Call Center in Mexico In honor of National Customer Service Week, which starts today [#CustomerServiceWeek], here are seven ways to make life better for the frontline customer service employees on whom your organization undoubtedly depends.
To be clear: This isn’t going to be one of those “give out some reward stickers for great customer service” articles. I like a bit of hoopla as much as the next person, but, overall, I think this misses the point; hardworking, customer-facing employees need more than the temporary excitement of contests and the like.
Unfortunately, though, when making my rounds as a customer service consultant, trainer, and speaker, I still run into executives and managers who haven’t gotten the message, who overwork and disrespect their frontline employees, then try to compensate with little contests and the like that they think will add a patina of “engagement.”
By contrast, the seven steps below are meaningful and non-trivial.
I hope you’ll dig in.
Stop making frontline associates get down on their knees in front of a manager in order to get a $10 override. This enforced impotence is demeaning to employees, and the delay and uncertainty is annoying to customers. (And we all know on whom those customers are going to take out their annoyance.)
2. Cut out the dis-empowerment.
Positive empowerment is important, but it’s just as important to stop dis-empowering employees in the variety of ways that can happen in corporate life. Oppressive corporate messaging can get to employees as early as the recruitment process: messages like “you’d be lucky to work here, so keep your head down,” rather than “we’d be lucky to have you—and we’re looking for you to excel.”
It’s even more likely that such messages will be on display during employee onboarding. (As Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian points out in this interview, a typical employee orientation can come off sounding like the topic of the day is “100 Ways to Get Fired At Our Company!”)
Finally, once employees are on the job, the picture is completed for them by managers who belittle or ignore–rather than applaud–employees who step outside of their functional area to state opinions and make suggestions. (I write more about disempowerment in this article, from which I adapted this paragraph.)
Customer service empowerment without customer service training isn’t enough. No employee, no matter how talented, is born fully trained. And it’s an uncomfortable feeling to come to work and be expected to address any customer situation that may arise without being trained for a wide variety of scenarios.
4. Reasonable expectations.
Everyone loves to hire “customer service rock stars,” but if their rockstarhood is rewarded by habitual overwork (“Hey,” you tell yourself, “they’re rock stars, right? Rock stars thriveunder pressure!”), it’s not only murder on these employees and their families, it’s going to diminish the quality of their interactions with customers.
Even if the stress doesn’t come out in actual rudeness to customers, it absolutely will in reduced flexibility and creativity when it comes time to work out a solution for a thorny customer problem that could benefit from a deft hand and an empathetic ear.
5. Better chairs.
Seriously. If you expect your employees to cheerfully sit on their posteriors all day, giving unremittingly perky customer service, treat those posteriors Don’t buy sub-Ikea knockoffs; buy the real deal by Herman Miller. (Can’t afford these at retail? Buy them lightly used from a liquidator.)
6. Input into how employee shifts are scheduled and staffed.
Employees know better than anyone the demands of being a caregiver or of being otherwise challenged in their work hours, and they likely have the best ideas for how to address these challenges in a way that is workable for them as well as for your company.
7. A willingness to pitch in.
During the holiday-season crunch at Zappos every year, you’ll find Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh in the contact center taking orders and doing customer support. (My interview with Tony Hsieh can be found here.)
Similarly, during crunch time at Ocean House, a seaside resort and one of the only triple Five Star hotels in the world, you’re likely to find its President, Daniel Hostettler, parking cars and helping guests check in as needed. Even Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple, would, at times, answer customer support emails. (Being Steve, his answers weren’t entirely diplomatic, I’m afraid, but still…) Far beyond the actual labor this contributes to your organization, it’s a morale booster and an illustration that there’s no job you’re asking others to do that you wouldn’t do yourself.