Each day, our customer service executives make thousands of small decisions – transferring a call rather than solving a tough problem, waiting a few extra seconds before logging back onto the queue, that all add up to lost profits.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, your best defense isn’t building in additional controls, it’s motivating your employees to self-monitor their own behavior.
However, this is much easier said than done because it requires strategic planning, support and long-term commitment at both the executive and frontline levels. While the actual plan will vary from company to company, every company’s plan should address the seven following best practices:
- Hire right
The first step to create a high-powered, highly motivated service center starts with hiring the right people. When making your decision, avoid focusing too heavily on technical skills and product knowledge. While these aspects are important, they can usually be coached. Personality and soft skills, such as communication and conflict resolution, are typically more innate and harder to coach. You’ll also want to consider how well job candidates fit with your company culture. It’s a lot harder to document that someone is a bad fit for the company culture than it is to document incompetence or chronic tardiness, yet a culture clash can have a more significant impact on group morale.
- Train right and train often
It’s no coincidence that companies with high customer satisfaction rates have extensive training programs. While your product line may not warrant such extensive training, effectively fine-tuning soft skills generally does require a time commitment.
- Empower workers
If you’ve hired the right employees and trained them, you should feel comfortable giving your employees decision-making authority. This element is important in several regards. First, decision-making authority increases first-call resolution rates, which is increasingly key in both customer satisfaction and loyalty. Second, giving and encouraging your reps to take control of customer encounters opens up the possibility for reps to do something that will win you a customer for life.
- Implement social networks
An easy way to make sure reps are happy is to make sure they are happy about who they’re working with. If you have a good mix of employees and morale, consider offering incentives for reps to recruit their friends to work for companies. Another way to build social ties is to encourage participation in community events. Yet another idea is to build networks from within. Organize a monthly birthday celebration for employees or other rapport-building events within the company.
Finally, don’t overlook recognition. While you’ll certainly want to applaud employee personal and professional achievements using a variety of channels (bulletin boards, Intranet sites, Web sites, company publications, company meetings) you may also want to focus on their families. A few examples of key events may include children’s graduations, births and marriages. This practice often serves as a conversation starter that can be key to strengthening employee bonds.
- Element of fun
If you want employees to have fun offering customer service, you need to make certain the working environment includes an element of fun. You’ll also want to look for ways to make your training fun. At one company, a customer service outsourcer, they held a “dress code don’t” day. Employees were encouraged to dress in violation of dress code. Managers took pictures, wrote up an article for the company publication and even posted the pictures on the bulletin board using fashion-magazines’ do and don’t format with blacked out faces.
- Career paths and flexibility
Chances are this will be one of the toughest areas to tackle. Customer service jobs are often viewed as dead-end and scheduling requirements make flexibility difficult. The most obvious solutions are investing in workforce management software with lots of built-in scheduling flexibility and developing career paths to other areas of the company or somewhat artificial paths that outline increasing goals and benefits within your own department. While these are good starts, if you work hard enough, you may be able to find more creative solutions.
- Build in incentives
The final key to a motivated workforce is incentives. For the practice to be effective, however, you must determine what you want to achieve, track and share these goals with employees and tie positive results to incentives that employee’s value.
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