Supporting Your Customer Service Reps

June 23rd, 2016
Steven Howard

Treat Your Customer Service Reps Like A First-Class Team

As customers feel it is their right to have 24×7 customer service availability for more and more product categories and industries, the role of the customer service representative takes on even greater importance.

I wonder, though, based on my experience of dealing with customer service reps, how many companies ever sit down and explain in detail product specifications, the rules and regulations of contests and promotions, or even details of the latest promotion or product advertising? Not many, it seems.

This neglect of the customer service staff is absolutely mind-boggling.

Despite all the books, articles, seminars, workshops, and customer service gurus advocating the importance of customer service, customer care, and even customer intimacy, it appears that very little thought, training, or motivation goes toward the frontline customer service staff in many organizations.

Your customer service reps should be given the same details and briefing as your sales staff. After all, the customer service staff are often in more frequent contact with your customers than the sales staff, and hence they have more opportunities to cross-sell or up-sell to your customers. As mentioned in the Powerful Marketing Memo on the Sales/Service Relationship, every service opportunity is a sales opportunity.

And, as I like to continually point out, customer service representatives should, in fact, be trained and motivated as customer satisfaction representatives.

Many managers don’t like to invest training funds in customer service representatives, as they say there’s always too high a turnover rate in this area. Of course, this begs the question, “might not a decent training program and an exciting incentive program decrease turnover within the customer service area?”

It’s also important to remember that customer service reps can provide a valuable two-way service — by communicating to customers all the possible solutions the company offers, and by communicating back to management all the good and bad news they hear from customers. But the latter takes place only when you have an inherent feedback and debriefing process in place. This sort of customer feedback rarely makes it back to senior management if the debriefing process is not formal and conducted regularly (like weekly).

Likewise, the debriefing sessions for customer service reps should also focus on two-way communication. From management’s perspective, these sessions (which I recommend as small group sessions) should be used to encourage continuous feedback, to provide answers and information to help the reps perform their jobs better, and to recognize how important the reps (and their work) are to the company.

From the rep’s perspective, the debriefing sessions should give them sufficient time to report back on the customer comments they are hearing, and for the group to discuss whether the comments concern isolated events or if any trends are developing. The sessions should be open and honest forums, where the reps feel free to bring up any issues and to report back on any concerns being raised by customers.

While the immediate supervisor of the customer service reps is best placed to hold these regular debriefing sessions, it is always good for more senior management to attend occasionally. This reinforces the importance of the sessions and also gives senior management an opportunity to hear unfiltered reports from their frontline troops.

Nothing in this process should convey the message that the customer service area is a glorified complaint department. You want to encourage both positive and negative feedback, and to treat the customer service team as your market and customer reconnaissance team.

Remember, the customer service representative is often the first, and the last, person representing the company that the customer talks to. Shouldn’t these be some of the most motivated, trained, and enthusiastic people on your staff?

Key Point: treat your customer service representatives like a first-rate team and you will receive first-rate customer and market intelligence.

Taking Action: how good a job are you doing of keeping your customer service representatives informed and up-to-date on products, promotions, customer issues? How could this be improved?

What is your turnover rate for CSRs? If it is too high, you might consider using an outside resource to conduct interviews with some who left to identify true causes of the turnover rate.

How do customers rate your CSRs? What needs improvement? Why?


This article is excerpted from our book Powerful Marketing Memos, available now at Amazon in paperback ($10.88) and Kindle ($3.88) formats.

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