How to motivate your customer service team: A 5-pointer guide to uplift employee morale

Written by on July 10, 2018

The work of customer support reps is challenging because they have to be people pleasers all the time – pacify customers when they are upset, rally them on all their successes, and keep their chin high all the while.

And it’s the last part that can be most difficult to do. Since their work is so overwhelming and there’s a lot to lose on the line, it’s understandably tough for support teams to stay motivated every day. Perhaps, that explains why the overall average turnover rate in the call center industry is 30-45 percent high.

But customer service can be a very fulfilling job if you have the right mix of intention and motivation blended with your organization’s culture. Here is a short guide for your business to keep your customer support team happy and rejuvenated with their work.

 

1. Create a great physical atmosphere

Physical comfort is at the base of any great work. Motivation starts when you have your bare-minimum, carnal needs addressed – just like the physiological needs that lie at the bottom of Maslow’s need pyramid. If you truly want to motivate your customer support team to excel at their jobs, cater generously to their creature comforts first.

Several businesses incentivize their customer support teams based on attractive perks and benefits, but there’s more to employee motivation than monetary rewards. For instance, you can create a great working environment by helping your employees feel physically great about themselves. Make sure they have comfortable seats, enough natural light in the room, good air-conditioning, a relaxing break-room with a functional coffee machine and plenty of snacks, extra headsets, etc.

At Freshworks, we keep several potted plants across all departments and vertical garden wall between hallways to allow natural air to filter into our workspace. Furthermore, having nap rooms for people to take a siesta from their hectic schedule and prevent them from collapsing after they firefight a customer problem or when they need to burn the midnight oil.

Similarly, science suggests that workplaces with good olfactory vibes have similar effects on employees and their productivity like natural light. A research paper published in North American Journal of Psychology found that scent of peppermint and cinnamon in workplaces were found to enhance motivation, performance, and alertness in humans while decreasing fatigue.

Trust me, I wouldn’t be endorsing it if we hadn’t witnessed its benefits first-hand. We often see one of our product management heads sniffing a bottle of peppermint oil at work because he says it keeps him alert and focused on his work.

 

2. Empower them

It’s hard to motivate your support team without delegating some level of authority to them.

Creating a support-driven work culture is the best way to make your support team feel empowered. As Leslie O’Flahavan, co-founder of #FreeToHelp movement and a thought leader in the space of customer support, puts it “agents who believe they are empowered to make decisions view problems as just yet another way to help make customers happy.”

But how do you create a supportive work environment? Well, establish an Open Door policy and make it a standard practice to encourage employees to speak up on things they want to talk about. Hand them the ownership of their tasks and delegate decision-making so that each employee feels engaged and accountable for their work.

And empowerment doesn’t have to be limited to decision-making at work. Dr. Rick Goodman, motivational speaker and author, has a very unconventional – yet a very sensible idea on how to motivate your customer support team. “Align your company with a cause. Allow your employees to feel like they are adding value to the world; that they—and your company—are part of something bigger, and something good,” Dr. Goodman says in one of his articles.

Philanthropy instills a greater sense of giving, serving, and empathy that’s beyond monetary gains. Try it, and you will find that philanthropy will lead your employees to be more caring and happy about dedicating themselves to customers.

Creating a support-driven work culture is the best way to make your support team feel engaged and empowered.

 

3. Liberate them

Free your support team from the shackles of work pressure that pulls them down and demotivates them. Some of these may be the lack of job security, ticket quotas, cross-selling and upselling pressure, rules and paperwork, etc. These are reasons for employees to feel cautious and uninspired.

 

Don’t use policies and guidelines as excuses on why something cannot be done. Understand the customer’s problem and work on finding an acceptable solution. That is the essence of great customer service.
– Girish Mathrubootham, CEO, Freshworks

 

Let’s take the importance of job security for example. A Willis Towers Watson study of over 31,000 employees worldwide found that 41% of employees listed job security as the most important reason to stay in a company. This isn’t necessarily a good news because employees tend to hunt for safer workplaces if they perceive their time at an organization is fleeting.

While every company has its own metrics for success, many will agree that customer happiness is the end goal for all of them. For Zappos, it means developing a personal emotional connection (PEC) with each customer. The company doesn’t pressure its support employees with average handle time on chats or phone. Instead, they measure employee performance by aggregating the Happiness Experience Form they get from customers and retrain their employees who score less than a 50-point average.

Similarly, Nordstrom doesn’t let company policies to come in way of their stellar customer experience. They have a puny 5×8 employee handbook with just one rule: “Use best judgement in all situations. There will be no additional rules.”

So don’t force your employees to dodge customer problems by shielding behind company policies. Don’t force them to lie to customers or avoid their problems just because it’s easier to do so in the name of paperwork. A great way to motivate your employees is to let them be who they are so that they can bring the best out of them in delivering great customer care.

The itsy-bitsy Nordstrom Employee Handbook that speaks volume about the trust Nordstrom puts on its staff. (Image credit: Twitter)

 

4. Appreciate them

Humans thrive on appreciation for each other and it is a cornerstone of employee motivation in general. In customer support, appreciation is the #1 driving force for motivation and workplace happiness. For perspective, reflect on this research finding from Glassdoor – 80% of employees interviewed in the survey said that they felt motivated to work their best when their bosses appreciated them for their work.

Some companies, like Home Depot, where frontline employees make up for the majority of the workforce, take employee appreciation very seriously. Their practice of praising employees for their accomplishments led Home Depot to create a world-class dedication towards customer service, fondly known as the Culture of the Orange Apron (reference to their employee dress code).

Home Depot’s practice of praising employees has led the company to create a world-class dedication towards customer service. (Image credit: Home Depot website)

Former Home Depot CEO, Frank Blake, for example, said that his biggest learning during his time at the company was the importance of positive reinforcement and celebrating employee success in public. Blake spent his Sunday afternoons writing 100-200 personalized notes to store associates all over the U.S. to praise them for their specific customer support interaction.

“We also did a video every single week of great customer service, and we put it in that same breakroom TV. People respond to being recognized,” Blake said in one of his podcast interviews.

And praising employees is not just about token appreciation that you jot down on the back of appreciation cards. It is about specifically calling out employees on their achievements and telling their stories to the world on the special deed they did to wow customers. Identify ways to appreciate support staff in your business; launch a ‘customer hero of the month’ program, call out best-performing employees in your all-hands meetings, or give them a badge to recognize their good work, and so on.

 

5. Heed to their needs

Jeff Toister, an American author and consultant, says the real problem support staff face is not that they lack motivation, but that they end up being demotivated. He goes on to point out the difference; the majority of people who take customer support as their career path are already motivated, they don’t need external perks and incentives to keep going (although it helps to boost their morale).

Part of this demotivation stems from neglect at workplace when they don’t feel a sense of belonging. Maybe they think their problems are not heard of or they are upset for failing to help customers. Take for example the frustration that a support rep feels when she has to answer a customer whose chat ticket to fix a bug isn’t resolved for more than a month. Or when a support staff has to come up with make-belief excuses to cool down angry customers because the product engineering team didn’t inform the support team about a pre-scheduled downtime.

Sometimes, customer support teams feel defeated because they don’t have the tools and techniques to deal with customers in certain scenarios. Let’s say one of your support reps is trying to calm an irate customer on the phone while simultaneously using her CRM  system to pull the customer’s history up. Imagine telling the customer to be on hold while she looks up the right solution for the problem–a great way to add salt to their wound, right?

This is a problem you can easily fix if you equip your customer support team with a modern messaging app that can help cut down their first response time and give them the customer context in the same product dashboard. Once the support team integrates the messaging tool to their CRM and other apps in their toolkit, they can engage with customers contextually and handle even the most belligerent customers with kid gloves.

Therefore, don’t skimp on tools and techniques that your support staff need in order to survive on the firing line.

[Side note: If you are looking for a live chat tool to better engage with customers, sign-up with Freshchat today. It’s free!]

 

Take care of your support team

Motivating your customer support team is more than just pizza parties and stocking beer in the refrigerator. It’s about recognizing the human capital within your support staff and helping them channelize their service towards a good cause. It means helping them enhance their humanity and bringing the best out of them when interacting with others.

So the next time you notice a bell curve in your support team’s performance, huddle your team together to see what’s wrong in the team. Initiate a hearty conversation with them and try to understand how you can address their problems so that they can stay motivated at work.

What are some of the other ways you have seen businesses trying to motivate their support team? Share your experience in the comments below.

Here’s a video that summarizes the five points discussed in the article below. Share the video and spread the word on how to keep your customer support team motivated.

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