Growing an A-list team of customer support representatives requires a new set of management tactics.
The stereotypical image of a customer service or call center organization typically resembles the following: teams of customer support representatives (CSRs) chained to endless rows of cubicles. Employees punch in and out. They field phone calls and online queries, while an overhead monitor displays the average wait time. This assembly line management no longer fits with current expectations of customer service in a connected, web age.
Here are six ways to better manage the modern customer support organization:
1. Understand your Employee Demographics
Before you can begin crafting a brilliant management plan, you’ve got to understand the people you’re managing. Customer service positions are often entry-level jobs. According to research, most applicants are between 20 and 30 years old and are Millennials.
This generation is constantly developing their skillset, crave acknowledged success and often look to create a healthy balance between work and life. Studies predict that Millennials will switch jobs frequently due to their high expectations .
Yet by creating a flexible and individualistic work environment, you can help minimize the high turnover rates and associated costs.
2. Break Out of the Cubicle
Nearly 90 percent of Millennials cite flexible work arrangements as important, as do 87 percent of Boomers and 79 percent of Gen X’ers. Millennials in particular feel that as long as company goals and standards are met, there is no point in struggling with traffic to get to the cubicle every day.
Of course, in many circumstances telecommuting can’t replace office work and relationships. However, today’s savvy employees treat their time as money and appreciate any level of flexibility, such as remote work a few days per week/month, staggered hours or reduced hour arrangements.
Whether you allow customer support representatives to work from home one day per week or build a fully virtual team, there’s no shortage of cloud-based tools for managing remote employees. For example, there’s Google Apps and Dropbox for file sharing, Skype for video conferencing, Redmine for project management, as well as your IM client of choice (or Adium to connect to any IM platform). In addition, choose a customer support platform that features online collaboration tools and lets managers remotely monitor conversations and customer support representatives.
3. Don’t Skimp on Breaks
A single lunch break is hardly enough to keep employees fresh all day. Studies show that mid-day relaxation can significantly improve productivity and job satisfaction.
Think of it this way: an agitated employee who can’t take five minutes to blow off some steam can become a serious liability for your organization. Additionally, several mini-breaks for exercise (even just one minute intervals to escape the desk and walk around) can improve employee health by lowering blood sugar, triglycerides, cholesterol and waist size.
4. Don’t Micro-Manage
Millennials were raised by baby boomers who spent most of their time at work. As children they had to adapt to such responsibilities, and learn to look after themselves. As adults, this generation does not want to be micro-managed since they’ve been accustomed to managing themselves since they were young. Rather, Millennials look for someone who will help them advance in their career.
Customer service personnel of this generation appreciate a manager who inspires and shares his or her knowledge. Mentorship helps the CSRs in climbing the corporate ladder and motivates them to learn and outperform.
5. Communicate the Big Picture
Millennials expect frequent communication in the workplace. Throughout their lives they have been accustomed to in-depth communication with both their parents and teachers. As a result, frustration ensues if they feel like they’re being kept in the dark.
Effective managers should frequently update the team on the major initiatives that are important to the department, and how those initiatives fit into the larger picture of the organization’s vision.
A 2006 survey from KEY Group revealed that only 47 percent of the 1,727 multigenerational respondents were given clearly defined goals for their jobs.
Keep in mind that Millennials are far more results-oriented than time-oriented. While they don’t see the point of putting in time just to put in time, they will respond to any concrete results and responsibilities that are expected from each team and team member.
6. Reward Performance
Incentives should be tied to performance, rather than time, as that’s how today’s customer service staff perceive the importance of their work. Motivational rewards don’t always need to be in the form of money.
A 2009 survey by McKinsey Quarterly found that praise and commendation from "immediate manager” and “Attention from leaders” were the top two most effective incentives for motivating employees.
Praise and commendation go a long way to making customer service staff feel noticed and valued.
Modern times call for modern practices
A good customer service experience can be the difference in client satisfaction, so it’s crucial to optimize the productivity and quality of this department.
Assembly line management and cubicle farms are relics of the past. The sooner companies adapt to new rules governing employee satisfaction and retention, the faster they will grow.
Editor's Note: Check out The Disconnect Between Real and Perceived Customer Service to get more insights into the customer services challenges today.