Customer service representatives are generally not the happiest employees. Research into the employee satisfaction index by MyPlan indicates that customer service reps come in 236th in overall hapiness among the 300 positions researched. Customer service reps are on average less satisfied than door-to-door salespeople, and street news vendors.
Something is clearly, seriously wrong
There exists a surprising discontinuity between what customers and service agents experience. Whereas 55% of customers report having switched to another company after a bad customer service experience, customer service representatives can hardly provide satisfying customer care when they experience such low job satisfaction. Every year, bad customer service costs companies over $300bn. Who’s is to blame? The employer of course.
Job Satisfaction is not considered crucial
Companies generally view customer service as a necessary cost-centre, negatively affecting the bottom-line. We can see this in the fact that customer service is often the second cost to be cut when a company needs to decrease expenses, facing the chopping block after initial cuts, usually in advertising.
Additionally, employers by and large consider contact centre agents to be easily replaceable as employees. Easy to hire, easy to fire. In this model, there is no percentage in considering whether employees come to work happy or not. Joan isn’t satisfied with her work? She’s going to be laid off this summer anyway. So why bother, right? Wrong.
How happy agents increase your bottom line
As you might have guessed, we don’t see customer service agents this way. Far from it. Happy employees provide a critical edge over the competition. They’re worth much more than their salaries.
Firstly, happy employees typically provide better work, more consistently.
Happy customer service agents mean happy customers. Ever smiled on the phone when talking to a happy customer service rep? We bet you have. And we’ll bet you stayed with that company. Happy customers mean loyal customers, and loyal customers come back. How much do returning customers mean to your bottom line? Probably quite a bit.
Secondly, happy employees are less likely to leave the company in hard times.
It’s a no brainer – Happy employees are more likely to accept temporary salary cuts or extended work shifts. Also, they are less likely to be bad examples for new employees, and more likely to help maintain a higher quality of overall service by setting good examples.
Lastly, with more happy employees around, work can be more fun.
And even though you will not find a Job Happiness Index in most companies’ annual books, companies like Pfizer or Google stand as inspiring exceptions. Having fun at work makes everybody more happy. And few businesses can thrive if they’re not based on people doing something they can enjoy.
Make Your Agents Happy: Creating a Sense of Purpose
Nobody will argue that customer service employees do not have a purposeful job: a job that other people value when it is done properly. I think that good service agents stand not far behind doctors, firemen, police officers, or teachers, when it comes to their potential value in our society. They make business in our highly connected world possible on a daily basis. But that doesn’t mean that contact centre agents see this purpose in their jobs every day.
If you were a doctor, wouldn’t you want to know whether the patient you examined yesterday feels better today? Your job would depend on knowing. But in customer service, one agent handles a customer by telephone, while another might handle a follow up email or a call. Meanwhile, the two agents don’t communicate about the customer and her needs. Not only is the customer not catered to, but the agent may never get the satisfaction of a job well and completely done. With no positive feedback or feeling of completion for the agent, how can he have a sense of purpose in his work?
Same-customer Same-agent Routing
This is why I am a strong advocate for “Same-customer Same-agent Routing.” One customer inquiry should be handled by the same agent, from initiation to resolution, and ideally, across the entire customer lifecycle. Imagine the sense of continuity and reassurance you could have as a customer if you knew you’d talk to the same person, every time you called a certain company! You’d never fall through the cracks.
This type of system isn’t fool-proof, of course. Agents don’t work all the time, and they aren’t always trained or equipped to handle all possible customer channels. But in general, no more “he said, she said;” the agent should be, and feel, responsible for the customer’s happiness, and should be put in a position where accomplishing that state of happiness is possible, and deeply rewarding.
Customer-based Agent Rating
Are you a good contact centre agent, or a bad contact centre agent? Aside from being assessed by the employer based on hard-data, each agent should be assessed primarily by her customers. Companies keep ratings of agent performance, based on customer satisfaction, and they should make those ratings publicly available. It’s good not only for customers and employers, but for agent as well. Their value can truly stand out and they can shine as never before. Are the results poor? Use the results as a reason to equip the agents with better training materials, faster and integrated tools and better leadership. The results should be kept updated at all times on company’s website as well as shared and discussed with the employees.
Building Agents’ Public Profiles
By implementing customer-based agent rating as described above, you are essentially building public profiles for your agents. No more hiding behind “Your customer service team” email signatures! It’s time to put the agents out in front of the companies, providing personal care at the customers’ request, and being proud to place their names to it.
Improving the work environment
The second piece of the puzzle of customer service agent happiness is a great work environment. Most kids don’t grow up imagining that they’ll be customer service reps. It’s not glamorous work by nature. Not helping the situation is the corporate norm of agents seated in their hundreds, cheek by jowl, in huge, ugly, soulless open-spaces with gunky head-sets taped to their heads, staring at 10 year old PC monitors. If a typical customer service agent saw how much fun Google employees have at their offices, she might head straight for the nearest bridge. Contact centres are, in short, not usually nice places to be. And that badly needs to change.
For starters, we must provide contact centre agents with beautiful and simple to use equipment and software. No excuses, and no petty frustrations to make the day harder. If you spend money on training your employees, you should spend money on the tools they need to do their work. It’s that simple. If your software provider doesn’t put stock in usability, convince them to change or change providers yourself. For every legacy system, there are three alternatives and a couple of hungry startups to replace them. You deserve beauty. You deserve more.
Next, we have to improve the office environment of the typical contact centre, step by step, to connect the agents’ world with the modern world of their customers. Take Samsung as an example: they’ve recently equipped Teleperformance, their outsourced contact centre, with so-called experience centres, featuring all of their most current technology and cutting edge equipment, all at their own agents’ disposal.
Having Happy Contact Centre Agents Pays Off
Customer service representatives are generally not happy employees. Now, it’s the right time to change it. Whether you are small business or a multi-national enterprise, please follow the tips above and share your experience with us.