by Blazej Szperlinski @ June 6, 2012
Any given sunday

In order to thrive in today’s volatile economy, it’s imperative to manage customer service departments with care and finesse. Tony D’Amato, portrayed by Al Pacino in “Any Given Sunday“, is a prime example of a man making excellent choices in team building and leadership. Any manager can learn from him.

Companies can use a few tricks in order to qualify for the gold medal in customer service. It’s about hiring the right people, and letting them do their jobs. This post will introduce you to the niche of acquiring new talent and growing an a-team.

Understand employee demographics

Customer service positions are entry-level or temporary jobs, taken up by undergraduates trying to make some extra cash and choose a carrer plan. Most of those applicants are between 20 and 30 years old, and belong to a generation called Millenials. They constantly develop their skillset and crave for huge success and immediate rewards. Ambition and self-improvement incline incline them to creating a healthy balance between work and life. Millenials’ parents, the baby boom generation had different priorities when it came to their career: they wanted to lead a secure life. Studies predict, unfortunately, that Millenials will switch jobs frequently due to their great expectations. High turnover rates and costs associated with new-hires of this demographic in customer service can be avoided by creating a flexible and individualistic work environment.

When interviewing candidates look for traits that HR reps call Steadiness and Influence. They can be indicated by devotion to a brand or band, participation in team sports, and reading magazines like People or National Geographic. Kathi Graham-Lewis, Coach and Behavioral Analyst supports the notion:

This combination of styles lends itself to people who like to continually work in a stable environment, appreciate the security of being located in an office and receiving a steady paycheck; but also like the challenge and excitement of dealing with new people on a regular basis.

Most customer service skills can be taught, whereas attitude can only be managed. Sympathetic and enthusiastic people with less experience are a better choice than temperamental experts.

An infographic by SalesForce.com helps understand the Millenial work perspective. It also shows how HR departments adapt to changes in employee expectations

Millenials are changing the way work works

Break out of the cubicle

89% of millenials cite that flexibility is important. They won’t settle only for decent pay. They feel that as long as company goals and standards are met, there is no point in struggling with traffic to get to the cubicle every day. Telecommuting cannot be a substitute of actual office work and relationships, but having options is what savvy employees consider an asset. Two years after HSBC launched its work-at-home Flexible Work Arrangement in India, 88% of participants display an improved productivity. Plus, you could save on real estate rental costs.

Working from nine to five doesn’t apply to customer service. They need to be available around the clock. It’s difficult to plan a regimen though, because each employee expects freedom of choice as to when they work, as long as they do it right. If equally qualified, there is no harm in enabling them to create a regiment themselves.

Don’t limit breaks. A single lunch break during the day won’t cut it for most people. Best players will not slack off, and studies show that mid-work relaxation can significantly improve productivity and satisfaction. An agitated customer service representative who can’t take five to blow off some steam, can do much harm.

If you want happiness

Best-in-class customer service follows the same principals.

Mentor and recognize achievements

Millenials were raised by baby boomers who spent most of their time at work. As children they had to adapt to such responsibilities, and learn to look after themselves. Ann Fisher of Fortune Magazine brings up a management training session with Sivi Yael of the FutureWork Institute, depicting how and why to manage these employees.

What did you do when you came home from school?” He replies that he hung around the house waiting for his parents to come home from work.

So you structured your own time,” says Sivi. “Doing your homework, maybe making yourself a snack? Maybe you even started dinner?” She gestures to the group. “Fast-forward 20 years. How does this guy want to be managed? He doesn’t want to be micromanaged. Hands off! Because he’s been managing himself since he was 10 or 12 years old.

Customer service staff of this generation appreciates when a manager inspires and shares his knowledge. Mentorship helps the CSRs in climbing the corporate ladder and motivates to learn and outperform themselves. A manager who leads by authority has lots of influence on his subordinates. He is usually not considered as the boss. This friendly relation is a comfort that customer service position applicants look for.

Only true leaders inspire

"I don't like that man. I must get to know him better." - Abraham Lincoln. Timeless inspiration for both CSRs and management.

Managing best-in-class customer service

There are a few useful techniques that managers can use in order to boost morale and efficiency of modern customer service. Here’s a list of what best managers do to achieve their goals.

  • Divide goals into smaller tasks and set short deadlines – the faster a project is finished, the better. Reps need the satisfaction to feel important. The longer they need to work for it, the lower their engagement.
  • Treat employees as equals and lead by authorityMillenials look for someone who will help them advance in their career. They don’t want to be bossed around, because they can do it themselves and with good result. Their effectiveness will drop if undermined.
  • Reward performance - this is the key word in how customer service staff perceives the importance of their work. Whenever noticed, performance should be rewarded, be it a public appraisal or financial incentive.
  • Promote flexibility – get rid of all clocks and timetables. Do not register when people come in and out. If someone has an appointment and wants to leave, let them. Be sure to ask out loud, if they feel the company can manage without them when they’re gone.
  • Guarantee constant feedback – watching over their shoulder and pointing out how to correct lesser, performance irrelevant mistakes will just annoy your employees. A five minute, heartfelt talk about department strategy on the other hand will show the CSR how important he is, in effect improving his performance.

Modern times call for modern practices

Hire for attitude and passion, don’t micro manage, and influence employees to learn new skills. Focus on quality first, and efficiency second. Avoid outsourcing high turnover call centers, and try to build an inbound, qualified CustServ team. A good customer service experience can be the difference in client satisfaction, so it’s crucial to optimize productivity of this department.

Assembly line management is a relict of the past. The sooner companies adapt to new rules governing employee and talent retention, the faster they will grow. After all, today’s young workforce are the executive officers of tomorrow.

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