Prosper Insights & Analytics' annual list of Customer Service Champions is always an interesting look into the companies that stand apart from their competition: Outdoor outfitter L.L.Bean has topped the list for the third year in a row, followed by Amazon and Lands' End.
Reading through these companies' best practices can be illuminating, but even more interesting is the text analysis of why consumers voted for each brand. According to a report by Forbes.com, the top ten words used to describe the 2016 candidates were: helpful, returns, easy, quick, problems, shipping, friendly, price, knowledgeable and selection.
What's notable is that six out of the top ten things that make a company a "customer service champion" are directly related to their customer-facing personnel. Consumers want experiences with customer service professionals who are helpful, friendly and knowledgeable, and they want their problems solved quickly and easily.
That's a tall order. The employee on the other end of the phone isn't simply a passive machine into whom all these capabilities can be programmed. Your agents are individuals, with unique needs. They can become overwhelmed by peak hours of customer demand. They require flexibility – in the shifts they are available to take and in the ability to take care of family emergencies or stay home when they're sick. When these needs aren't being met, employees are far more likely to become disengaged, with performance and customer satisfaction levels dropping as a result.
Aligning the internal needs of your customer service team with the demands of the customer is a challenge, but it's a challenge that the most successful contact centers are working to meet. Call center leaders are finding that the five key activities can help improve employee engagement and give employees the tools they need to perform at their best.
Five Key Employee Engagement Activities
1. Let your employees control their productivity. Giving employees more autonomy provides important benefits: It frees managers from managing tasks and allows them to engage in more important work. It also gives employees a sense of ownership, which leads to higher engagement levels and productivity. Empower employees to be accountable with tools that monitor key performance indicators, such as scheduled activities and average handling time (AHT), and send alerts to keep them on track.
2. Offer more flexibility. The rise of the gig economy, with companies like Lyft and TaskRabbit expected to employ 43% of Americans in 2020, has given workers more freedom than ever to set their own schedules. At the same time, these companies have been able to meet peak customer demand through incentives, such as higher pay during peak hours. Offering employees personalized scheduling options can make scheduling more efficient, and giving them the ability to change their own schedules can enable better coverage. Another perk? Scheduling flexibility can also help reduce absenteeism in the Contact Center.
3. Automate repetitive tasks. Sometimes it's the little things that cause an employee's attention and energy levels to flag. Free your employees to spend more time engaged with customers by automating tasks such as data entry, calculations and order processing. This helps eliminate errors due to employee fatigue and keeps employees engaged with their jobs.
4. Improve communication. A number of improved technologies have emerged to open lines of communication between call center managers and employees. Instant messaging, multi-channel agent communication and automated messages can improve collaboration. Increased communication can also help build trust, leading to more engaged employees who are more empowered to do their jobs.
5. Get insight into your customers. With the powerful analytic tools available today, it's easier than ever to forecast peak customer service needs and adjust personnel schedules to match. Don't just rely on big data, however — gain even more insight with regular customer satisfaction surveys to help you understand what your customers are looking for.
Your call center employees are the heart of your company, and how they act can leave a lasting impression on customers. Will your customers walk away thinking the words helpful, friendly, knowledgeable? Will they marvel at how quickly and easily their problems were solved? That's up to you.