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Mar 4, 2020 4:55:16 PM

5 ways to fix customer service (from a HR manager’s perspective)


We all know customer service jobs aren’t easy. Many service departments are encountering a variety of organisational challenges, many of which directly impact how employees’ day-to-day work is experienced on the

service floor.


There’s a very clear connection between employee job satisfaction and customer satisfaction: Happy employees create happy customers, and unhappy employees create unhappy customers.


As HR managers are often involved in initiatives that impact people’s job satisfaction and workplace environment, let’s shift our attention to the issues that concern many service organisations – and how to fix them.



1. Lack of a good team vibe & organisational culture


Great customer service teams are often characterised by their service mentality and genuine willingness to help and be of service. However, customer service departments are rarely known for their great work environment. This deficit is clearly not intentional, but the result of a lack of internal alignment and a well-defined, positive culture within the service department.


It’s an obvious problem, but unfortunately one that is not so easy to resolve. Customer service organisations have some of the highest turnover rates and lowest job satisfaction scores across all industries, which makes a poor workplace environment almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. How can employers foster and nurture a great team culture when the team changes every few months?


Even though these problems are well-known, many companies struggle to find effective ways to improve the situation. Most solutions are seen as costly, too slow, or simply ineffective.



How to fix it: Show better leadership.


In business, the best solution often lies in the leadership. Customer service organisations need the right kind of a leader: An empathetic supervisor who understands the team, can motivate them and who will stand up for them when they’re under too much pressure. A service lead should be able to see beyond the numbers, treat service employees like any other talent in the company, and recognise the unique skills each service agent has.


In fact, it might be wise to look for a service lead who has a background in customer service. Having a solid understanding of “working the phones” and the realities of interacting with customers will not only help them to empathise with their team, but also to build trust and to solve problems within the organisation faster. What’s more, service agents will be much more likely to share and express their needs and concerns to someone who understands what their work entails.


Introduce more one-on-ones and don’t cancel them. In most service organisations, team leads sit down with the employees roughly twice a year for performance reviews. Meeting only twice a year leaves very little room to discuss daily business and it’s not great for creating a trusting relationship either.


In-person, one-on-one meetings provide a trusting, empathetic environment for discussing workload, problems and other issues – and help to build a better team culture.



2. Lack of recognition


Another problem often encountered in service organisations is a lack of recognition. Traditionally, customer service has been seen as a cost centre, providing little value to the business. This can create tension between departments and cause service agents to feel devalued.


In reality though, when things go wrong, the customer service department is the one taking the heat. They are directly responsible for any problems that arise when interacting with the customers. This type of work has made service teams remarkably skilled in dealing with high-pressure situations and navigating through peak seasons.


Yet this often goes unnoticed within the company. Developers receive praise for fixing bugs, marketing gets credit for increasing the number of orders – but the efforts of customer service teams often go unmentioned.



How to fix it: Share customer service learnings & break silos.


Human resources can take great initiative and “celebrate the service team”. Especially in the following ways:



1. Organise regular cross-team training


This is perhaps the most effective way to break departmental silos. Cross-team training gives employees from other teams valuable insights into customer service work and provides a platform for different teams to network with each other.



2. Consolidate customer feedback & KPIs


Customer feedback and information about why, how and when customers choose to get in touch is generally considered valuable throughout the organisation. Sending around a regular customer insights report featuring the main KPIs and curated insights about the customer journey can significantly increase the profile of the service department within the organisation.



3. Overwhelming workload, stress & pressure


Bad leadership and poor working conditions can, in some cases, lead to a toxic working culture in which service agents feel powerless to actually help frustrated customers and struggle to meet unreasonably high performance requirements set by the management. Burnout is common in customer service organisations and either results in the employee leaving their job or becoming indifferent towards their work. Neither are great for the business or service quality – not to mention the employees themselves and their mental health.



How to fix it: Regulate workload with automation.


Applying better tools and technology (particularly automation) helps to manage the workload facing the service team. So why not let automation take over mundane and time-wasting tasks, such as checking order statuses and changing passwords?


Static self-service channels such as Help Centres and FAQ pages are great first steps when it comes to reducing repetitive workload, but they have their limitations. Automation and particularly customer service chatbots can reduce the number of simple questions in the ticket queue and improve most service organisations’ results.


With fewer repetitive tasks to complete, customer service agents can spend more time taking care of individual customers (if the situation calls for it).



4. No opportunities for career advancement


One of the major factors driving the high employee turnover rate is the lack of career prospects and development opportunities within service organisations. It’s even common for customer service departments to be completely excluded from the company’s training and mentoring programs, and for there to be no ways to develop new skills, even internally. This is linked to the high workload created by repetitive tasks: There is simply no time for training. In the worst cases, the management might even think that no training is required for work that “even a machine can do”. Fortunately, this kind of view is rare. Even so, a lack of career prospects remains a reality across the customer service industry.



How to fix it: Offer empowerment and meaningful work.


Customer service agents are often an untapped resource of knowledge and expertise about the company’s products and services – and in particular, about the customers’ needs and desires. Unfortunately, customer service representatives spend the majority of their day answering repetitive questions about payment methods, delivery times, resetting passwords and the like. This can be a draining experience, especially for service agents with a strong service mentality.


Providing service teams with more meaningful tasks will give them this missing sense of purpose. Most teams thrive when they are offering highly personalised service involving complex problem solving, or when they’re dealing with delicate situations requiring empathy. Upselling and cross-selling initiatives are a great way to motivate and incentivise teams, especially if they are linked to compensation. It can also be a good idea to allow service agents to occasionally go the extra mile, for example, by sending flowers or offering a replacement part without asking management first.


There are dozens of ways to empower your customer service team to leverage the expert knowledge they possess and make their work more meaningful. But first it’s necessary to free up their schedule by eliminating the repetitive, simple tasks that take up the majority of their time.



5. Misaligned or conflicting performance metrics


It’s one thing to be frustrated with repetitive questions at work, but quite another to have your performance depend on those questions. Customer service is the frontline of the company, which means it’s also where a variety of business initiatives meet. This convergence of different departments can lead to demotivating and contradictory performance metrics and initiatives.


For example, a service organisation might want to improve the KPI for “time per contact”, but the phone software they are using cannot be synced with the order or account database. This creates an overhead of at least 30 seconds per call, as the agent has to manually search for each customer’s order. So the only way that agents can reduce the “time per contact” is by cutting back the actual service time and interaction with the customer.


At the same time, the business operations department might be under pressure to improve the overall CSAT score. Customer service is of course a major stakeholder here, so each service agent might have their CSAT score monitored. Managers might organise a short training session about how agents can improve their score: going the extra mile, making sure all the customer’s questions have been answered, double checking, etc.


See where this is going? The combination of technical limitations and contradictory targets without clear priorities can very easily feel demotivating.



How to fix it: Align the service department with the rest of the organisation.


Don’t set the service team up to fail. At the very least, consult them during the decision-making process regarding their own performance metrics and formulate well-rounded primary KPIs with clear supporting metrics.


Ultimately, senior management will be responsible for the KPIs, but it makes no sense to set up metrics that are misaligned with the realities of daily business. Conflicting goals are at best frustrating and confusing for the team, and at worst, they actively work against each other. Constantly shifting priorities might result in an overall decrease in KPI results.


The solution is simple enough: Everyone in the company should be following the same company strategy and it’s the service head’s responsibility to communicate problems and any conflicting KPIs to the management. If the main KPI is to increase productivity through speed, the number of mistakes made by the service agents might go up – and as a knock-on effect, the overall number of incoming tickets may also rise. Or alternatively, if the key KPI is to improve the CSAT score, the “time per ticket” and response times might increase.



There’s a lot that can be done in customer service organisations to improve both the service experience of the end customers, as well as the working conditions of the service agents. From a HR perspective, improving customer service work is not only good for the team, it also drives business results. That’s why wise business leaders don’t ignore the issues that customer service organisations are facing, but tackle them head on.



Bengi is HR Manager at Solvemate. She’s the queen of multi-tasking and juggling the responsibilities of a HR-Generalist, Recruiter & Office Management - all the while while smiling!