Part 1 of 2: The Importance of Engaging Customer Service Employees
All companies want enthusiastic and committed employees, and for a good reason. There is a close connection between employee engagement and the financial performance of the company.
High employee engagement results in higher than average performance for a company, while low employee engagement results in lower company performance.
After all, they represent the face – or at least the voice – that existing and potential customers come in contact with most often. If they aren’t performing energetically and effectively, then customers and potential revenue are at risk.
Yet, a recent Gallup poll indicated that over 70% of American workers are either “not engaged” or are “actively disengaged.”
So, why aren’t organizations paying better care to this problem?
It most probably comes down to a surprising discrepancy between, on the one hand, how companies are trying to support increased involvement of their employees, and on the other hand, what in fact inspires and motivates them.
In most companies, the HR department is responsible for enhancing (and measuring) employee engagement.
Practically, this means that each year the department conducts an internal poll (All reports should be managed and coordinated by human resource people from the “center”).
Employees respond to a long list of questions – from the general level of satisfaction with their job, to the quality of health services offered to them (i.e., package of benefits).
The report resulting from this survey (issued after a long review), might lead to a greater benefits packages.
Even better, it may lead to an initiative from which employees will receive coaching from their direct boss or external professional.
In the past, most companies simply treated employees as a conduit toward interacting with their clients. Marketing and Customer Service departments were solely responsible for customer satisfaction, and there wasn’t a lot of value placed on their satisfaction.
Furthermore, the only tools used to gage and enhance customer-support development were traditional tools; those used to develop employee competence (like traditional classroom training programs).
Yet, in recent years, there has been a transformation; One which has been embraced within a growing amount of organizations.
It’s characterized by a shift toward a more long-term employee engagement outlook. This outlook is more complex; a shift that isn’t as linear as one might think.
The new paradigm values multi-direction communication, direct manager-employee interaction, a continuous learning strategy and utilization of technology-enabled performance enhancement tools, such as WalkMe.
Communication and Feedback
With that said, let’s return for a moment to the use of surveys to measure satisfaction. Say you apply this same methodology to YOUR company; You would like to increase the motivation and commitment of customer service representatives. What would you do differently?
First, you CAN AND SHOULD conduct short surveys, but within your organization itself.
The objective is to keep track of your service representatives’ satisfaction within the workplace and hear what they have to say. Ask them where they see their own strengths and weaknesses.
In addition to morale and motivation, the surveys can also focus on the representatives’ feedback of customer interactions.
These surveys are effective in raising the level of communication. They also allow representatives to provide their own ideas for improvement (and hear those of managers as well).
To cite a couple of actual examples:
JetBlue sends their representatives a survey every 90 days after arrival in the company, then one per year. Apple conducts internal surveys every few months. These surveys can then be followed up with periodic one-on-one meetings; This maintains the level of 2-way expectations and feedback.
Taking a Hands-On Approach
Secondly, if you expect the customer representatives to be a positive voice for the company, you as the manager should show more of your face when interacting with your team.
Instead of delegating the tasks related to training, performance, and employee motivation to the Human Resources department, customer service managers should work more directly with their team.
Even in a situation where you are managing a large team, find the most effective way to engage each individual representative. Then, continue to do so on a regular basis.
Trust me, it will make them feel more valued and motivated to work hard and succeed.
Respect your Reps
It should not be a surprise, to anyone, that there is a close resemblance between the techniques used for gaining customer loyalty and those used for raising the performance of your customer service representatives. In essence, both efforts are based on the fact that you treat people with dignity and respect.
In addition, both require long-term service and engagement. With the customer, it’s about maintaining high-quality service, responding quickly to their requests, and following up to see that they are truly satisfied.
“Service” for employees, likewise, requires a long-term effort.
Learning and Development – A Marathon Not a Sprint
With regards to the ‘representatives’ learning and performance, managers should not see training as a singular, isolated event, but rather as a continuous process. Best practice requires that the representative be aided during work, long after initial training sessions end. They should be able to learn and receive support in real-time, within the flow of their work.
Likewise, as mentioned above, evaluation and assessment is not done through a one-time, end of year test, but through consistent communication and feedback.
Finally, managers should make sure customer service representatives undergo training that is both informative but also creative and engaging.
And, as what usually happens, the two efforts are mutually reinforcing. Employees learn how to delight customers – and feel very good when they succeed. And customers like experience.
It’s a virtuous circle, something that is called “The Promoter Flywheel,” (a well-known practice that leads to excellent financial performance).
Conventional approaches that measure and enhance employee commitment are usually focused on general improvements. Typical examples include improvements to the work environment or more employee benefits.
But there are actually “easy solutions” for enhancing commitment. And, they all underlay employee satisfaction.
Parameters of satisfaction include: a pleasant working environment, safety, a fair salary, package benefits, as well as providing the tools necessary for employees to perform their duties and responsibilities.
Some of these tools include technological channels and software which allow employees to learn – within the context of work. These tools are separate from initial or periodic, formal classroom training.
I’m referring to informal learning tools such as webinars, social media, online videos, and participation in conferences and workshops. There are also several e-learning options available that enhance learning over the long-term. E-learning monitors performance strengths and weaknesses and helps support more effective methodologies.
WalkMe, for example, is a unique tool that helps customer support specialists – in several ways.
From the employee end, representatives can receive real-time guidance in how to perform complex software tasks. This means real-time assistance during a live call.
WalkMe also helps the customers themselves. It empowers them to easily navigate and perform their own desired online actions on a company’s website.
Customers will no longer have the need to call customer support. (I’ll look at all of these more in depth in the second part of this article).
Ultimately, both employee and customer engagement strategies should treat relationships in a more human way, not as if they were transactions or information.
A customer service employee is not just about making money for the company, or keeping it with the company. There is a lot more value for managers who place a lot more value in their employees.
Click here for part 2 of this article, in which I examine what a continuous learning strategy entails, and why empowering your customer service representatives with performance support during their actual daily work is an effective and value-driven strategy.