Customer Experience News & Trends

5 ways to keep more customer experience heroes on your team

The best customer care professionals are often equipped with super powers to calm, cheer and solve. And when you have a team of those heroes, you don’t want to lose anyone. Here’s how to keep the team strong.

Turnover in the customer care industry has always been infamously high — about 35% each year, according to research by consultants Frost & Sullivan. That could mean companies could have an entirely new staff serving customers every three years, putting the biggest part of the customer experience in  the hands of practical novices.

Why they leave

Who can blame customer service professionals for short-lived stances on the front line? It can be mentally tough work dealing with people, personalities, processes and complaints all day, every day.

To put it in perspective, consider the top five reasons contact center agents say they leave their jobs, according to research by David Filwood and TeleSoft Systems:

  • Lack of career opportunities (26%)
  • Poor job fit (23%)
  • Pay and benefits less than expected (20%), and
  • Problems with leader or supervisor (18%).

Unfortunately, customer care professionals feel like they’re in dead-end jobs or were never cut out or trained properly to help customers. And, like so many other professions, they sometimes don’t get along with their bosses, or they feel they deserve more compensation.

What’s the ‘True Cost?’

As a customer care leader, if you want to keep the superheros you have on the front line, you have to make some efforts to retain them — or else it’ll cost you: Experts estimate the total cost just to find and replace a customer care professional is about $6,000.

But it likely gets much worse. Frost & Sullivan estimate “True Cost” of customer care employee turnover is closer to $20,000 when you factor in the costs in lost productivity, increased re-work to accommodate new-employee performance gaps, and compromised quality in service that often hurts customer satisfaction, sales and loyalty.

Now for the good news. You can use these proven ideas to improve retention with your customer care staff:

1. Offer a wealth of training opportunities

Remember the biggest reason service pros said they leave their jobs? “Lack of career opportunities” was at the top of the list because the position sometimes doesn’t allow them to grow professionally — something nearly every worker wants to do.

Customers have constant needs, and they find new ways to demand more every day — via the phone, email, text and social media. And if those demands aren’t met immediately, many customers only intensify their search for answers, apologies or attention.

But customer service professionals will never keep up with demand and changing needs if they aren’t able to learn. Despite demand, front-line service reps should learn something new every week. It’ll only improve the customer experience if reps are prepared to answer all questions, reach out proactively when they identify issues and have the practiced soft skills to maintain control and satisfaction in every situation.

Sounds like a tall order, but many leaders use unique and traditional tricks to keep employees trained. To name a few:

David Booth, customer service manager at Champion in Princeton, IL, set up “Lunch and Learn” sessions because customers didn’t contact the group much during the mid-day break. He provided lunch, and an in-house expert spoke about changes front-line service reps needed to know so they could better help customers.

Another savvy manager encouraged employees to learn a little more on their own. She told them to spend a little time on lunch or coffee breaks, asking colleagues in other areas about changes or anything new in their departments. And she happily gave them longer breaks when they started coming back with new information to share with the whole team.

Cross training is one of the most powerful tools for broadening reps knowledge and career potential. At All Ecology Group in Ohio, everyone goes through sales training so they understand the sales process and good listening and questioning skills. That way, they’re all ready to help customers with confidence.

2. Show the path

Customer service professionals who believe the company offers them opportunities beyond what they were originally hired to handle are much more likely to stay with the company, a recent study by the Service Desk Institute found.

That’s why many leaders give their service pros opportunities to work in other areas of the company. For instance, Kelly Mousley, director of customer support at King Arthur Flour in Norwich, VT, arranged an “internship program” for her team. Reps could spend weeks, days or hours in other departments helping with projects during customer service’s slower season. If they weren’t interested in interning, reps could offer their special skills as needed. For instance, if a rep loved to read, she’d proofread marketing materials.

At King Arthur Flour, service reps got to experience new, challenging positions and take the valuable knowledge back to their everyday work — or use it as a tool to move up in the company.

3. Offer the right package

The hard truth is you can’t recruit or retain good employees if you don’t offer them a compensation package that’s at least comparable to those offered in your region and throughout your industry. Customer facing employees have to make a decent salary, and have reasonable benefits, to sign on and stay positive about their work.

The good news is if you can pay entry-level employees as much as everyone else in your area and provide basic health and vacation benefits, you will be able to hire customer service heroes. To keep them on staff, however, you’ll also need to provide an environment where they want to be every day.

Here are three keys everyone — from the CEO down to front-line reps — must follow to maintain a great working environment, according to Results That Last: Hardwiring Behaviors That Will Take Your Company to the Top by Quint Studer:

  • Stay positive. Relentless negativity in the form of constant complaints, criticism and gripes will muddy the waters. Leaders need to listen for problems, ask employees for suggested solutions, and then address them immediately.
  • Be on the “We Team.” It should never be Us vs. Them in a company. Managers need to reinforce policies and decisions that come from the top. Then managers need to encourage and support their employees’ ideas when they take them up the chain of command.
  • Hold the line. Companies and leaders who let employees and customers get away with behaving badly will create and spread resentment. A positive environment is one where detrimental employees are let go.

4. Reward accordingly

Superhero customer service employees deserve special recognition and rewards. Praise and public recognition will go a long way because great employees often do well partly for the kudos. You can even turn recognition up a notch like managers at Amway Co. in Ada, MI, do: When customers rave about an employee, they send the service provider a bouquet of flowers.

Great employees want something to show for the time, care and effort they put into creating outstanding customer experiences.

At Transcore in Beaverton, OR, customer service reps get serious rewards on the spot for going the extra mile. Laura Mendoza, manager of customer support, hands them gift cards each time they uncover a new customer need and pass a lead onto a sales rep. Those leads add up to more sales.

5. Make their lives fuller

Work is an important part of an employee’s life, but it is not his or her entire life. We all know work/life balance is a buzz phrase and hot topic in every HR circle. And that’s for good reason: Most employees crave it.

So, yes, you do want to help all employees foster a healthy work/life balance through flexible scheduling, an energizing work environment and a genuine interest and concern for the well-being of them and their loved ones.

There’s more, though. Great companies keep customer service superheroes because they encourage their people to grow beyond their profession.

For instance, many companies offer employees paid time off to be philanthropic. At CUETS in Ottawa, employees voted on local charities they wanted to support. Then they organized baked sales and chili cook-offs to raise money for the charities chosen. The company invited all who wanted to participate in a “day of caring” to go out in the community on company time and help non-profit organizations.

Other companies offer employees opportunities to learn and evolve in areas outside their core competencies. Example: David Chaulk, chief operating officer at Brand Developers Limited, brought in speakers and offered classes to his sales reps on topics that would help them excel in life as well as work. Topics included negotiation (to help them buy a car or house), smoking cessation and finances.

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