Great cheese comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California. Real California cheese.

It was a marketing campaign that had a hold on Wisconsin. Plump, beautiful dairy cows roamed the sunny California hills joyously gossiping about the terrible conditions in far away, snow-ridden lands. How could a miserable cow — beaten down by harsh winds, berated by an unsupportive farmhand, trapped by the confines of cow-hood — be expected to produce delicious cheese?

The same question applies to customer service agents; how can miserable customer service agents be expected to produce great customer service? Sure, a harsh environment can produce tough skin, a desirable characteristic in the customer service industry, but tough skin is not the end goal. Having tough skin doesn’t make customer service better, friendlier or faster — it just ensures every day doesn’t end in a puddle of tears. Huh, what a goal.

Happy customer service agents make happy customers

Happy Cows Make Great Cheese

While cows are not the ideal spirit animal for most people, the analogy is simple. Happier customer service agents (cows) make happier customers (great cheese). In a digital age where everything can be measured to a T, agent satisfaction can often be surpassed for more easily quantifiable KPIs like first response time and resolution time. But are those really the metrics that matter the most? Does an agent who copies and pastes “sorry, please send an email to [email protected]” deserve a bonus just because they have the shortest first response time? Probably not. So how to do it then? Glance around the room to tally smiles and frowns? Not exactly.

What’s Measured Improves

You can only know where you’re going if you know where you’ve come from. While measuring agent satisfaction is no easy task, companies noted for their excellent customer service like Zappos have set forth a series of standards. The famous “8 hour Zappos customer service call” demonstrates that customer journey time alone is not the most important KPI. Here are two measurable approaches to customer service KPIs that consider quality and happiness, not just speed.

  • Measure time spent with customer, not average resolution time

Customer service agents are the frontline of your business. They are the people who actually interact with customers and have the unique opportunity to deliver a brand promise and identity on a personal level. That means overall time spent with customers should be rewarded, not punished. If a customer has a back and forth conversation on Twitter that takes 15 tweets, not 1, and results in a happy customer – retweet at the ready – this is a success.

Define a benchmark for what percentage of an agent’s time is desirable to be spent working directly with customers (active chat window, time on a phone call, quality and length of a social thread) and encourage agents to go beyond a simple resolution. Emphasize that they won’t be penalized for a longer customer journey.

  • Define and reward “wow” moments  

Customer service is all too often viewed as a cost and not an opportunity. No customer raves about the average service they had. They rave about that time when Don went to the ends of the earth to make sure they got a hold of those blue suede shoes before they flew off the shelf. What did Don do differently to make this “wow” moment happen? It wasn’t just about him doing his job, it was about creating Personal Emotional Connections which Zappos defines with the following questions:

–> Did the agent try twice to make a personal emotional connection (PEC)?

–> Did they keep the rapport going after the customer responded to their attempt?

–> Did they address unstated needs?

–> Did they provide a “wow experience?”

How to Increase Agent Happiness

You’re off to a good start with these two approaches to measuring agent happiness, but how do you get happy agents in the first place? It’s not as simple as putting cows in the warm, grassy hills of California (remember, this was a 90s, pre-drought campaign), but it is as simple as empowering agents with choices and technology.

  • Build relationships over time

Flat white? *raises eyebrows and smiles*

I love a morning that starts off like this. I go to my regular coffee shop not only because they make the best coffee in town, but because they know me and we have a relationship. Sure, it’s a simple exchange, but my barista knows that I don’t like to shoot the shit before being properly caffeinated and I want a flat white 99% of the time.

The same thing applies to digital relationships. Being remembered makes customers feel good and remembering people makes agents’ work meaningful. They get to see progress overtime. The best relationships are built on shared experiences – moments you get to recall together. Using a CRM system that routes customer requests to the most relevant customer service agent allows for relationship building overtime.

  • Make work interesting

Most kids grow up dreaming of being an astronaut, actor, or in my case, professional card maker. Very few grow up thinking they want to work at a contact center. New customer service channels, like Facebook and Twitter, are changing this. Social customer care is an exciting opportunity with potential for a deeper understanding of the business. This function relates to marketing, public relations and process improvement.  Encourage agents to identify work that interests them and provide opportunities for them to develop in that area. Social customer service might be the secret to keeping agents on the verge of burnout – and recruiting a new wave of millennial talent.

  • Give them technology that works

Nothing kills my soul quite like slow technology. It induces those Office Space let-me-go-bash-my-computer-in-a-field moments that are more than just counter productive in a work environment. Customer service agents are usually the ones to get shafted on the technology front. Marketing has powerful analytics and publishing tools. Sales have CRM technology. Customer service? Do they need more than a headset? Yes!

Don’t add the frustration of bad technology to the already testing job of a customer service agent. Give agents the technology they need to do their job, and do it well. They gain valuable skills and return the favor with efficiency and sense of purpose.

Opportunity to Market, Not Overhead Cost

If you leave this article with one takeaway here it is: treat customer service like an opportunity to market your product or service, not as a necessary cost of doing business. This approach elevates the status of the customer service agent and moves them closer to becoming those happy California cows who produce great cheese. Sorry Wisconsin, we don’t want your sour milk.

Want to know more about developing happy customer service agents? Download this T-Mobile case study to learn why they  thinks it’s important to give agents room to be themselves.

Disclaimer: I actually LOVE Wisconsin cheese.