To improve the service experience for both customers and reps, start by targeting the key elements of service infrastructure that consistently create negative outcomes. After that, there are some deeply human aspects of service that should be addressed.
After you’ve established structures and processes to eliminate as many errors or problems as possible, the next step should be to ensure that reps are competent to use those structures and processes to represent your company effectively. Service reps should know what it takes to help customers get the goods and services they want, both as a first round of interaction and in case some form of resolution becomes necessary.
Training: Take Two
Even if you’ve provided a comprehensive initial training, it’s vital to continue giving your reps updated and enhanced product training to refine and enhance their product knowledge. Most customers research comparisons and ratings online. They’re steeped in product details via social media and online forums, and become enthusiasts and experts in their own right, so your reps will have to work at keeping up.
But you can’t assume that reps are up to speed simply because they know the products well. Service people also need to develop what many folks in the industry mistakenly call “soft” skills. In addition to knowing the product line, requirements for data entry and system look-ups, and company policy, competent service requires that reps have interpersonal skills that are actually hard to learn and perform (and teach).
Communication skills are a necessary and beneficial investment. You can screen for these skills during the hiring process, but you’ll always need to train reps further and coach them in the crucial areas of listening and responding. If natural instincts just aren’t enough to provide satisfactory service.
Reps’ intuitive responses (like most people’s intuitive responses) are usually insufficient on their own to keep the customer calm or elicit the information they need from customers. When reps show empathy to customers and help resolve their problems, they actually make customers feel better — and they’ll feel better themselves.
Your reps may need new language, responses, or probes. At a minimum, teach them how to greet, exit an interaction, manage expectations, and make an apology. These may be simple things, but they are not easy.
Acknowledging Everyone’s Emotions
Even appropriate communication isn’t enough for excellent service; caring won’t cover incompetence. An upset customer won’t notice that a rep is warm and fuzzy if the rep is not also knowledgeable and competent. But a wide range of emotions — from mild to strong, from enjoyment to disgust — is the natural outcome of the pressures and occasional pleasures of customer service.
Reps need to be able to express — and with support, if necessary, to resolve — their anger, frustration, and fear of being yelled at or scolded by customers or management. Talking with sympathetic coworkers about difficult customer experiences helps reps release cortisol and adrenaline, so they can move on comfortably to the next customer. Otherwise, they’re likely to bring their suppressed negativity into their next interaction.
Because humans are good at picking up on false or suppressed emotion, particularly of the negative kind, reps who try to squelch their negative emotions can actually trigger perfectly neutral customers into arguments. This can happen even with customers who only had innocuous inquiries.
Reps Are People Too
So make sure there’s an opportunity for frustrated or stressed reps to blow off steam during the day. I once worked with a client company that forbade its reps to ever speak about customers negatively, even off the phone, because it created a “negative” environment. Reps were forced to hold their emotions in all day, went home upset, and eventually came to resent both the job and their management. Turnover rocketed until management came to terms with the reality that reps need to bring their whole selves to the job.
Service reps are real people. If you’re expecting service people to act like service robots, you’ll get rote and robotic behavior. Not only does that put your reps at risk of losing their ability to express empathy to customers but it puts your organization at risk of losing those reps altogether. So be sure to show your reps that you value their being able to handle their own emotions as well as other people’s.
Onward and upward,