Customer Service Agent Training: Are You Sabotaging Your Agents?

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We’ve already discussed the problem of making sure that your customer service agents are well-supported and how to avoid sabotaging their success. On the surface, these seem to be self-evidently important, but what exactly constitutes ‘sabotaging’ them, and how can managers and team leads avoid it?

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The philosopher Aristotle spoke of first principles, core truths that had to be established before anything else could be understood. Likewise, when discussing customer service agents, it’s important to establish some basic principles about their job.

Point the First: Establish the Objective

Looking at the objective creates an opportunity to see why you have picked the resources you have, and what they’re there for.

Customer service agents have two chief duties:

  1. Make the customer aware of the company and its services.
  2. Make the company aware of the customer and their expectations.

These simple objectives encompass, broadly, everything a customer service agent is intended to accomplish.

Objective one covers:

  • Sales
  • Product Troubleshooting
  • Warranty Services

Objective two covers:

  • Customer Complaints
  • Requests for Information
  • Potential Public Perception

In the simplest possible language, customer service agents are the go-betweens for customers and the company, making each aware of the other and facilitating communication so that each comes away with the best possible result. Customers have their concerns addressed, the company keeps loyal repeat business, and hopefully a bit of profit and customer satisfaction are the result.

Point the Second: Do Your Agents Matter?

The question seems obvious, but given the way many customer service agents seem to act, the answer might not be as obvious as we think.

Consider the typical interaction many people have with a customer service agent. They call on the phone. They navigate through a phone menu to route them to someone who can supposedly help. They spend time talking to the agent and clarifying a problem the menu supposedly already identified. Hopefully the agent is empowered to address their concern, but this is by no means guaranteed.

Or perhaps consider in-person customer support. The customer arrives at the store, speaks to an agent about their concern, desire, or curiosity, then in addition to – or even instead of – the customer’s concern, the agent begins pushing the latest sale item or upgrade package.

Support has to be made more efficient.

There are never enough personnel to go around for the number of problems a given product or service might produce, and sales goals have to be met. This is all a given.

However, by and large, this creates the problem that instead of directly addressing customer concerns:

  • Agents are limited in the services they can provide.
  • Customer service is perceived as “entry level” work that good personnel move up out of.
  • Customers express consternation with obtuse and difficult phone menu systems.
  • Customers often can’t easily find contact information on a company website.

The perception that comes out of all this is that a company is frankly embarrassed to put customers in contact with its CSAs. Which leads to the problem:

Your Agents Don’t Feel Like they Matter

How many times have we heard that the customer is always right? How many of us actually believe it? Authors at Huffington Post, Forbes, and Inc. all agree that this maxim would be good to disregard, or at least consider critically. When the typical customer service team will spend $4,000 on a new-hire, and more than $4,800 for training, we need to evaluate whether it’s worth it to always side with a customer.

Yet many customer service agents find the boss consistently siding with the customer over the agent, even when the agent followed company policies to the best of their ability.

Take this story, which goes a long way toward explaining why 70% of customer service workers will quit their jobs within one year.

A customer wanted the special sale price for four pairs of underwear. The sale was ‘get a free pair of panties when you buy three pairs’. But he wanted it rung up as two items on each receipt so he could split the gifts. The agent explained that while he had to ring it up one for him to receive the special price, he could give him two gift receipts.

He was in a hurry and not really listening, and he gave me such attitude it was hard to tolerate. In the middle of my explanation, he answered his cell phone. He snapped at the woman, saying, “Why are you calling me?” He waved his hand at me to shut me up in the middle of my explaining the charges and said, “Just do it. Do it.”

When the clerk asked the customer to sign, he snapped that it was wrong.

With a bit of attitude, I replied, ‘You asked me to do it this way,’ which is right when my manager walked up. After the man left, my manager reprimanded me for the way I spoke to him. I told her she didn’t see the whole thing, that he was the one who was rude first and for no reason. She said it didn’t matter; he was the customer, and I was wrong.

Working face-to-face customer service in a bookstore, I followed company policy and told a customer that regretfully I was not permitted to take payment via check if I did not have a picture ID. I explained that this was to prevent fraud or someone taking advantage of the customer’s identity. I offered to hold their purchase while they retrieved their ID, but the customer wasn’t having it. I brought the manager up, and when he heard the customer’s explanation, he decided to accept payment.

If it had stopped there, that would have been entirely fine. Instead, he chided me in front of the customer, making soothing noises to them and indicating to me that I had been in the wrong and should have “used my judgment.” So the customer, and the two children with her, immediately learned that customer service policies did not apply to them, and I felt entirely unsupported.

When managers don’t support their employees, agents don’t have clear guidelines on what policies to follow and disregard. And yet not following policy can result in being fired. How stressful! Repeat customers learn they can circumvent policy by appealing to a manager, eliminating the “go-between” value of the customer service agent.

Verbal Commendation is Also Important

This all lines up with recent reports on what factors come into job satisfaction for customer service agents. The two top considerations are agents feeling respected by management and a sense of trust between the two.

Failing to support your agents in the face of a customer undermines trust and makes their position uncertain.

Management can help agents feel respected during Interactions that don’t involve the customer at all

  • Take the time to remind customer service agents that they are valuable.
  • Commend them for good work on a particular call, even if it was routine.
  • Ensure that they have the training they need to do their job, and keep that training updated.

Invest in the Best Tools

Last year, 42% of service agents were unable to efficiently resolve customer issues due to disconnected systems, archaic user interfaces, and multiple applications.

Making sure your agents are using the best customer service software will help you get the best performance out of them by not only making them more efficient, but also by making them feel like their time is valuable.

Tools like issue tracking software automate repetitive, manual tasks. They’re a great investment. They not only reduce the time spent performing these tasks, but also human error and the associated overhead.

Help desk software can make your agents more effective by:

  • Providing agents with customer data at their fingertips. Information such as order details, customer profile, past orders, inquiries history, and shipping status can really make a call or chat go much more smoothly.
  • Give them easy, full access to company policies and other information that will help them make the right calls.
  • Provide them with any other content and product information they might need.

Hire for Fit, Not Skills

To get the most value out of your agents, you need every player acting like they’re part of a team. Which means they need to feel like they’re playing on a team, not competing with their co-workers. It’s tough to balance healthy competition with a desire to work together. But this is another place where gamified help desk software can help foster friendly competition. One example is Freshdesk (read customer reviews of Freshdesk).  It’s fourth on Capterra’s rankings of top 20 customer service software providers.

Basically, it’s About Reciprocity

No one is arguing that all CSAs are perfect fits for their job. However, if they are trying to do their job, then the company needs to reciprocate that effort and dedication. Go beyond simple payment for services rendered. Verbal acknowledgment and respect, clear and consistent guidelines, and a willingness to support the value of their position in public while correcting errors in private are all necessary though not sufficient. Don’t sabotage your agents by undercutting their authority and leaving them feeling like they’re neither necessary nor wanted.

How do you help ensure your agents feel supported, and not sabotaged? Let us know in the comments!

Looking for Customer Service software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Customer Service software solutions.

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About the Author

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Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is a former Capterra analyst.

Comments

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Agents do indeed play an integral part in delivering customer support. It is important that they are on the same page and are motivated enough.

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