Confessions of a Customer Service Agent – Management Support?

In the third of our four-part series entitled “Confessions of a Customer Service Agent” – The Social XChange investigates the role of management and the level of support, training and engagement they offer to their service professionals.  The data for this analysis was compiled through a survey of more than two dozen agents during Customer Service Week, October 7-11, 2013.

More than 80% of the customer service representatives surveyed related situations of little or no training, lack of knowledge about the product line and outright  indifference from management on the need to improve these areas.  In addition, many of the representatives we surveyed found career opportunities were far and few between and the ability to update their own “knowledge base” was extremely limited.

“Poor training” was a common theme from those surveyed, as many were given no more than a quick “walk through” when they started their job (retail stores were the worse offenders with almost no sales or “service” training).   If a formal training period was included, it was often shortened due to “business need” – the “need” to utilize the new hires as soon as possible whether fully trained or not.

For retail service professionals, “not knowing” can be extremely difficult with the customer standing in front of them and becoming visibly frustrated.  Any hope of pleasing a customer at this point is simply part of the “breakage” that management understands will occur with new employees.

For call center agents, the training they received was generally enough to get them “on the floor” but if they needed time to read over new material or master new processes, the common response from supervisors was simply “you are needed on the phone”.

Lack of advancement or career path options were additional pain points for a majority of agents.  In retail, companies are apt to advance service professionals due to shortages or if management is stretched too thin.  This generally results in customer facing representatives being moved up (with little or no advancement in pay) to “leads” without the requisite training for the position.

In call centers, the job is to be “on the phone” so cross training with other departments is a difficult proposition.  The irony is that monthly scorecards can be greatly affected by the agent being off the phone which in turn hurts their chances to move on to another department.

It appears that instead of ramping up training courses and ensuring that only the best become front line employees, there is a sense from those surveyed that management simply accepts a certain amount of employee attrition, customer inconvenience and that “only the strong will (or should) survive”.

The key management takeaway from this feedback – there is a clear need for more comprehensive training including product knowledge, tool usage and role-playing – items which are critical for agent success.  The representatives surveyed for this study were adamant they have shared this information time and time again with managers, directors, even vice presidents and corporate leadership, to no avail.

Our conclusion is that either companies do not understand the value of vigorous training and informed workers or they simply do not value customer relationships enough to ensure their front line personnel are prepared to resolve customer issues.

Monday: Part 4 of our Series – If Customer Service Agents were in charge.

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