In 1994, Harvard Business School professor James L. Heskett and his co-authors laid out the concept of the “service-profit chain,” describing how employees’ internal reflections on their performance translate into significant external impacts. In the now-classic Harvard Business Review article, the authors’ data demonstrates that service employees greatly value the ability and authority to achieve results for customers.
In other words, customer service agents want to feel empowered. When they’re not, they leave. These turnover costs can be quite high, especially for industries that hinge on relationship-building. Not surprisingly, the authors found that low employee turnover is closely associated with high customer satisfaction.
A lot has changed since HBR first published this “perennial best seller” of an article. Most significantly, businesses have access to even more data now. What hasn’t changed is that investing in customer service employees and supporting their needs with technologies, where appropriate, can drive profitability. This helps to ensure customer satisfaction, which increases loyalty and positive word of mouth.
Modern customer service is fundamentally about linking technology and soft skills. As big data is increasingly leveraged to reinvent all areas of business operations, the potential role of data in customer service shouldn’t be overlooked. Data-driven guidance can boost CS agents’ confidence and move the needle for your business. Here’s how:
1. Determine the metrics that matter for your business and explain their relevance to CS agents.
Identify the metrics that most impact your business and then use them to guide performance on the individual level through coaching sessions with CS agents. MaestroQA, a customer service quality assurance platform provider, makes the case that performance data, not vague impressions or opinions, is the key to unlocking the desired CS outcomes. This data enables managers to identify trouble spots and provide service reps the tools and training they need to excel.
One such metric is the quality assurance (QA) score, which is fundamentally about identifying each agent’s strengths and weaknesses to optimize their performance. This improves their confidence, often leading to even greater productivity and better interactions with customers. It’s a virtuous cycle.
Going into these coaching sessions, your CS agents might feel apprehensive. They can alleviate some of that nervousness by jotting down questions or ideas in advance. Together with their managers, they can structure the discussion around relevant data, using it to inspire action or changes.
2. Use average handle time to guide training, the development of resources, and automation.
We live in a rushed, interconnected world, where time is a scarce commodity. Customers want to get their issues resolved rapidly. Average handle time (AHT) indicates how long it takes a CS agent to resolve support tickets, and it’s often referenced as a measure of their proficiency.
You can improve your reps’ handle times by investing in coaching, optimizing your communication systems, and providing resources like knowledge bases or help articles. Be thoughtful when attempting to reduce AHT, however, as taking the wrong approach could produce negative effects. After all, there’s no sense pushing down AHT if it only causes your customer to have to call you back again.
Instead, increase the volume of QA audits and leverage this data to identify — and rectify — training gaps. This will improve your onboarding as well as ongoing skills development and help CS agents to feel supported.
When you pinpoint the areas of your operations that are time-consuming for most of your agents, determine whether some activities can be fully or partly automated. Templated responses are one obvious example. When the involvement of a CS agent is required, come up with solutions and store them in an internal knowledge base. This is another resource that allows your CS reps to spend more time focusing on tickets in their queue instead of scrambling to find answers.
3. Reference CSAT scores when developing agents’ soft skills.
When it comes to evaluating the strength of their customer service, the customer satisfaction (CSAT) score is often the first place companies look. Yet CSAT scores sometimes lack context and therefore fail to capture the key differences between customer experience and customer opinion. When used more deliberately, though, the CSAT provides key insights into the value being created and methods of complaint resolution.
One way to improve your CSAT scores is by training CS agents to build rapport with customers, personalizing their approach whenever it’s possible and important to do so. However, teaching soft skills, or even defining them, can be difficult. Furthermore, the right tone for a service interaction must also be a reflection of your company’s brand.
Therefore, start off by making sure that your customer interaction standards have been clearly set. Reflect that in any call scripts, knowledge bases, or other training materials. More broadly, emphasize the importance of empathy, authenticity, and a friendly tone during CS agent coaching sessions.
If some of those attributes are more important on particular channels of customer interaction, make it clear which attributes take priority where. Setting those standards and removing ambiguity will empower CS agents to have the types of service interactions that will satisfy your customers and boost your agents’ confidence.
4. Use first contact resolution rate to guide conversational skills and knowledge-sharing.
The first contact resolution rate (FCR) shows the percentage of instances your agents can resolve the customer’s issue the first time they call. Obviously, the higher this percentage is, the better — for all parties.
Train CS agents to ask customers the right questions, illuminating each situation. A customer might not clearly articulate their issue the first time because they’re still becoming familiar with your products or services. A CS agent should be well-schooled in your company’s offerings so they can constructively identify problems, troubleshoot, and answer the questions that the customer didn’t know how to ask.
You can also provide your agents with an appeasement template or strategy so that they can streamline this process. Furthermore, if you thoroughly develop your online customer resources, customers might not need to contact you again if an agent leaves something out.
With all of these measurements used as a guiding point for providing training and resources, CS agents can become more empowered in their workplaces. They will feel a palpable, inspiring sense of confidence. Your customers will be satisfied, and ultimately, your business revenue will grow.
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