off, your employees associate your presence with a whole range of negative conditions – stress, anger, fear and crisis being the most obvious. This means that when a crisis does arise and you appear in front of your staff, you may make things worse by contributing to the tense, uncomfortable and fearful environment. At the very moment you need to be a calming and reassuring presence, you’re actually increasing your team’s discomfort.
Second, if your team only sees you once an issue has reached a point where it’s necessary to notify you and request intervention, it’s already far too late. This is a “firefighting” management style – you race from emergency to emergency, putting out fires without ever really tackling the root cause of the problems.
Instead, you need to make yourself available, adopt a hands-on approach and support your team more directly and regularly. This may involve:
- Scheduling regular review meetings with supervisors and staff to check up on progress and keep an eye on potential or emerging problems.
- Ensuring all the staff that you’re responsible for understand how to contact you if necessary.
- Keeping up to date with all the latest developments in the customer service team. If you’re detached from day-to-day happenings in the office, you’ll find it difficult to give relevant and useful advice when required to do so. Rather than being able to provide a detailed and reasonable response to problems, your solution will be formulaic and too general to be of any use (Forbes).
The only way we can learn is to look at what we’ve done in the past and assess whether the method and outcome were positive or negative, what went well, what went badly and how we could improve next time around. These steps are absolutely fundamental in the fight to improve performance and properly support your team. However, constructive feedback is often absent from the workplace. Instead, we regularly see managers come in, criticise everything, demand more from their staff and then leave.
If you want to truly support your employees and improve customer service at the time, consider following these feedback-related tips.
- Make the most of positive reinforcement. Praising successful actions is far more powerful than punishing mistakes. This means focusing your feedback on what went right, not what went wrong.
- Consider your initial expectations when giving feedback. It’s easy to forget where people have come from and what your initial expectations were when giving feedback. This means you can end up criticising employees even though they’ve exceeded your original expectations. Prevent this from happening by taking a short moment to reflect on your original goal before talking to an employee.
- Give feedback in small and regular doses. If you save up your feedback to give it all at once, you sacrifice important detail. You focus on the extreme highs and the extreme lows, the peaks and the depths of the trough, rather than everything in between. This can warp your feedback and prevent it from being truly effective. Instead, deliver it in short, regular doses, allowing for more detail that can be of value to employees on a daily basis.
In this guide, we’ve tried to demonstrate that there is a wide range of benefits to offering your employees a significant amount of support. Whether it’s helping them develop their careers, providing reasonable, actionable feedback or looking to integrate new technologies to help staff perform their roles, all of the tips we’ve covered should help you improve the support you provide. This, in turn, will have a knock-on effect on employee-retention, morale and performance, all of which can help improve overall business results.