Customer support

It’s no surprise that customer support roles have some of the highest turnover rates. Stress and frustration can set in quickly after fielding the more demanding customer complaints and requests that come in day-to-day. If you’re tired of the churn of a fluid workforce, here are some key tips to help you hold on to your best agents and reduce turnover on your valuable customer support team.

1) Ensure agents are a good fit before hiring them

You don’t want just anyone representing your company on the front lines of your customer service team. You need engaged agents who are patient, upbeat, on board with your company’s mission, and know how to go the extra mile to keep customers happy. As such, making sure your team members are the best fit possible from the get-go is a critical way to build a team that has staying power.

Adopt a thoughtful and thorough candidate interview and screening process, and be sure to take the extra time needed to evaluate potential hires. You should also look beyond a candidate’s resume and ask questions that shine some light on their personality and people skills. Do they have the right mindset and drive to persevere? If so, you’ll be less likely to lose them.

2) Provide high-quality and in-depth training

Poor training or lack of training can be a major stumbling block for new team members, and it’s a big reason that agents become frustrated, get overwhelmed, and eventually look for work elsewhere. Set new hires up for success by making sure they get the proper training right from day one.

Zappos’ support team members receive seven weeks of training, and it really shows in the quality of the customer service experience. It’s important to invest time in your team, though the specific length of training isn’t always as important as the depth and quality of its delivery. What really matters is that you develop an effective training program that imparts your company’s values to your new agents while building their confidence and abilities. Then take a hands-on role in implementing the program in a way that’s motivational and nurturing.

3) Keep your team engaged in the culture of your company and your brand

Engaged agents are the best agents, which is why you should do everything in your power to get them engaged with your brand’s mission and inspire them to be part of what makes your company amazing. Get them involved and thinking beyond their job description by showing them their place in the global view of your company. Define your agents’ deeper purpose and help them understand their underlying role in your company’s success. They’ll not only interact with customers in a more positive way, but they’ll also feel like they make a difference in the bigger picture.

Having a unique brand vision and motivating mission statement will help in a big way. The stronger the values and vision of your company, the easier it will be to inspire your team to get behind you 100 percent.

Starbucks uses a creative method to remind employees of its core mission statement and customer service vision pillars: by printing it on the inside flap of every green apron worn by baristas. If you were to flip the top of the apron up, you’d find the inscription: “We create inspired moments in each customer’s day. Anticipate. Connect. Personalize. Own.” Employees see this every day when putting their aprons on to start their shift, and it’s a reminder of their important role in the company’s bigger picture mission.

4) Offer continued support and encouragement

Hiring optimistic and positive-minded candidates will help your team spring back after a draining day, but it’s also necessary to check in with individual agents on a regular basis to see how they’re doing, learn what you can do to help keep their morale up, and offer positive reinforcement for the hard work they’re doing as a brand ambassador for your company.

From there, continue to give them the ongoing support and additional resources they need to thrive. You might consider hosting occasional special training day events to brush up on skills or learn new initiatives, offer access to education material that can help agents enrich their skill set while on the clock, and create positive team building experiences to boost your team’s morale.

Morale boosting can come in lots of different forms. Buffer, a startup that builds social media tools, uses inventive names to set a positive tone for its customer support team, calling its agents “Happiness Heroes.” Team members at TerraCycle are issued NERF blasters and are encouraged to engage in office-wide stress releasing NERF shootouts a few times a day to break up their routine and have fun.

It’s also important to make the time to check in with individual team members and connect with them—both in relation to their work roles and on a more personal level. Show that you care about your team and their lives beyond the office, and foster an interest in their overall well-being.

To build closer connections between team members and boost engagement, you might also consider pairing newer agents, who are at their peak engagement levels as they enter their new role, with a more experienced team mentor to help them ease into things.

Most of all, send the right message by treating new hires with the same care and attention you want them to give your customers.

5) Involve agents in strategic planning for customer support efforts

Taking your agent engagement to the next level by involving them in bigger picture planning for your company’s customer service mission is a great way to strengthen their loyalty. If your agents have a hand in shaping their own roles and the work they’re doing, they’ll feel more invested in sticking around to see it through.

Get them involved in overarching initiatives and enable them to put their own mark on their position and the broader customer service strategies for you company. You’ll help instill greater pride in their work, and build both their confidence and commitment to the role.

Give them an opportunity to provide input and feedback, too. With each customer interaction, your agents will be gathering useful insights into the challenges that customers have with your products and services. Encourage your team to report back on how customers are feeling and what issues they have, and let them know when you use that feedback to improve your products or services.

Not only will you gain invaluable ear-to-the-ground insights from the front lines that can help you fine-tune your operation, you’ll also help boost their investment in their role and the company and make them feel good about their involvement.

6) Give your team the flexibility and freedom to excel

Give agents enough authority and leeway in their role so they can go above and beyond in meeting customers’ needs when necessary. They shouldn’t have to jump through extra hoops to do what needs to be done to solve customer problems and keep them happy. If your team has demonstrated the ability to handle responsibility, then give them more flexibility and freedom in how they approach their job.

Sending flowers, delivering a meal to a customer in mid-travel, and offering free products or discounts to customers having a hard time are just some of the useful and inventive ways some companies have gone above and beyond. While it’s good to have some limits, make it easier for your agents to WOW customers with creative problem-solving. They’ll feel great about being able to make a difference, and that goodwill will trickle down to customers and your team itself.

7) Offer good pay and benefits

Agents that work hard and feel undervalued are more likely to leave for greener pastures. Offering competitive pay and good benefits is a key way to help improve retention rates. Employees are also far less likely to leave, even when their job is a challenging one, if they feel valued and are shown that you care about their efforts. Let them know they make a big difference, and compensate them accordingly. It’s worth the expense, especially if it means holding on to talented team members.

8) Provide reward incentives and opportunities for advancement

Stagnation is another drawback for your hardworking customer service team. Even the best agents can grow fatigued and burnt out over time, and they’ll lose steam much faster if they feel like they’ve hit a glass ceiling. Dedication to service customers and helping others is critical, but don’t lose sight of the fact that they’re still working to earn a living in a high-stress environment. Without anything to strive for, any incentive for going above and beyond, or any opportunities to better themselves career-wise in their given role, it’s only a matter of time before they look elsewhere.

For example, as part of its MAX! Employee Reward & Recognition Program, American Express rewarded employees with points based on the value of their contributions. These points were then loaded onto special employee-only prepaid American Express reward cards, with a value of $1 per point. The company also gave each employee 150 points to give out to their peers as a way to recognize excellence.

By putting these eight tips to work for you, you’ll be able to reduce turnover on your customer support team and help retain valuable employees. In turn, your customers are sure to have a better, and more positive, experience interacting with your company—and your enthusiastic and engaged team.

Get the Upwork guide for tips on building a world-class distributed customer support team.