Our front-line customer service agents are the heart and soul of our customer service operations. After all, the customer service agents are the ones who actually interact with our customers, day in and day out. Our customer service agents are the ambassadors and stewards of our brand. They are the ones who create that all-important interface with our customers. Our customer service agents are the ones who …
ALL RIGHT, STOP IT! Just stop right there … please!
Do you realize how trite all of that sounds? Do you understand how many years (decades, really) that customer service executives and professionals have been saying these things?
Well, guess what? Your customer service agents have heard all of these sayings too and don’t believe them. At least they don’t believe that customer experience management believes them.
Because customer service agents don’t believe that management believes these kinds of sayings, and because most customer service agents feel undervalued to one degree or another, customer service agent positions continue to turn over at alarming rates.
How much does this customer service agent position turnover cost your company every year? How about when you factor in the value of lost revenue as you struggle to keep your experienced and trusted agents doing what they do to create and build customer loyalty across your customer service channels?
We work with front-line customer service agents across the globe, everywhere from Pequot Lakes, Minnesota USA to Kingston, UK … from Barcelona, Spain to Warsaw, Poland.
Everywhere, customer service agents tell us how they really feel!
And what customer service agents feel more than anything else is frustrated …
… frustrated about their interactions with customers,
… frustrated with systems and processes that drive their customer interactions far too often,
… frustrated because they feel like their supervisors and others in the organization do not fully appreciate or understand the challenges of their daily work,
… and frustrated that their personal cares, ideas and strengths are not recognized.
Perhaps it is time that customer service managers and supervisors stop talking, even thinking, in platitudes about how valuable their front-line customer experience employees are and how their customer experience employees are the backbone of the customer service operations; instead, perhaps it is time that customer experience leadership starts demonstrating it in their actions and behaviors.
If customer experience managers and supervisors make even a modest and regular investment of time and energy focusing on the 3 Ps of their agents – Purpose, Passion and Professionalism – frustration levels among the front-line customer service staff will diminish, performance metrics will improve, and quality of the customer interaction will be enhanced.
Let’s take a look at each of the 3 Ps:
1. Understand their Purpose
- What is it that your individual customer service agents are really trying to accomplish?
- What is their purpose for working in the customer service center?
- Is this just a temporary stop along the way, or are they in it for the long haul?
As their supervisor, you should know the answers to those questions for each member of your team. And, you should try to connect what the customer service center has to offer with that purpose.
If it is doubtful that a customer service agent is going to be with you long-term, you can still make a good case to him that the customer service skills, experiences and seasoning received as a customer service agent will serve him well in his future endeavors, both personally and professionally. For any customer service agent who is likely to stick around for a while, you can begin to help him understand how he can become even more valuable to the organization as he learns and grows. Perhaps he is interested in serving on a task force, working on a special project or moving into a supervisory role or other leadership role.
How do you understand an agent’s purpose? Well, it’s pretty simple … ask him and listen! And make sure that you create an environment in which he does not feel intimidated to give you an honest answer. Each customer service agent has his own reasons for taking and staying on the job. For some, it’s a place to start or a way to finance higher education. For others, it’s a steady paycheck to bridge the gap between careers. For one agent we came to know in the UK, the day job allowed him to continue the pursuit of his real passion at night – music.
The point here is that each customer service agent has a story. The better you understand each agent’s personal purpose while he is with you, and the more you can connect his experience in the customer service center with that purpose, the more motivated he will be in his current performance. And that will benefit you and the service center regardless of his tenure.
2. Discover their Passions
For our friend in the UK, it is music and achieving success with his band. For others, it may be sports, technology, scrapbooking or family. It is safe to assume that each one of your customer service agents has at least one passion outside the walls of the customer service center. While purpose is all about what your customer service agents want to accomplish, passion is all about what really matters to them. And when you demonstrate even the slightest interest about an agent’s passion, it recognizes their individuality and is extremely motivating.
The key to this one is listening to what your customer service agents are talking about on a daily basis. People tend to talk about what they love, so find out what your customer service agents are passionate about and, more importantly, find a way to demonstrate to each one of them that you care about what they are passionate about. By doing this, you show them that they are not just a group of agents there to help hit an NPS target, but they really mean something to you.
We have met some customer experience supervisors who are very skilled at listening to their customer service agents, and we’ve observed other managers who are challenged in that area. For the supervisors who understand the value of connecting with their agents, either instinctually or through coaching, they realize the benefits of honing in on what makes an individual customer service agent tick and are able to demonstrate through their actions, reactions and conversations how the agent’s passions mean something to them.
Some really savvy customer experience supervisors incorporate questions and comments about their customer service agents’ passions into their one-on-one coaching sessions just to make each agent feel comfortable and to engage during the sessions.
3. Develop their Professionalism
Most people want to believe they are making a contribution at their workplace. They do not want to simply go through the motions; they do want value-driven outcomes. And most people, including front-line customer service agents, care about results and want to perform better today than they did yesterday.
People who care, add value and want to grow in their daily work are professionals, and most customer service agents want to be recognized as just that … professionals. As customer service managers and supervisors, one giant step in keeping your agents motivated is to treat them as professionals and to afford them all of the respect that professionals deserve.
What does that look like?
First, it means seeking the agents’ input and feedback when making important decisions that involve them and to dialogue with them about ways in which the customer care operations can be made better. Most customer service agents tend to have change rammed down their throats, so seeking their input and ideas can be a refreshing motivator for them.
Second, it means that you contribute to their growth and development. Those one-on-one coaching sessions you have with your customer service agents really are important, more than just a block of time on your calendar. If you can demonstrate to your customer service agents that you have a broader view of their performance – not just a “please get that fixed so we don’t have to discuss it next time” attitude – and that their overall growth and performance matters to you, they will believe you think they are professionals.
Finally, it means that you are a professional. It is difficult for a customer service agent to believe he is a professional if he does not respect his supervisor as a professional. Customer service agents desire (and deserve) professional customer experience leaders who manage and supervise them – leaders who care about their own growth and development and who behave as professionals in everything they do.
Customer service agents need and expect their leaders to be organized, to engage in professional communication behaviors, to perform professional performance evaluations, to give professional guidance, to make good decisions and to solve problems. Believe it or not, your own professional behavior as a customer experience supervisor creates an environment that fosters professional behavior among the customer service agents. This professional behavior inevitably finds its way into the customer touchpoints.
So, if you truly believe customer service agents are the heart and soul of your customer service operations, the stewards of your brand and where the rubber meets the road to create and build customer and brand loyalty, don’t just talk about it!
Create a motivational environment for your customer service agents by aligning with their purpose, passion and professionalism. The financial and intangible benefits to be gained are well worth the effort.