Why does customer service suck so badly? If proclaiming "Customer Service Is Vital to Business Success!" was all it took, we'd all be receiving amazing service daily. But we're not.
Is it that people who work in customer service are lazy? That they just don't care? Or have repeated telephone cord near-strangulations damaged some critical part of their brain? Perhaps sometimes.
Customer service sucks because companies create terrible environments for their customer service teams. Some call centre employees are forced to use fake anglo names, others work from rigid scripts, some have timed toilet breaks. Should we be surprised that people treated in this way don't always produce exceptional service?
"But my company is not like that!" you exclaim! "We have table tennis and casual Friday and hilarious desk signs! Our team have very generous toilet time allotted, with rollover minutes!" This is all no doubt true. But if we look more deeply, the reality of typical customer service roles is clear.
Customer service teams often have:
Very little control over the incoming workload—they can't reduce the number of tickets because that is caused by the decisions of the marketplace, of other teams in their company or sometimes just the phase of the moon.
Little influence over what tools they use.
Minimal decision making authority.
No clear connection to the company's overall vision and goals.
Limited interaction with, and respect from, the rest of the company.
Ill-defined or non-existent career paths.
Recently I have read three books that all cover the areas of motivation and job satisfaction. Each author lays out their three core principles, and the crossover is obvious:
Autonomy—having options and choices. Competence, Mastery—a sense of measurable skill and progress. Relevance, Purpose, Relatedness—a desire to be known and to be connected to a larger meaning.
The message could not be clearer. You cannot expect exceptional performance from employees who are not having their key needs met. Many companies try to replace autonomy with a very clear script - you say these things because we have determined these things get an acceptable result to us at a known cost.
That is a system that "works" as long as you have new people to pour into the top of the funnel, as the older ones are scraped out of the grinder at the bottom. The best employees (and the ones who have options) will leave quickly for more satisfying work. The outcomes of such a system are predictable; we've all experienced systematised service from those companies. Acceptable at best, rarely better and often much worse.
If you want to create that sort of system, you can just buy it from any number of outsourcing consultancies. Is it possible to create a different type of service organisation, though? One that is sustainable and profitable, and satisfying for the employees?
I believe it is, though not easily. At Campaign Monitor we've built our customer service team in that way, and we continue to work through hard decisions to protect that as we grow.
Creating an environment that produces exceptional service
Great service comes from engaged, competent, motivated teams, and can be a truly hard-to-replicate advantage in a crowded market. Here are some ways you can create that environment for your customer service team, and reap business-wide benefits.
Involve your customer service team in product decisions—they can use their unique customer knowledge to powerfully shape your product.
Give them authority—let your agents decide what action is appropriate in any given situation (and give them training and support to make the right call).
Give them a clarity of purpose—make sure your whole company understands why customer service matters, and act accordingly.
Put some money on the line—Invest in staffing so you create enough space and capacity to allow your team to provide exceptional service.
Watch your metrics—If you only measure speed of reply and speed of resolution, then that is what will take priority. If you want people to focus on building lifetime value, loyalty and deeper understanding of your customers, measure that too.
Create service diplomats—give you customer service team a role as emissaries to the rest of the company, sharing customer knowledge and bringing back product and company knowledge to the front lines.
Every company will tell you customer service is important, but talk is cheap. Building an environment that grows great service naturally is not cheap, but it pays off for years. What is your environment growing?