Retaining your customer service staff


By Daniel Scheltinga*
Thursday, 14 November, 2013


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Customer service teams are crucial to any organisation; they are the ones that are in contact with your customers long after the sales team has moved on.

Finding truly great customer service staff is rare. You want someone who is not only technically savvy, knowledgeable and empathetic, but someone who fits your company culture and has outstanding communication skills that allow them to effortlessly talk to customers one minute and developers the next. Once you find a great customer service team staffer, you don’t want to let them go.

Unfortunately, customer service team churn can be an ongoing challenge for many CIOs and customer service team managers. It’s not uncommon for people to use a customer service role as a stepping stone into the business, with the future aim of moving to another role within the company. While ambition is a quality to be admired and encouraged in any employee, this does leave the customer service team in a difficult position.

The other major challenge in retaining customer service staff can be due to the very nature of the job itself. Customer service teams tend to manage a great deal of problems and frustrations from customers and the business on a daily basis. With a constant barrage of queries and requests, it can be difficult to keep customer service staff engaged and motivated.

Employee turnover can be disruptive and expensive and affect team morale, but there are a number of things you can do to turn this around. Focusing on the very people that staff your customer service team, ensuring you have efficient and supportive processes in place, and investing in the right technology will all combine to keep your customer service team happy, reduce churn and set your team up for the years ahead.

People

It should be your goal to build a high-performing customer service team. These people are the face (or voice) of your business and are on the front line controlling the customer experience.

While your business is likely to have standard HR processes in place across the company, it pays to invest your own time and energy into your customer service staff. When it comes to effective staff retention strategies, one size doesn’t fit all, but below are a few points that can complement your company’s existing HR and development strategies to build a successful customer service team.

  • Connect your team with peers - Support requests can be so varied it greatly assists to have contacts in different areas. With this in mind, arrange for different staff members from across the business to present to the customer service team on a regular basis, ideally weekly. This allows your customer service team to connect with different individuals within the company, whether that be marketing, finance, operations, sales or development.
  • Give staff other responsibilities - Mix up the daily routine of customer service staff by asking them to create knowledge base articles, answer questions on a community forum or take on another responsibility like a team event planner.
  • Share the load - Encourage other areas of the business, for example sales or development, to sit with the customer service team and answer requests for support on a regular basis. This helps customer service staff network with their peers and keeps non-customer service staff in touch with the product and common customer feedback. It also tends to invoke a certain level of understanding and compassion from the wider business for what the customer service team does on a daily basis.

Process

Putting the right processes in place improves efficiency and effectiveness, and offers a reliable standard to make individual tasks and the work day simpler.

  • Create a troubleshooting workflow - Developing a troubleshooting workflow allows customer service staff to follow an established methodology to troubleshoot known issues or channel requests to the correct person or group within the company. Run every support request through this workflow to aid continuous improvement.
  • Use a knowledge base - A knowledge base provides an easily accessible central repository for processes and procedures. Encourage staff to contribute to, grow and own elements of the knowledge base.
  • Develop an escalation process - Create a process that allows your customer service staff to easily escalate to a manager or co-worker when things get difficult. This takes the pressure off those on the front line and allows customers to see their support request progressing.
  • Follow the DARK principle - Where possible, everything should be Documented, Automated, Repeatable and Kept simple.
  • Allow for flexibility - While processes are an important and helpful part of any customer service role, don’t make processes too rigid. Allow some flexibility and give your staff the power to do their job the best way they can.

Technology

Technology has changed the way we work and do business, and the customer service team is no different. There are many applications such as Confluence, Yammer and Flowdoc that can make the work of your customer service team more efficient.

Distribute knowledge - Help your customer service team share critical information in real time by adopting applications such as Flowdoc. For non-critical information, use a knowledge base to share information and best practice.

Embrace a remote workforce - Gone are the days when individuals need to be physically situated in the office to perform their job, and customer service teams are no exception. There are enormous benefits to allowing staff to work remotely, from happy staff who find it easier to juggle work and family, to ensuring you can employ the best people, no matter where they live.

The introduction of voice technology means that customer service staff can answer inbound or make outbound calls from their computer or existing home landline or mobile phones, with all phone calls and voicemails automatically recorded and transcribed into support requests.

Webcams and teleconferencing solutions can help you engage remote staff and allow customer service teams to attend meetings and one-on-one sessions no matter their location.

Look to the cloud - Cloud-based customer service software can help customer service teams have all customer requests go through one place, regardless of where they originated. Queries can also be handled from smartphones and tablets, so customer service teams can respond to customer queries while they are out of the office or outside office hours.

Staff turnover need not be an issue in customer service teams. When you find the right people, invest heavily in them. Create well-defined yet flexible processes and leverage technology to keep your customer service team motivated and engaged. Get the balance right between these three elements and you’ll be on your way to keeping your customer service staff happy.

*Daniel Scheltinga is Asia Pacific Support and Services Director for Zendesk.

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