Irregular schedulesI recently had a really interesting chat with a former New-York customer service representative I met through Twitter. You can read the customer service and CSR stories she gathers at @RealCSRStories (I rarely tell people to follow someone but she really deserves some attention. So go ahead and click here to follow!).

I really like her vision of customer service and how she is trying hard to change it for better. The main idea that came out of our conversation was that too little attention is given to customer service representatives.

A lot of articles focus on how to make customers happy, but very few actually give the floor to customer service representatives. In fact most companies focus on customers and decide to ignore front line employees’ voice.

Why write about things companies don’t want to hear right?

Well that’s were I think many blog writers go wrong. There is nothing more engaging and powerful than a true story told by front line employees themselves.

So I decided to dedicate today’s article to a customer service representative’s story on how 90% of call centers fail at offering consistent customer service.

“How can you provide service consistency in an unstable call center environment?”

This question perfectly sums up the problem we discussed!

If you want consistent customer service, you first have to provide a stable work environment to your front line employees. This might sound obvious but most call centers still offer very unstable work conditions.

The issue of forever changing schedules

Constantly changing work hours are very common in call centers. This is a requirement of the industry, especially when service is delivered 24/7. Unfortunately, it makes it really hard for employees to have a long term vision for their job.

How can you plan a carreer when you don’t know what next week will look like?

Irregular work schedules can be handled well on the long term under the condition that employee still know what to expect. This means planning in advance to allow your employees to build a long-term vision.

You can for example plan regular shifts and have people working the night shift every 3 weeks. Their schedule will change but they will know what to expect. You also know that the holiday period is busier, so get organized in advanced!

Planning is the least you can do for employees if you want them to stay. Announcing a schedule 1 week in advance forces them to constantly live in the unknown. This causes causes a lot of stress for employees along with sleep issues. 80% of employees working irregular hours have trouble sleeping.

And what about planning your life outside of work?

Most of us have obligations planned a long time in advance. Divorced couples with shared custody for example can’t change their schedule last minute. Employees can’t have a regular group activity outside of work and many even struggle with having a fulfilling social life.

As John Zalusky, head of the office of wages and industrial relations at the AFL-CIO in Washington, points out that „After a while, your friends lose contact with you. There’s a higher incidence of divorces and juvenile delinquency”.

You are asking employees that have no consistency in their work or personal life to provide consistent service. It’s not only mission impossible, it’s a cruel thing to request from your employees.

The impact of a high turn-over

Turn-over costs your company a lot of money. It can cost you up to 1/3 of the yearly salary of the new employee.

But did you ever consider the effect it had on your employees?

Starting a new job is not easy. Any situation where you have to get to know new people isn’t easy. Imagine finally getting to know your colleagues only to find out that half of them plan to leave in the next few months. The process then starts all over again and you have to get to know and get used to working with new people.

The problem came up during our discussion and here’s what turnover looked like on a daily basis:

Consultant A “Where’s Mike today?”

Consultant B “I don’t know, he probably left”

Consultants didn’t even bother to tell their colleagues they were leaving. Apparently many of them even left for few days, then came black as if nothing happened.

Stop hiring numbers and start looking for skilled workers

Here’s how the recruiting process works in most call centers: “Can you legally work in this country? How many hours are you available? Ok you’re hired”

When you start hiring everyone who walks through your door, you just send out the message that the job doesn’t require any skills. How do you want your employees to feel valued in these conditions!

The call center environment is soul crushing, especially for people who have real social skills. In other words skills that are necessary to deal with customers. Why are call centers developing a work environment that will drive the most qualified employees away? Because they think it is cheaper, but mainly because it is easier.

It is not always cheaper to hire non-skilled workers on minimum wage. They end up costing you more in training and half of them would probably never be good at the job anyway. But is it easier? Yes. It’s always a lot easier to post a job ad and just decide you can hire any applicant that’s ready to start working now. It’s also easier to think “short-term” than to start planning “long-term”.

What could happen if you started treating customer service representatives as people?

Less employees would leave, therefore paving the way for a more consistent work environment. More stability for your workers would then allow them to offer more consistency to your customers. Yes, it’s that simple.

This article explains that workplaces where employees are the most engaged see a 2X higher customer loyalty.

Studies also found that a disengaged employee costs an organization approximately $3,400 for every $10,000 in annual salary.

And you know what drives engagement? (It’s not only about the money!) According to this article. The heart and soul of engagement is ownership. Employees have to feel like they are part of the company’s success. Not only YOUR success but their success as being part of the group. For that you need to keep your workers updated on what’s going on in your organization and most importantly you have to listen to what they have to say.

I’m not talking about going around and giving away one or two empty compliments like “Keep up the good job”, “Congrats on handling this call”. I’m talking about meeting with your employees and listening to their feedback. AND implementing some of the best ideas they have. Make them feel like they are contributing to their own success.

You can’t expect consistent customer service if you keep your employees in the dark

How can you expect your customer service employees to deliver good service if they are the last to know what’s going on in your company?

This is a very common mistake most companies make. They imagine that handing out a script will be provide the necessary knowledge to employees about their company. The problem is your company changes and a script can quickly become outdated.

An article came up recently featuring 2 posts by Amazon call center employees. The complaint was mainly about their rating system that’s unfair and seems to be designed to push them away. However there was also this very interesting part about how the new policy was implemented without them knowing:

Amazon bad customer service conditions

This happens in thousands of call centers, a new policy is implemented without employees being notified. Therefore leaving them in the dark not really knowing how to act or what to say.

Inform front line employees about what’s going on in the rest of the company

It’s an excellent way to drive engagement but also a good way to make sure they know about your product. They are the ones talking to customers everyday, you have to give them the tools to WOW customers.

Consistent service isn’t about making sure everyone reads from the exact same script. It’s about pushing everyone towards excellence. An employee who’s proud of its company will always be better at selling a product that one who doesn’t care.

The key to consistent customer service excellence

Stop thinking about your customers and take a second to think about how you could provide consistency to your employees:

– have schedules rotating shifts (make sure people know what schedule to expect)

– listen to your employees and value their feedback

– aim for excellence not consistent but average service

– treat your customer service reps like people if you want them to do the same with customers

Now it’s your turn to shine! Share your own call center or customer service story with us in the comments.

And don’t forget to share the article. Customer service representatives deserve more attention!