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Managing for Great Customer Service

As a former customer service manager, I know the position requires one to possess a balance of operational knowledge and people skills. Both are necessary in insuring the best possible experience for both team members and customers. Here are a few tips on managing this balancing act:

Remember that your employees are people. Often times as a manager, it’s easy to get caught up in metrics. These are important, as they assist in advising you of the state of your operation. Your employees help drive these metrics, so your people skills are required here. Take the time to explain to your team members how they contribute to the success of the customer’s experience. Always be conscious of the fact that you can’t meet the metric goals without your team. Your listening skills are critical in your role as a manager. Seek out and reward  ideas for improvement. Implement those that result in cost savings or have a positive impact on the metrics.  Provide more positive feedback than negative feedback. If your employees receive enough positive feedback, they are better able to receive feedback that points to needed improvement. Keep team meetings based on team issues. Celebrate individual and team accomplishments. Protect the integrity of your team members by keeping individual negative performance issues private. Find someone on the team to develop for a management position – in other words, train someone to replace you.

Develop cross functional awareness. This one is for the operational side of your skill set. As a manager, I always found it interesting and helpful to understand how other areas of the company operated. It’s important to know how your operation impacts other areas within the organization and vice versa. This knowledge will help you to develop better processes within your area. Share this knowledge with your team in order to promote cross functional thinking. The goal is to get your team to say to themselves – “When I do this, who’s impacted by my actions?”

Watch for patterns. – This tip has a mixture of both people and operational skills. Let’s start with the operational side. As an analytical person by nature, I’m always interested in patterns which meant I spent a lot of time graphing data. What I learned by doing this is that operation metrics usually contain patterns. I found that every one of my operational metrics flowed in a pattern. Since data analysis was a fun task for me, I would graph weeks of data to identify patterns. Doing so helped me to make operational adjustments to correct a negative pattern. More importantly, it helped me not to improperly respond to “blips”. “Blips” are what I considered a temporary change in the pattern that could be attributed to a one time incident – product issues, service related issues, etc. I would closely watch to make sure that the negative pattern change did not become a permanent change. Even if the pattern change is positive – it bears investigating to get the story behind the change, just to make sure that the customer still receives a great experience.

In regards to people and patterns, it has been my experience that everyone has a pattern. I found that team members usually perform their duties with their own signature – the way they converse with customers, the way they input information into systems and the way they interact with others. Just as in the example regarding operational patterns, it’s important to know and monitor people patterns. A negative “blip” on the people side may be a one time loss of call control or improper account notation. If further observations reveal no indication of repeat behavior, then consider that a “blip”.  Protracted negative changes in the pattern may be an indication that the team member is experiencing stress – either occupational or personal. A conversation with this team member advising them that you’ve noticed a change in their work pattern and give them specific examples of the change. A simple conversation like this may lead to the team member advising you of issues that are impacting their job performance. Offer the appropriate assistance within company guidelines. Your team member will feel that you care about them as a person and not just an employee. During one managerial stint, I remember listening to one of the best call center employees with the company stumble through several calls as if it was her first time taking calls. Knowing that this was not her normal pattern, I advised her that I had listened to her last several calls and that she didn’t sound like herself. She advised me of some personal issues that she left home that morning without resolving. I advised her to call home and resolve the issues and come see me before resuming her duties. She took about 15 minutes to do so and appeared at my door to thank me for allowing her to take care of the unresolved issues. After resuming her duties, she was back to her normal pattern in handling her customers.

Remain objective. This tip is critical when giving feedback to your team members. Performance evaluations and coaching sessions should be based upon objective information. Provide data and examples on which the evaluation is based.  Subjectivity will only lead to trouble.  Team members should know that their performance rating  is based upon their written performance standards which were created from the job description. Provide performance feedback on a regular basis as your team members look  for consistency in this area.

Give respect to get respect. I think it’s every manager’s wish that they be respected as the person in charge. It’s been my experience that the best way to get respect is to give respect. Respect your team members as people first. Respect what they do by spending time performing their duties. Whatever it is that they do – take calls, service customers face to face, handle customers as a field service rep – you do it with them to get a real world view of what is required to actually do the job. Ask for their opinions by using these four words  – “What do you think?” Listen to their opinions regarding operational issues. Be an advocate for your team. Remove obstacles that hinders their success. Team members will respect the position when they feel that the person in that position respects them.

It takes courage to be a manager.  Balance the operational side and the people side for a better long term result. I always found that it’s better to manage through persuasion (here’s where we’re headed) vs commandment (you’re going whether you like it or not). The best compliment for me when one of my team members was asked “What do you like most about having Errol as a manager?” was their answer “He cares about us as people and he’s fair.”

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