Developing your customer service team members and keeping them happy doesn’t necessarily need to involve approaching the CFO for additional budget.
To be sure, fair salaries and clear career paths are the basis of being a good employer and the foundation of staff retention. Sometimes, however, those rewards don’t come soon enough for ambitious support team members, or they’re not available to the degree everyone would like them to be.
A study by TINYpulse shows money is only one of many motivators for employees in this day and age. Recognition, personal growth, and having an impact all come before money — and taking that into account, in my view, is vital to employee engagement and building a happy team.
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The question, then, becomes what you can do between more significant career milestones. One challenge of scaling customer support at Pipedrive has been getting team members up to speed and keeping them engaged after they ramp up. Here are some practical measures you can take to help your employees develop quickly and feel challenged beyond the honeymoon phase.
1. The power of ‘That’s fine, continue’
No matter how good an agent is naturally, they will only ramp up and learn if they get feedback on their work. A lot of it.
Patting agents on the back for exemplary interactions or pointing out glaring mistakes in their work comes pretty naturally to most.
The value that lies in validating work that is “good” is less obvious. Not “amazing,” not “terrible,” but “good” — the kind of work that makes up the majority of most people’s efforts.
Closing the feedback loop on some of those business-as-usual conversations is important because until you do, you’re leaving your people guessing at what kind of work qualifies as acceptable. Most conversations fall into the category of “OK, keep doing that,” but until you say it, the agent has no idea.
When you give this kind of feedback systematically, your team will ramp up quicker and gain confidence in what they’re doing. Multiply that over all agents and time, and the impact is enormous.
2. Mentoring works both ways
Having a seasoned go-to person is great for the new hire. Trainers are usually there (if you have trainers in your organizations) during the onboarding, but they’re not as available at other times. Managers are there when you need to ask permission, but the nature of the relationship is such that new hires often don’t feel like taking simple questions to them. So assigning a go-to person whom they perceive as a peer is a great way to enable the regular “that’s fine, keep it up” type of feedback loop.
Related: Employee Onboarding Best Practices
Another somewhat surprising benefit of this practice is thatas well. It sends a strong message that says, “You have valuable knowledge to pass on to the new hire, and we trust you to do it well.” The mentor is forced to display confidence in their knowledge, and it positions them as the seasoned expert in that situation, which can be significant validation for their work.
3. Develop superpowers
I resisted specialization of our agents for quite some time, because I thought it would mean allowing some team members to lose the ability to do certain things and that they would be “lost” when it came to helping deal with the backlog.
When we eventually developed the first specialized roles, it turned out to be an unfounded fear. The added benefit of somebody who knows the general stuff and has developed specialized skills has proven to be a worthwhile model.
For example, we’ve had success with dedicating agents to conversations with new trial users, who tend to require less hardcore technical knowledge but who appreciate quick replies and can do with an extra dose of empathy and patience when contacting us for the first time.
Related: The 5 People You Meet In Support
Other specializations might include conversation subject categories (billing, data migration, account setup), product features, channel (chat, email, phone), technical categories (API, integrations, mobile apps, etc.). Once we started brainstorming, we came up with more options than anyone had expected, and that is likely true for anyone who goes through a similar exercise.
What’s maybe most important of all — those specific areas tend to improve rapidly, once particular people start taking ownership and developing in-depth knowledge of the area of expertise.
4. Let them try your job
Few things have a more immediate impact on a person’s results than telling them “You’re in charge.”
Deputizing is one of the most natural ways to empower people, because great people will instinctively try to do their utmost when that happens.
At Pipedrive, one case study in the power of deputizing has been delegating the organization of our team events. Regular team events are the backbone of a healthy culture. The trouble is that after the first couple of times for any given organizer, it may become a chore and a drain on creative energy and time resources.
We delegated coming up with ideas for team events and executing them to the team, and frankly, the quality and attendance has improved significantly compared to when I was organizing them.
If a manager has a bunch of responsibility, putting a team event together may not be the top priority, and that will inevitably reflect in the effort that goes into organizing. So why not give away your legos to a team member who can get excited about owning a project and making a positive impact?
One additional benefit of deputizing senior contributors for various tasks (anything from daily tasks to special projects) is that it will expose the challenges to more substantial parts of your organization and thus make your points of view as a manager more relatable as they see from your perspective.
After spending four years building the support organization, I’m finally OK with admitting that it’s a stressful job almost no matter what, and it’s repetitive after some time. Sure, you get different customers and conversations, but before long it narrows to a much smaller number of variations of the same old situations.
Admitting that sometimes support work can be stressful and repetitive opens you up to finding options for counteracting some of those negative aspects.
These are just a few things that you can do to challenge your team and make the work more meaningful and enjoyable. The bottom line is that when you hire smart, ambitious people, titles and salary numbers make up only a part of their motivation.