Customer service representatives wear a lot of hats. They answer questions, solve problems, reflect company values, and, most importantly, make customers happy. But it’s hard to achieve any of these goals when your customer service team is unproductive.
In fact, according to an American Express survey, customers who leave satisfied will tell nine people, on average, about their experience. Imagine the potential referral volume if your customer service team was on point every day of the year!
It’s hard to get your hourly employees to stay productive, especially if they’re just passing through on their way to another career. You could try harsh punishments and strict regulations, but that will only lead to high turnover, which is both costly and time-consuming.
Instead, try a more instructive approach. Focus on improving training measures with tactics that really incentivize your customer service team to be more productive.
1. Grant more freedom
Oftentimes, productivity is most fruitful when you allow for more freedom. Rather than requiring that everyone work 9 to 5 or that they work in a specific office setting, institute a principle of flex time. Flex time allows employees to work both in the office and at home. They can also choose hours that better fit their own schedules for maximum productivity.
This is a principle companies like Google and Apple have adopted. They recognize that the most productive and effective employees work when they feel most productive, be it 9:00 a.m. or 9:00 p.m. Many Google and Apple customer service representatives have the power to come and go as they please, logging their hours in the office or at home. It can’t be a coincidence that these two corporations have some of the best customer service reputations in the world.
Qubit, which was founded by four of Google’s finest, has also adopted this idea of flex time for their employees. They have 300 employees who work all over the U.S, U.K., and Pakistan, and they’ve maintained a powerful customer service chain.
"Our ultimate goal is flexibility,” Kyle Eve, head of IT at Qubit, told the communication platform Dialpad in an interview. “We don’t want to chain people to legacy hardware or a restrictive environment. Instead, we’re focused on enabling people to connect and collaborate from anywhere.”
They’ve adopted a series of communication and collaboration tools, like Dialpad, G Suite, and Salesforce, to keep everyone on the same page and record the hours worked by each individual employee. Like Qubit, such an application in your own company may be exactly what you need to reenergize tired employees.
2. Empower decision making
It’s great to build detailed templates that employees can reference when faced with a challenge or a customer request, but that gets monotonous. These templates save on training, but employees might get bored or make mistakes because they don’t have any control.
Rather than scripting every word of your employees’ interactions, teach them to think critically in each situation. Even though about 80 percent of the problems your representatives will face will be repeat issues, they’ll need strong critical thinking skills to get through the other 20 percent.
Empowering each employee with the ability to make decisions is one of the best ways to teach critical thinking. Give them clear training on firm issues, but trust their discretion with the others.
For example, representatives might choose to refund a customer or offer discounts to repair the damage or a make up for a poor experience. Allow employees to assess the situation as they see fit and take steps to salvage customer relationships.
Communication coach and author of “The Apple Experience: Secrets to Insanely Great Customer Loyalty,” Carmine Gallo, recently conducted an interview with Virgin America to shed light on the company’s excellent customer service skills. Gallo identified decision making abilities as a key component in their success.
"Virgin trusts its employees to do the right thing,” says Gallo. “Leaders must empower their staff to do what is right for the customer, even if they break policy from time to time (as long as it doesn’t endanger anyone, of course!).”
Sometimes the corporation doesn’t know what an individual customer needs, but the employee, who has worked closely with him or her for the last hour, can make a judgment call that could recover lost loyalty.
3. Offer respect
Some organizations operate with the attitude that they’ll offer respect to employees who earn it. However, in most cases, it’s best to give employees the benefit of the doubt and offer respect from the beginning. The simple act of acknowledging that your employees as responsible, contributing human beings can go a long way when it comes to effective and productive work.
Take the example of president and COO of Ritz-Carlton, Herve Humler. He says, “The attitude I strive to get across to my employees is this: ‘You are not servants, because unlike a servant, I want you to be engaged with the customer—you have a brain, you have a heart and I want you to use them.’”
His utter respect for his employees empowers them to go above and beyond when serving their customers. Ritz-Carlton has built a reputation on luxury customer service thanks to this mindset, and the same can be adopted in other customer service cultures. It’s not that you should lower expectations or drop policy in the name of better relations with employees, but you can treat them with a kind attitude that encourages success.