We’ve long been living in the age of the customer.

While many companies claim to have a “customer first” attitude, few have attempted to mobilize their front line “elves” and even fewer have been successful in doing so.

Just like Santa Claus, you need to focus on what gets the job done. And it shouldn’t be your help desk software or analytics tools that get the bulk of your attention – it should be your front line employees.

It’s just too difficult to get the ideal customer experience right – translating boardroom discussions into reality on the front line is a major challenge. However, in heavily competitive industries, opting for an ambitious customer service strategy can be a long-term differentiator and customer acquisition method.

So how do you go beyond talking about a great support and actually implementing it?

Ensure your employees are trained and motivated to deliver amazing customer service

While you may think your customer service department is working to the best of its ability, how do you really know?

You can start by collecting open-ended feedback from your service reps. By understanding how they really feel about their work, you’ll have a clearer picture of what objectives to set and results to expect. Training and coaching your front line employees is the crucial next step that promotes this dialogue. Employees need to be able to translate their individual characteristics to a satisfactory end-result for the customer.

So whether you’re starting your support department from scratch or you’re looking at ways to improve the customer experience – these five crucial steps are an ideal starting point.

Step 1: Establish a task force

A multidisciplinary team has many advantages. First, it brings diverse ideas to the table. Second, it is able to report directly to the head of the organization, propose and subsequently implement change. Depending on the size of your organization, your team could include top managers, process engineers, product managers and HR specialists. The idea is to cover all possible employee experiences and their impact – however small – on the customer.

Customer Task Force

  • Team building exercises
    Your support team is the lifeblood of your support process. They are the ones who represent your brand and solve the most difficult of problems – so their efforts should be appreciated. Examples of this could be a cheerleading system, mascots, stationary, lunches with management, peer community portals, award ceremonies and other management-reinforced peer activities.
  • Review your team culture
    Whether you like it or not, your brand has both an internal and external culture. Do your employees relate to this culture? What is your recruiting, training and selection process like? Is team building and performance management centered around customer success? What other initiatives are aimed at keeping your culture truly customer-centric?
  • Quantitative surveys and qualitative research
    In order to understand what to focus your resources on, it’s a good idea to appoint someone (usually from the HR department) with a “research analyst” responsibility. Duties can include collecting feedback, peer reviews – as well as analyzing data on team members. This data can then be used in meetings, reports and in setting goals.
  • Focus groups and employee interviews
    Another aspect of research could be conducted through regular meetings with your support team members. Every subsequent meeting should offer more insight into the realities of customer and support process. Employee interviews could be used for pinpointing areas of frustration and disengagement – as well as for reinforcing individual strengths.

Step 2: Build up your defenses

The majority of organizations usually think about hiring when they actually need someone. Yet the discussion should be held right now – while you are setting goals for your customer service team. Then there’s the question of training, coaching and holding everyone accountable for their actions. Forward-thinking companies assert it’s easier to hire for attitude than skill, supplementing attitude with company culture and policies.

How to Get Employees to Create Customer Service Miracles

  • Visualize your ideal support personality
    While it’s your HR department that may do the hiring, your company’s personality needs to be effectively carried across, too. How will you immerse new hires into company culture? What tone and figure of speech do you want to use in customer interactions? What support channels do you want to use? The answers to the questions depend on your overall customer service ambitions.
  • Revisit your job postings and recruiting practices
    Companies that wish to hire for the right attitude need to constantly re-evaluate their hiring practices. For example, would group interviews be more advantageous in pointing out candidates with a natural flair for support positions? Should you prepare specific questionnaires or role-playing activities during the interview process?
  • Differentiate between mandatory and “nice to have” skills
    Are there specific technical skills or certifications employees need to have to be able to offer better support? What about specific communication skills, interpersonal skills specific to your company? What degree of empathy are you looking for and how will you be able to screen for it? What sort of growth and leadership positions do you see for your hires?
  • Evaluate your onboarding process
    Bringing on new recruits and making them part of your family is important to the sustainability of your support strategy. A company could distribute “welcome packs” to new hires – complete with the president’s own welcome message, literature, branded items as well as gift cards. Measurable improvements were observed in the ways these new hires treated their customers.

Step 3: Listen to your employees

Every single employee has their own wants and needs. However, some of them may be common to other members of the organization. If you followed the previous two steps, you should have a good understanding of what’s important to existing employees and what to expect out of new hires. As time goes on, you’ll understand their varying levels of commitment to work and be in a better position to entertain changes that could improve performance.

Narcissism Leader

  • Segment team members based on personality traits
    Establish a way of selecting and promoting employees based not only on their merits – but by personality styles and their attitudes to customer service in general. That’s because while a common mandate may be chosen by management, personality traits could help dictate customer proximity or support channel preferences.
  • Provide a feedback mechanism
    A bottom-up approach is usually more effective in getting employees vested in providing feedback. When employees choose to do what they’re interested in or have an aptitude for, they are likely to demonstrate initiative and overachieve in their roles.
  • Establish what “work” means to your employees
    Different people have varying degrees of attachment they assign to work. As a result, it’s important to tailor value proposition to employees based on their attitudes toward what they’re doing. For example, one employee may be motivated by getting time off to see their child’s school function while another may opt for shorter work hours instead.
  • Listen to suggestions on an ongoing basis
    Companies that care about their customers typically care about their employees, too. By implementing monthly or bi-monthly improvement brainstorming or problem-solving sessions, management can get a better understanding of their employees’ well-being. This improves other workplace variables including innovation and productivity.

Step 4: Tap into your inner creativity

One of the easiest ways of accelerating improvement on the front line is tapping into intrinsic motivations of front line staff. This could include anything from holding regular 15-minutes discussion sessions, sharing customer experiences that reinforce company culture or learning from behaviors from the day before. Whatever you choose to do, keeping an open mind and dialogue while keeping track of each interaction’s outcome is key.

How to Get Employees to Create Customer Service Miracles

  • Pinpoint underutilized skill sets
    Do you have a great content writer, graphic designer or a social media personality on your support team? Understanding every employee’s motivation system can help you better profile their strengths and pinpointing weaknesses you may need to fill with other team members.
  • Ease up on rules and bureaucracy
    What would happen if a relatively major company policy or regulation was removed? In the absence of such a rule, could the support agent and customer reach a common purpose instead? Such shared aspirations should be defined with the organization’s guidance, conditions as well as road map to a desired outcome.
  • Offer reinforcement mechanisms
    How do you reinforce positive employee behavior on a peer level? Some companies see benefits in gamification initiatives such as giving out physical badges. However, this strategy could be a double-edged sword. Just as customers can leave you for a competitor, employees can similarly shift their loyalties to employers who are in line with their attitudes.
  • Create a timeline and set period objectives
    Any project needs an objective and timeline helping in reaching that objective. Do you plan on rolling out your support strategy in stages or waves? How many years will it take to reach a desired customer service goal and what milestones will be in place to mark progress?

Step 5: Pick out the right software

There are many ways to offer support functions to your customers – and this usually involves some sort of software. With so many software types out there, your support channel selection should be based on what customers are looking for. However, by taking the time to examine every possible way you could offer support, you could make better decisions for your organization and customers alike. Here are five support channels your business should consider:

  • Email support
    This is by far the most popular and essential support channel for many businesses. Most of us use email for an overwhelming majority of communication as well as support. Email is excellent when we need to communicate detailed information, but it’s particularly difficult for issues that require lots of back-and-forth.
  • Public or private communities
    A community helps you combine brand-related conversations in one place. It helps gauge employee or customer sentiment by mandating participation in relevant conversations. Best of all, participants can help each other, saving company time and resources.
  • Self-service and knowledge base
    A self-service system deflects the number of email messages aimed at your ticketing system. Agents can use their customer knowledge to create truly useful content. Besides, when customers can help themselves, this saves everyone time.
  • Phone Support
    While phone support is beginning to be seen as an old-fashioned support method, most customer still expect it. Phone support is immediate, quick and it’s quite easy to gauge empathy and urgency of the customer.
  • Feedback site tab
    A tab that’s accessible from your website minimizes the time between the question and the answer. It helps customers receive answers to their questions without leaving the webpage they were on.

Executing the change process

Nearly every company claims to provide great customer service, but not all customers have a great experience.

What gives?

The bad news – there’s still a great deal of improvement and lots of work to be done. The good news? As long as your business grows and your team evolves, your customer strategy may never have a clearly defined end to it, either.

In the end, any initiative needs a specific plan and basis for action. There has to be change directed from the top – a clear understanding of desired objectives of both the customer and employee. As long as this objective is being pursued, the end result is never static – it’s changing together with customer expectations.

Building on relationships to the point of achieving customer excellence isn’t about reaching a certain level of value. It’s only when you reach beyond that – into the unexpected and uncharted territory – that you know you’re winning the hearts and minds of your customers.

Thanks for reading!

(This post was originally published on the Helprace Blog)

Read more: Employee Self-Service Portals: How To Generate Cost Savings & Increased Productivity