Ensuring Your Customer Service Initiative Will Be Successful: The Second Key

Your Team: Empowered and EnabledIn Part 1 of this series I touched the importance of knowing the WHY – the purpose, the belief, the INTENT behind your strategy– so we can inspire and lead our teams to go after the dream of what could be.

In this post, I’m going to introduce the next key element that if implemented will ensure your customer service strategy takes hold and flourishes. This key element is composed of two of the most powerful action verbs in the English language: Empower and Enable.

EMPOWER and ENABLE your workforce. Empower is one of those words that tend to be overused in business and yet in reality is underutilized. Empowering your staff means giving them some measure of authority, some degree of ownership over their jobs and work lives.

We know from seeing it first hand in dozens of situations that empowering your workforce can increase their motivation, their self-discipline, and their ability to learn from their mistakes. It also shows that you’re willing to trust them – at least until they’ve given you reason not to. Most importantly, empowering employees allows them to feel that they are responsible for their own success.

Of course the degree to which you empower your team will depend on various factors. Some contact centers allow a lot of autonomy; others are strictly regulated. In either case, you, as a manager, can take a look at where you can take some acceptable risk. Looking doesn’t mean you have to do it. Think about it. Maybe talk to people on the floor.

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Speaking of talking to your people on the floor, another way to empower is to ask reps how they would ideally do something (for example, solve a problem) and if you like the suggestion, encourage reps to do it.

Here’s another idea—you’ll, of course, have to take a look and see what’s doable, but consider this: Give your team the responsibility for making certain customer service decisions that affect customer experience or their relationship with the customer.

Yes, ceding responsibility can be uncomfortable. Risk is scary but the rewards of trusting your team are huge.

Another thing you can do as a manager or supervisor is “share the wealth.” Presumably, your knowledge and experience had something to do with getting you where you are today. So take the time to teach your team members what you know.

I know that your time is valuable and that you have a ton of work on your plate but, come on, who in your organization has more to gain by having a knowledgeable, well-trained team than you?

This kind of training doesn’t have to be in classroom…

  • Sometimes you can share an anecdotal experience;
  • Sometimes you can explain what you’d do in a given situation;
  • Sometimes you can guide what the rep is doing with feedback;
  • Sometimes it’ll work best to demonstrate.

What’s important is knowledge transfer.

The other half of this key element is “enable”. A team with a great attitude can still be hobbled in their efforts to deliver great customer service by things like the company’s interactive voice response unit. IVRs can help boost productivity and streamline getting callers to the right place BUT if the IVR is poorly designed – in other words, has too many branches, too many hoops to jump through or directs calls to a team that can’t really help the caller – it actually makes the rep’s job a lot harder. The poor rep hasn’t had a chance to say “hello” and the customer’s experience is already in the dumpster.

So part of enabling your team to be able to implement your wonderful customer service strategy is to:

  • Make sure your company voice response units helps both your company and the customer
  • Make sure your computer telephony integration (CTI) really is integrated. Is information being pulled from the appropriate database and presented to the rep taking the call? Is it the right information? Does the information make it to the desktop with the call?
  • If you can’t integrate legacy systems seamlessly with CTI, at least make sure reps know how to toggle between them efficiently.
  • Does your customer relationship management software help the rep or does it slow things down because people aren’t using it consistently or correctly? Is the information that reps need captured?
  • And, is there a reliable way for reps to get the information they need…quickly?

Recently I heard a presentation about a call center start-up; I thought they handled the knowledge management issue well. They were a start-up and knew they wouldn’t have all the answers they needed on file when they went “live.” So instead of pretending they had all the answers, reps were asked to write up questions and answers and document solutions as they took calls to begin fleshing out the knowledge base. The idea was “if I don’t know this, someone else probably doesn’t either.” As a result of this responsibility the floor built a tremendous sense of pride and ownership of the information and how well they were able to help each other and callers.

So to help ensure your customer service strategy doesn’t end up being reduced to a distant memory and a bunch of really cool posters in the cafeteria, empower and enable your team.

Let them bring the strategy to life. Give them authority to make decisions that will help customers. Let them act to carry out the intent of the strategy. And be sure, while you’re at it, to enable them… Make sure your systems support their efforts and your intentions.

Here are some questions to think about related to empower and enable:

  • What are the risks you’d associate with giving your team more decision responsibility?
  • What could be done to reduce the risk?
  • What are some of the decisions that are too risky to let your team make? Are they really? What if it would vastly improve the customer’s experience if your team member was able to take care of something right away?
  • What is the state of your team’s tools support? On a scale of 1 to 10, how well do they enable your team to do a great job for your customers?

In Part 3 of this series, I’ll touch on at what “proper training” means and the crucial part it plays in implementing a customer service strategy.

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