There are no shortcuts, but investing real effort does pay dividends
We’ve all read about the technology revolution (or apocalypse) in customer care. While there is no denying the role automation will play, the largest threat to customer care is poorly trained, unmotivated live agents.
When employees feel engaged at work, they'll have better interactions with customers. That translates into more revenues, higher share price, and many other key performance indicators. And yet, too many employees still aren't engaged, and too many customers are still getting shortchanged.
That's because there are no shortcuts to employee engagement. Companies must be willing to invest some real effort.
In real life, notes and instructions aren't enough.
For instance, a group of executives might map out a terrific program to strengthen customer service. Then they send the meeting notes down the organizational chain and expect employee performance to improve. Real life doesn't work that way.
Instructions are never enough. Employees need to understand why the things you want them to do are important. If we want employees to do their jobs with confidence, it's important to meet with the team, explain, coach, and sometimes even show a little tough love. Tell them why the project's goals, practices, and procedures matter. Explain how they can achieve each objective and offer some meaningful incentives to get there. The employees will be glad to tell you what they find meaningful if you ask. (Yes, it's usually money.)
Scripts work beautifully – in simulations that is.
Sticking to a written script with a customer is another rule that never seems to work as well in real life as it does in simulations. Customers don't always follow their side of a script, so agents need a little freedom to use their heads. And that, in turn, works only when they have the right knowledge, the right tools, and the right coaching.
Coaching doesn't have to mean hovering over an employee like a trainer at a gym. Sometimes it's important to get away from the cubicle or meeting room. It can be helpful to talk while walking, or even take a small group out to lunch and get them to open up about their experiences on the job.
Gamify, simply and make prizes meaningful.
Gamification can be a great way to get employees engaged, both in training and on the job itself. It applies the mechanics of games, such as scoring points, ranking the players, and earning some sort of prize for high performance.
It's important to keep the game simple, especially at the beginning. You want everybody to know the rules and why the game is important.
That's not always as easy as it sounds. If only one person doesn't understand, the game might fail. You need a game that will interest as many employees as possible, and the prizes have to be things they actually want.
The game has to be thought out, too. If the goal is to get employees to reduce the average time spent with customers, gamification can do that. But unless it’s completely thought through, it might lower the quality of the interaction.
Gamification is supposed to inspire better performance, which means everybody must be able to see who is scoring the most points. But that also means they see who is in last place. The game needs to be tailored to your group's talents so that nobody feels so far out of the running that they give up. You have to watch what's going on and be willing to make adjustments as you go along. The goal is to engage them, not shake their confidence. That’s why a participation trophy isn’t a bad thing. Your employees aren’t children, so the workplace lessons are a little different. Getting team members to participate and feel engaged is a victory worth celebrating.
Everybody gets tired of a game after a while, so don't let it run more than a month or so. You can start a new game later.
Provide more than a ladder to climb.
To be engaged for the long haul, an employee must envision some kind of future with your company. Employees need to see a path for them to learn, grow, and move up through the ranks.
But again, there are no shortcuts. You need to supply the support work that prepares employees to move up the ladder. If all you do is put them into a tougher role without helping their professional and personal development, you are setting them up for failure.
If a company isn't already investing in these kinds of tools, it won't be able to change overnight. It takes time to equip employees with the physical and mental tools necessary to do the job well. But it's worth it. The better they perform, and the longer the good performers stick around, the better the company performs.
If, as an industry, we make the most urgent changes incumbent upon us, customer experience will improve and brands will reap the rewards in greater customer lifetime value and loyalty.
Neal Topf leads Callzilla, an outsourced contact center offering bilingual omnichannel customer support and customer acquisition.
Edited by Alicia Young