Motivating Customer Service Staff

“Motivation is everything. You can do the work of two people, but you can’t be two people. Instead, you have to inspire the next guy down the line and get him to inspire his people.” – Lee Iacocca

Almost all customer service staff deal with many challenging and overwhelming customer situations and this is a fact of everyday life for them. It is common for them to encounter customers who are irate, rude, angry and even abusive. This can be extremely demoralizing and would result in a drop in productivity, service quality and contribute to negativity within the teams. Motivating customer service staff therefore is one of the prime concerns of the managers and leaders of the company. This needs to be a continuous process to keep pace with the rising demands of the work environment and the rapidly changing needs of the customer. Putting in place training programs, reward & recognition programs, off-site team building trips and the likes have proved helpful in not only motivating customer service staff but also in ensuring that they remain excited about their job. Motivated staff work better individually and as a team and the resultant customer satisfaction is worth the investment.

Companies must ensure, as pointed out earlier, that motivation is a continuous process and cannot be ignored. So how to make this a regular feature:

– Customers receive from the agents exactly what the agents receive from their company. If your customers are happy or frustrated, it would be a direct impact of how your company is treating the customer service staff. A happy and motivated set of agents will have a happy outlook and pass on that enthusiasm to the customers.

– Constant feedback, especially the reinforcement of good work kind, makes the staff feel valued. This feedback must come often from the senior leadership to make the employee or employees feel special. A gift voucher or coupon for a great job over the week lets staff know that their good work is not going unnoticed. Equally important is providing private feedback to staff that are not measuring up. Providing them with coaching and tips on how to improve will help them see that they matter.

– At the hiring stage, the people responsible for hiring must ensure they recruit staff that will fit the culture of the company especially in terms of having the right attitude. Enabling such persons with the right training, skills and tools for the job will be more fruitful. This front-end staff have a high stress job and need every possible help they can get to make their work easier. Motivating customer service staff is made easier using the right tools and techniques. The best part is that it is not much of an investment and yet the results are phenomenal.

– Being understaffed is also a major problem for the customer service teams since they don’t normally have the permission for added headcount. This puts extended pressure on the existing staff that can be demotivating in the long run. The solution would be hire temporary staff – numbers can be increased or decreased depending on the workload. The other upside of having temporary staff is that the expense is not as much and they are willing workers since many a times, companies tend to absorb the ‘good’ temporary staff on a permanent headcount.

– Despite regular coaching, training and monitoring if there are team members who seem unable to grasp the customer service role and continue to produce below average work, it would be wise to either shift them to an easier department or moved out completely. Having such people on the team not only drops the standard of work overall, it can be very frustrating for the hard-working and good staff.

– Motivating customer service staff is also exceptionally important since this is one department where the work tends to become monotonous and arduous. Managers and leaders must be able to come up with ideas to keep the environment stimulated. An example of this are the Managers at the Call Center of a large insurance company. They would decorate the workspaces of their teams in one week and in another ask the teams to dress up in their brightest ethnic dresses. Or they would spring a surprise by ordering some popular snacks on the floor at a time of day that the number of customer interactions were always lowest. There would also be a surprise element in the form of small prizes or rewards given out to the ‘best dressed’ or best worker. This way the teams remained enthused and knew that the company was making the time to keep them happy and motivated.

– Ensuring that there is adequate staff also helps to release some of the staff to attend value-added training programs. With the surge in new technology and channels for customer interactions, the customer service staff must be kept abreast with these to enable them to do their jobs well. Apart from this training on soft skills like leadership and attitude prepares them for the next level up. Staff feedback on the kind of training they believe they need and providing those in particular is also a great way for motivating customer service staff.

– An office that is clean, has all the facilities and is nice to work in also greatly boosts motivation. It is a known fact that well-lit offices with lots of natural light have happier employees than those that have no windows and are dimly lit. Companies must ensure that all equipment must work and the managers that lead these teams must themselves dress appropriately and smartly to encourage the teams to do so. Having a few well-maintained potted plants also contributes greatly towards having a great work environment.

– Managers cannot just hope that employees will get motivated with these efforts. The staff also needs to motivate themselves. This is possible through asking for their feedback on how to improve what is going well and making right what is not. Getting the staff to come up with ideas for a better work environment and then incorporating the do-able ideas, gives the staff a feeling of importance and being listened to. Managers must allow the teams to take center-stage and remain in the driver’s seat to encourage the teams thus keeping them motivated. Let the onus of success or failure of the team remain with the teams.

– The company’s goal setting and expectation setting exercise must be clear and concise. The customer service staff, like all others, must have a crystal clear understanding of what will lead to success and what will define failure. The benefits of success and consequences of failure must also be clearly defined and properly documented. This would serve as a guide or a path for each member and eliminate the grounds for ambiguity.

– Team members that justify these goals must be complimented immediately. Waiting to have a set of such good jobs or waiting till the end of the month to have a formal ceremony, quite often dilutes the effect and also seems like the effort is being undermined. Managers must be coached on providing ‘immediate’ positive feedback. The formal ceremony can follow, but providing praise on the spot in front of all the members, provides a boost not only for the staff member receiving it but also goads the others to do better. Who doesn’t want to be praised publicly! In addition, this adds to the element of surprise and freshness in the work environment.

– A good customer service line staff does not necessarily mean that this person is ready for the next role up. It is imperative to understand the leadership skill sets and also whether the staff member would be able to garner enough respect and enthusiasm from those people who would move from being peers to subordinates. A great worker is not necessarily a great leader and all the factors must be taken in to account before actually making the decision. It is possible that this staff member would be happier just receiving an added bonus or a good salary increase and continue in the current role. If such a person has potential, requisite training and coaching must be provided for an extended period of time and promotion must take place only when this person is adequately equipped.

– Invest in the current technology to ensure that the staff is not left struggling with questions and tricky problems posed by the customers. When staff appears inadequate and ill-informed, customers tend to get impatient leading to the cycle of irate and ill-tempered customers that leads to lowering of employee morale. Get them the right tools and train them suitably to take on these new challenges.

– Ensure that there are annual family get-togethers. It is vital that the families of the staff get to see the work their loved one is doing and also for the company to recognize the sacrifices the families make so that their staff member can work well. Provide family gifts and rewards to express your gratitude to them. A happy family life is generally a major factor that goads employees to do well and succeed. Ask the family members what makes their employee happy, what makes them tick and what they would like to see happen for their loved one working with the company. Giving such importance to the families of your staff is a great motivator.

Your company and your staff are your responsibility. For happy customers and successful business, motivating customer service staff is a sensible idea and a corporate responsibility.

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