Confessions of a Customer Service Agent – If I was in Control

Today marks the final installment in our four-part series uncovering the thoughts and experiences of the Customer Service Agent.  The Social XChange interviewed more than two dozen service professionals during Customer Service Week in October 2013.  Our survey encompassed many phases of the job, including issues they encounter on a daily basis and the support  they receive from management.

This final part of the series concentrates on how the service professionals surveyed would “run” the company if they were in charge and able to make suggestions and changes to processes as well as how their company approaches “customer service”.

The number one change on the list for the vast majority of respondents was increased training when starting a job and refresher courses as they continue in the position.  The ongoing training allows for all agents or representatives to have the most current information available.  This ensures consistency in answers to customers – with the results being increased chances of resolution and satisfaction.

Turning to the day to day operations of their company, improved communication from other departments is high on the list of “wants”.  One of the most frustrating problems for the service professional is not knowing either a product or process. This item dovetails nicely with improved training.  Simply being aware of new products or processes is not enough, role-playing and additional training should always accompany each release or change.

More than 75% of the agents we spoke with thought that additional tools including interactive demos of new products would help them better understand and resolve customer issues. Roughly the same number also said that frequent network outages and downtime of their PC affected customer experience and that they would pour more money into updated office technology.

As far as working conditions, many representatives would suggest more time with their “team”.  Weekly meetings or huddles help each agent to voice concerns, share experiences, and build camaraderie with the other members of the group.  In the retail industry, smart managers generally gather staff before the store opens to go over the plan for the day.  This can be difficult in the call center industry with varying schedules and 24 hour operations, but no less critical to the success of the customer facing personnel.

Also high on the list – agents would schedule consistent meetings with their direct supervisor.  A full 60% of those surveyed stated they had not met with their supervisor at all in 2013, but were still responsible for the numbers on their monthly scorecard even though it had not been reviewed with the agent.  This leads to quite a surprise when year end reviews and raises are handed out and is simply unfair to the representative.

Feedback regarding benefits, bonuses, hours, and schedule were also touched on by the representatives.  Most of the bigger companies have decent to excellent benefit programs, but quite a few agents were concerned that Obamacare would prompt their company to eliminate health insurance in the future by moving employees to exchanges and increasing premiums.

In most non-sales positions, bonuses are scarce.  Agents (if in charge) would ensure that all employees have the opportunity to make additional money, either through up selling products or saving customers.  Flexible schedules and paid time off would also be a huge benefit for representatives.  Some excellent ideas on flexible schedules were voiced by the group, including split daily schedules for working parents and time off credit for working overtime.

Finally, the group agreed that “reactive” customer care is one of the biggest obstacles to ensuring total customer satisfaction. The representatives who gave us feedback on this topic were insistent that management “has no clue” about how to satisfy customers.  Processes are created to “fix” the customer on the “back end”, instead of designing steps to proactively service the client from the beginning.  Many thought that VP’s and Directors should listen side by side to calls at least one a month to hear and see the customer experience first hand.

The Social XChange team believes there are a number of important takeaways for management to help improve the customer experience.  The majority of agents we surveyed said that although management does solicit feedback from front line workers, an equal number say that the same managers do not utilize or implement suggestions they receive.

The bottom line: if management asks for feedback, report back to employees how their ideas can be implemented into daily operations or the business reasons they cannot be used.

One other key point – involve representatives as much as you can in decision making or changes since they are the first line of defense in keeping customers happy.  An engaged and informed customer service professional is the best advocate you can ask for when it comes to your business and customers.

In the end, a good number of the representatives we spoke with were actively seeking positions in other industries.   The job is tolerable for most agents, but it can act like quicksand for drowning employees who were not well trained and are ill prepared for assisting customers the right way on the first bounce.

Your comments and feedback are welcome below – the team would love to know what you think of customer “service” and how it affects your buying decisions.  Also, tell us your good and bad experiences – is customer “service” getting better… or worse?

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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.