8 ways to build and empower your customer service team
Updated: Jan 6
In today’s digital age, customer service expectations are at their peak. There has been a rise of new technologies to make support matters efficient, such as a robust help desk software that streamlines all conversations into one timeline.
Behind every computer screen of your customer service team, are talented and knowledge-hungry individuals. They’re not just there for their own personal growth, but to benefit the entire company by keeping clients happy.
A support representative is usually the first touchpoint between your business and clients. It’s safe to say, then, that this is a crucial role in shaping the way people perceive your brand. Sometimes, when agents focus too much on getting the job done fast, they become less attune to quality and identifying problems outside the periphery. This is why your support team needs more than just a system to be efficient and successful.
With the right guidance and leadership, you can actually give employees something more than a desk and computer. Any team, be it eSports, basketball or travelling to space, needs a leader to accelerate each individual member and group to success in every organization. One of the most powerful forces of direction is empowerment. The following tips will provide powerful and effective ways to empower your customer service team to work more efficiently while nurturing independency.
What is empowerment?
According to the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, ‘empowerment’ is defined as:
“The granting of the power, right, or authority to perform various acts or duties.”
Empowering a customer service team means enabling every agent to make decisions using their common sense, rather than always having to reply on manager approval. Moreover, when team members are emboldened, they are more likely to be productive, share ideas and solutions with each other. Those are all crucial building blocks for improving teamwork.
For instance, employees who are micromanaged and confined to strict work flows means there is no mutual trust. As a result, agents are afraid to speak up, make mistakes and fear harsh feedback from their managers. When you add up all of the aforementioned, it’s a recipe for unhappy customers.
To avoid just that, here are eight ways to invest in your customer service team by empowering them every step of the way.
1. Foster independence
A manager who is constantly looking over their employees’ shoulders is already a red flag, either they love to dictate or they simply don’t trust them. Giving agents the independence to get their feet wet can actually do a lot for your business. Yes, they will most likely hit a few roadblocks, but they’ll gain valuable knowledge which will help them in the long-run.
For example, The Ritz-Carlon gives each agent a $2,000 daily allowance to make things right with a guest without the need of supervisor approval. While not every company can afford this hefty price-tag, even more symbolic gestures can help empower employees to fix or improve a guest’s experience and increase customer retention. Small business? Not a problem. You can foster independence by sending employees to manage important meetings with customers. Or, grant them ownership of a project.
2. Use self-directed teams
For start-ups, especially where resources are limited (for example, lack of a Human Resources department and employees), self-directed teams are an excellent model to give agents more autonomy in the workplace.
The idea is to combine employees (optimally two to ten) who have different skills and talents to work, without supervision, towards a common goal. This model means great responsibility and empowerment for all members. Decisions are made swiftly which leads to faster results. The one downside is the possibility of a project failing, so it does come at a high cost.
Courier delivery services company FedEx frequently uses this model to improve specific pain points such as incorrect bills and lost packages. The brand organized it’s employees into “superteams” of up to 10 people. In fact, thanks to this structure, one team were able to cut service errors by 13%.
3. It’s okay to fail
You’ve probably had a moment in your childhood where you were scolded for doing something wrong. Fast-forward to adulthood and career life, and things look more promising. Look at it this way, empowerment in the workplace isn’t as obvious and intuitive as one may think. What it really means is taking risks, even if you make mistakes. Agents have more responsibility and accountability for making decisions on behalf of the company. No, you do not have to put a red button in front of them with a sign ‘Do Not Press’. This has nothing to do with jeopardizing your company to the point of a PR meltdown. If your customer service team members are not making mistakes, then something is wrong. As mentioned before, this could be because of numerous factors such as team members being too afraid to speak up. Conversely, if you punish them for making mistakes, you could risk high employee turnover.
Danielle Cohen leads a team of Customer Solutions Quality Assurance agents at Wix and sums up this philosophy in four powerful and simple words:
“Praise achievements, welcome failures.”
With the word ‘quality’ in her title, she’s part of just one of the many important teams at Wix who make sure users have the best experience possible. Part of her job is openly communicating about any hurdles they come across. In Danielle’s words: “I encourage everyone in my team to speak up about anything, no matter if it’s right or wrong.”
4. Self-service to succeed
They say “knowledge is power.” That’s definitely true if you have a customer service team who understands your products from A to Z. While you may think of a knowledge base as an external self-service tool for your customers to locate answers, it also acts as a safety net to help employees access the information they need. In fact, a knowledge base can be implemented internally meaning only employees from your organization can use it, in order to track issues or list troubleshooting steps to guide agents in the right direction. Whether you’re a start-up or a multi-million dollar company, this hub encourages collaboration. If there’s a change in product flow, your agents will be able to update existing articles with new steps. It’s also an easy way to keep track of how many users voted for your feature request. When your customer support team has the power to access readily available information, they are more productive and can deliver stellar support to customers and to the organization as a whole.
Learn more about the benefits of a knowledge base for your business.
5. Encouragement through experimentation
Your customer support team are among the few personnel that directly communicate with customers. With this experience, they gain interesting insights on how to better serve customers in entirely new ways. Believe it or not, being open to new ideas and opinions from your team members can significantly improve empowerment. Nika Fel, Customer Solutions Team Leader at Wix, notes the importance of actively listening to what her team members have to say:
“Always listen to your team members’ feedback. They know more about the product, work flows and customers than any manager.”
For example, a support agent may notice that issues are not being resolved in the first ticket or call. This is where it could be helpful to conduct research on one of the main customer service key performance indicators (KPI): your first contact resolution (FCR) rate. Use the results to pinpoint any faults and make a game plan to improve.
Another way to unleash your customer service team’s creativity is by orchestrating a hackathon. Wix hosts an internal event that brings together the brightest minds in the company to design an entirely new product or help solve an existing one. This event enables team members to make decisions, tackle new problems and, of course, fail.
6. Establish trust and an open door policy
As a manager, it’s important to gain the respect and support of your team members. Think about a manager you trusted. Did they have your back? Did they have faith in your work ethic? Did they empower you? You probably answered “yes” to all three.
One important way to establish trust with team members is adopting an open door policy. You do not need to have a physical office door open. What it really means is to listen to their opinions, whether it’s beneficial to the organization or to themselves. It’s best to have a one-on-one meeting with each individual to let them know you’re here if they have any concerns, questions or feedback. Managers should continually encourage members to speak up, and compliment them when they do. Danielle Cohen says:
“When you know your manager trusts and believes in you, the sky’s the limit.”
7. Provide positive and constructive feedback
In the support realm, customer feedback is not only valuable when it comes to your clients. Providing positive feedback is essential to show your appreciation towards your agents’ work ethic and nurture positive development. Whether it be a call they handled flawlessly or an internal gesture, such as helping others with questions. This alone will guarantee high-quality work along with increased job satisfaction.
On the other hand, honest and constructive feedback isn’t bad at all. It shows your integrity towards an individual, which strengthens trust. Many organizations lack a culture of feedback either because of the fear of discomfort or hurting the other side. It’s time to stop making assumptions about how your agents feel they’re doing - and simply tell them. You’ll become a better leader and have a stronger and better empowered team.
According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, 60% of respondents reported that they would like feedback on a daily or weekly basis. When you recognize good work, it creates a positive reinforcement in the employee’s mind to strive even higher.
8. Be a coach and mentor
For many of us, a large chunk of our days are spent at work which means doors must be open for professional development and growth. Mentors are often portrayed as telling the mentee how to do something. This can feel one-way and is not as effective as combining mentoring and coaching simultaneously to question and guide the individual in the right direction.
Like Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid, or Professor Dumbledore in Harry Potter, these fictional mentors and coaches actually exist in real life. With a job as a customer service representative, there’s a scope of opportunities that go beyond helping users. Being a mentor and coach is no easy feat. It takes great dedication and commitment, along with patience and time. Once a customer service representative herself, Nika Fel understands what it means to be on both sides: “As a manager you spend a lot of time and effort to bring the best from each team member, both for their own development and for the company's success. If you give them the right tools, responsibilities and opportunities, they will work not just for you - but with you - to achieve the company's goals.”
The truth is, we do not work at one company position for the rest of our lives. In fact, we switch jobs approximately 12 times in our lifetime for numerous reasons. One of the main ones is career advancement. This is where your manager plays an important figure in your professional life to develop new skills and goals for the future. As a mentor and coach, you need to understand from your team where they see themselves in the future. This will enable you to provide them the necessary tools to achieve their goals.
Empowering your customer service team is a must in today’s customer-centric world. Armed with the right tools and invested responsibility will not only provide them with professional growth, but contribute to the success of your company.
Ready to empower your customer service team? Set up a knowledge base in minutes with the best customer support software today!