8 tips to build and manage a customer service team
While customer service has its challenges, managers can build, run and maintain great customer service teams with good communication, up-to-date training and shared goals.
What makes a good customer service team? Some contenders include positive CX, quick response times, teamwork, a shared vision for the future, achieving the organization's goals and targets, and the right mix of consistency and agility.
Yet, perhaps a good customer service team combines all the above. Therefore, the customer service manager's challenge lies in supporting and balancing the essentials of modern customer service. The top eight tips to build and manage good customer service teams are the following:
- Care about employees
- Share the organization's vision for the future
- Provide training resources
- Offer feedback
- Establish clear performance expectations
- Develop a culture that retains great people
1. Care about employees
Customer service managers' main responsibility is to support teams and help them succeed. They must invest in their teams both professionally and personally.
Managers should get to know their employees through activities like personality assessments, core value sharing and regular one-on-one discussions. With many positive and genuine touchpoints with teams, managers can understand employees' thought processes, how they communicate and their motivations.
For example, managers can ask about employees' career interests and desired development, which can help the employees feel valued and help with succession planning. Managers can also learn each person's likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses.
2. Share the organization's vision for the future
Where is the organization currently, and where does it want to go? Customer service representatives must understand these touchpoints, and managers must communicate what they mean for each employee's role.
For example, if the organization has ambitious growth goals, managers should explain to employees the staffing plan to ensure the business has enough support without overtime. Managers should repeat the vision regularly and report progress.
Organizations often change direction significantly, which may create challenges for frontline employees. Managers should efficiently communicate any potential changes in the following ways:
- Acknowledge how the organization changed similarly in the past and why that worked before. Then, pivot to the new changes and the reasons behind them.
- Outline the approach and what's in it for the employees, including rewards for milestones or goals achieved.
- Encourage questions. If the shift is particularly difficult, managers can follow up with anyone who struggles.
Customer service managers should encourage employees to share ideas freely and make them comfortable sharing opposing opinions. Open communication enables managers to use the whole team's ideas to improve performance and prevent mistakes. When an employee comes to a manager with a problem, the manager can ask questions to help employees think critically and independently problem-solve.
In every meeting, customer service managers should have a list of what they must communicate to their teams to maintain consistent messaging across groups. When possible, a single person could communicate to the largest audience possible or create a communication plan for consistency.
To gain trust, managers should be transparent and proactive with sensitive changes that may affect employees. Leadership teams should also act as a united front. As they communicate sensitive topics or changes, managers should ensure they support the changes, with all their questions and concerns answered prior.
4. Provide training resources
Customer service leadership teams should ensure new hire training enables employees to develop new skills and feel confident -- especially in fast-paced environments. Employees should also have mentors within the team to go to with questions. Mentorship helps integrate new team members and provides career development for more experienced representatives.
For existing employees, managers should provide and regularly update easy-to-navigate procedures and job aids. Managers should also offer opportunities to grow and learn to increase engagement and prevent stagnancy.
5. Offer feedback
Customer service teams require regular performance reviews and specific, clear communication on what they do well and what they should do differently. Managers should offer feedback on behaviors within three days, so employees can accurately recall their tone, body language and word choice.
Additionally, managers should discuss overall performance with each employee at least once quarterly. Performance review ratings and feedback should not surprise employees.
In return, customer service managers should accept and actively facilitate peer-to-peer feedback -- which many leadership teams underuse -- from their teams on how to better support them. Managers should take time to teach, develop comfort with and then expect this feedback. A reciprocal environment can create a culture where employees communicate openly and solve conflicts independently.
6. Establish clear performance expectations
Leadership teams should define good and exceptional performance for each customer service role and ensure employees understand how to improve. To help their employees, managers must communicate and document expectations and the reasons behind them.
If an employee doesn't meet expectations, managers should first verify that they set clear guidelines. They should also ensure that employees complete tasks in a timely and efficient manner, so everyone knows when to expect deliverables. If employees don't meet expectations, managers must hold them accountable.
7. Develop a culture that retains great people
While no leader wants to lose valuable employees, managers should encourage people to take promotions or new opportunities even if it hurts the team in the short term. People advancing is the biggest measurement of a manager's success.
Additionally, managers shouldn't tolerate or fail to address toxic behaviors within a team -- even from a talented employee. Bad behaviors spread quickly and can bring down entire teams.
Managers must remain reliable to their teams, which requires keeping employees happy. To maintain employee happiness, managers should monitor work-life balance and offer flexibility to prevent burnout. Managers should also shield employees from pressure above and take the heat from unreasonable customers.
Managers should be authentic and vulnerable with their teams. If everyone can own their mistakes and shortcomings, the team's credibility grows, and everyone continuously improves.
Managers should seek first to understand and assume positive intent when faced with a conflict, employee criticism or lackluster performance. They shouldn't jump to conclusions but instead have an open conversation and ask the employee's point of view, which can guide the next steps, ensure fairness and prevent intimidating situations.
Also, managers can use data as a guide. In some situations, they may struggle to assess employees' perceptions, so managers should ask themselves what information they already have or could get to form a clear picture. They should rely on objective information over word of mouth.
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