If you’re anything like me, you’ve lived through a few (or a dozen) bad customer service experiences. Because of those memories, I try to avoid calling customer service at all costs. And I’ve worked in customer service. I understand the amount of effort your agents pour into the experience each day, and I appreciate it endlessly.

Yet still, from the perspective of a customer, if I know I have to dial up a call center, I think of a million reasons to delay it until tomorrow. I put it off for days until I realize procrastinating won’t make my issue go away.

Like plenty of people, I assume customer service calls will take up my entire afternoon. Because they have before. I assume I’ll be on hold for an hour, or I’ll have to explain my problem to five different agents, or I’ll hang up with no resolution. Because I’ve lived that experience – from both sides.

Customer service in call centers has the stereotype of being inefficient and impersonal. And there’s some truth to the assumption. Did you know Americans waste a collective 900 million hours a year simply waiting on hold? On average, we each spend 43 days of our life waiting for a customer service rep to answer. In that amount of time, I could take a month-long sabbatical, then drive from coast-to-coast across the U.S. And back.

But don’t let negative stereotypes hold you back from making real change in your company. News flash: customer service in call centers doesn’t have to be terrible. And you have the power to flip that stereotype on its head, one company at a time.

We’ve put together a five-step plan to help you eliminate the negative customer service stereotype from your call center. These steps will help you boost your agents’ performance and keep your customers coming back.

Step #1: Look at past metrics to create a framework for future goals

It can be easy to get lost in the day-to-day routines in a call center. Most agents and managers are busy trying to hit their goals and cover each day’s workload. It’s easy to push through days, weeks, and months without ever stepping back to look at the big picture.

But this can lead to employee burnout. When you lose sight of your company’s goals, you and your agents suffer.

So, the first step toward improving customer service in your call center is to actually take a step back. Spend time reviewing your company’s mission and big-picture goals. You and your agents need to understand how your work fits into the company’s mission. When your agents know their role matters, they work harder because they feel empowered.

Also, take time to review past metrics to know how your agents are doing. See where they’re getting stuck in customer conversations. Review performance data to find the weak spots in agent performance and training. And look for their strengths, too, so you can help them replicate their successes.

Once you’ve reviewed historical data, you’ll be able to develop a more robust framework for the future. Remind your agents often of their purpose and value in your company to create a stronger team. Then, put the performance data to work in your coaching and training plans.

Step #2: Boost agent morale and performance through frequent training

Once you’ve created a big-picture framework, focus on your agents. It’s no secret that agents in call centers and customer service teams have high turnover. On average, 74% of agents are at risk of burnout. They often feel too stressed, overworked, and unsupported, which leaves them looking for reasons to leave.

Leaders make the mistake of assuming more agent calls per hour = happier customers. But your agents aren’t machines. They need emotional and professional support in order to stay engaged in their work.

Make training a priority using omnichannel platforms. Coach your agents frequently and make it a priority to check in with them daily. Consider tools like in-line training and micro-learning lessons to create a daily routine.

Add micro-learning lessons into your agents’ queues so they can take a breather between calls and review important training tips. Agents do better with quick tips and reminders throughout their days than day-long training sessions with too much information to absorb.

Agents who feel well prepared and supported are more confident in their work. If you give your team the proper tools and show that you care about their growth, your agents will want to invest more in their work. And knowledgeable and empowered agents are the key to pleasing customers on the other end of the line.

Step #3: Use omnichannel strategies to eliminate long wait times

I can think of countless times I’ve given up on a company because I couldn’t find answers to common questions. I can’t find the answer online, and it looks like the only solution is to call customer service. Which, historically, means I’d have to sacrifice a lot of my time on hold. So instead, I avoid reaching out altogether and suffer in silence.

Customer service in call centers gets a bad reputation because even simple questions require too much effort from the customer. And agents often have to toggle back and forth between complicated customer calls and helping out with simple questions a customer would prefer to handle himself. This leaves your agents overworked and your customers annoyed.

Customers want answers to simple questions fast. And their expectations for speed are only growing. With an omnichannel platform, it’s possible to meet those expectations.

Omnichannel tools cut down on work for your agents and wait times for your customers. They are a total game-changer in making your work efficient and organized. Omnichannel routing helps your agents keep track of customer requests, no matter how a customer reaches out. With intelligent routing and the ability to toggle between channels, agents no longer have to interrupt customer conversations to move from chat to a phone call or from a phone call to a picture message. Agents can help customers immediately and solve their issue on the first contact, cutting down your call volumes (and then, your wait times).

Plus, with omnichannel, you can use alternate channels to answer simple customer questions. More than 50% of people say they’re more likely to buy from a company that provides customer service via chat. Live chats or chatbots can give your customers answers quickly. They also cut down pressure on your agents.

Not to mention, your agents will love working from a single interface. They’ll be more efficient and more available to your customers–without the information overload.

Step #4: Keep the customer journey personal

According to Gladly’s 2020 CX Report, the top three things customers want their companies to know are:

  1. Who they are
  2. What they’ve already talked about
  3. What they’ve purchased

Customers these days want to feel known. They grow frustrated when they have to repeat their personal information with every new agent.

You’ll improve the call center stereotype if you add a personal touch to the customer journey. Connect your contact center platform with your other systems to keep your agents informed. This could mean you integrate your CRM, your ticketing system, and your knowledge management resources so they can talk to each other. With access to detailed customer info, your agents have the history they need to offer knowledgeable help to customers in every interaction.

Another way to keep every interaction personal is to train your agents in empathy. This may sound obvious, but a friendly and helpful agent is just what customers want. In fact, 79% of customers prefer personalized service to personalized marketing. Agents are too often bogged down by stress or boredom to care about the person on the other end of the line. If you coach your agents regularly in empathy and conversation skills, your customers will notice. Make personalization a priority and the negative stereotypes will vanish.

Step #5: Encourage customer feedback

You may dread the thought of asking for customer feedback. Yes, it may open a can of worms, and you’ll probably have to address some upset customers. But knowing how your customers feel about their experience will give you insight into your customers’ wants and needs. It will also make your customers trust your brand more. In fact, 77% of customers prefer brands that ask for and accept customer feedback.

Make your customer service number public and easy to find online, so customers always feel comfortable reaching out for help and sharing their experience. Some companies try to hide their service number to keep call volume low. But customers who waste time searching for your phone number will be angry once they reach a live agent. This doesn’t look good for anyone and your customers will be more likely to leave a negative review. Or, they’ll opt out and just never use your brand again.

Ask that customers leave reviews, either publicly or privately. Engage with your customers on social media channels, whether they have positive or negative comments. If you respond to your customers online, they’ll feel more connected to you. And if you respond to negative reviews, prospective customers will see how much you care about your brand’s integrity and your customers. That kind of strong attentiveness is what drives customer loyalty and retention.