The Modern Customer Service Culture Series – Empower Your Team

Good afternoon one and all, it’s great to have you back here for episode three of my Untitled design (9)Modern Customer Service Culture series.

There are little things more frustrating than being passed from pillar to post whether it be by phone, email or otherwise. When this happens it presents a number of problems for example, it means that the customer feels as though they are repeating themselves – creating frustration. Purchasers generally find it unprofessional and inconsiderate which reduces their faith in you and, here’s the real kicker. This undermines the authority of every person in the team.

In my experience (of smaller dedicated teams) this is characteristic of a couple of things – not enough resources to meet demand and poor knowledge/ability.

I believe it’s a myth that all customer service departments are short staffed, though I do of course accept this argument in some instances. I do however believe that often times the skill sets within the team are simply being poorly utilised. It’s no wonder then that the team in place are constantly bouncing things to and from each other, their line managers and even other departments/extended team members. This causes frustration within the team itself often leading to diminished work satisfaction, a higher staff turnover and ultimately a dissatisfied customer experience.

First things first, if you manage a number of customer service team members you need to take a long hard look at your management style and whether this could be affecting the work flow.

It’s not an easy look, that man in the mirror moment I’m afraid but I can say that anyone that has ever been in a management position can attest to the fact that we all, at some point, get it a little wrong. The good news is it’s easily fixable with a little self reflection,  time and focus.

One way to tell if this is the case is to analyse what kind of things your staff come to you for. If your team defer to you for every little thing then you my friend have a problem. Of course some things should be run by you and I am an advocate of ‘there are no silly questions’ but if you ever think ‘why did you ask me that, you should know by now?’ or ‘I really don’t know why they didn’t just do that themselves?’ then this may be a reflection not just of the person asking but on your management style. You could well be unintentionally micro-managing and that is no good for anybody, least of all your customers.

It’s often the case when a very small department increases in size quickly, you’re so used to just getting on with things that well, you deal with everything. Unfortunately, as a department gets bigger it’s too easy to just get it done yourself because you don’t think you have the time to teach. However, this is the moment you need to think ‘short term pain for long term gain’.

The best thing you will ever do for a team is to empower them to make quick, calculated decisions. This means training them well and allowing them the courtesy of letting them do the job you hired them to do. They may do it a little differently to you, but you hired them for their abilities and skill and if that is implemented in a slightly different way what’s your real problem here? As long as they meet company processes and the customers experience is a professional and accurate one then let them do their thing.

I also often find that this is the case when there is the sense that in order to be seen as a manager you must be indispensable. I definitely struggled with this one in my first ever management role. I was in the grip of imposter syndrome so I kept doing everything and unintentionally held things back from my staff. With hindsight I know that this was the misguided notion that to be a manager I had to manage it all. Not true. If you are a good manager it is evident in the quality and adeptness of your team. If you never give them the opportunity to excel at their jobs then that’s a reflection on your management style not on their ability.

The next thing is to allow the adequate time to learn. I cannot tell you the amount of departments I have joined over the years where the newbies become glorified filing clerks and then don’t seem to be coming along fast enough.

Why hire someone if you are not going to allow them to learn the product, service and technical requirements of the role. Multi layered learning is brilliant. You can do a mix of shadow learning, company required training courses, one on one skill building, online training (even with things like TedTalks). Get them involved in the process and don’t lay it all at an experienced team members door – this can be soul crushing for the senior member of staff as they too wish to do well at their jobs, continue to learn and excel. Balancing this training is crucial.

If you offer a product they should know the ins and outs of it. Get them on the shop floor so to speak for a number of days, let them see how it comes together. Get them to start building the relationships with the people in the other departments so that they have that when the time comes for them to ask a question. Go through case histories and ask them whether they could have improved the customers experience – take their feedback on board, they may have some really valuable input. Let them learn and grow and think.

The other issue I find is the ‘competition’ edge to some managers. The, I need to be the best in the room mentality. This is the toughest one because if this is you I’m not sure you will recognise it in yourself. It’s not always a trait that we are comfortable with acknowledging in essence if this is you, you will most likely place lots of blame on other colleagues past and present for any of the ongoing frustrations. I’ve had to catch myself in this, when going for promotions etc. it’s easy to do. But you really need this time for self reflection if this could possibly be you. You want to fill your team not drain them.

My challenge to you is to look inward first before blaming your team/lack of resources/customers/the industry your in/the economy etc. etc. Sure sometimes we get unlucky and simply have a poor line up of staff better suited to other roles and all the other stuff that is beyond our control does indeed have an impact however, you cannot point that finger without first checking in on yourself. Ask yourself:

  1. Have I allowed my team to take responsibility for their roles and actions or do they refer to me for too much?
  2. Do I allocate enough time for development and learning?
  3. Do I openly appreciate a job well done?
  4. What are each of my team members strongest skillsets – have I allocated my resources well?
  5. Is the environment I create for my team a positive one promoting decision making and business development or is it a bubble that I like everything done my way in?
  6. Do I encourage teamwork?

If any of the answers to these questions are no then you need to first and foremost deal with that.

Your customers will only get the service you allow your team to give.

Thanks for reading,

A x




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