Customer service leaders are in the unique position to make a huge impact on company growth in two respects: employee experience and customer experience. By taking on an affective mindset for both customers and employers, we can make a difference and turn the churn (both employee and customer).
So, there you have it. Understanding people is a crucial factor for business.
When you learn what drives people, you can do magic when it comes to having happy customers as well as happy employees.
Companies seem to be picking up this message since multiple trend articles report increased investments in employee experience (EX), customer experience (CX) and even total experience (TX). This suggests an increased awareness of the importance of shifting the focus from exclusively money-centred to including the actual needs of the people that shape the core of every business: customers and employees.
How to Nurture Experiences
CX and EX focus a great deal on understanding pain points through proactively asking for feedback, which is looped back to the responsible departments in order to improve the experience by reducing pain points. The bigger picture here is to aim for a higher retention rate or a lower churn.
By asking people for their feedback, we are learning about their likes and dislikes. But we are not learning about what actually drives their behavior.
So, what are the actual needs of people? We might have been living under the impression for years that people are being driven by power, money, influence, and possessions. Since companies started asking feedback from our customers on almost every point on the customer journey, we understand that they desire a fast response, a correct response, acceptable waiting times, proactive communication, and so on.
But there is an underlying primary need for one thing that connects all the above. This one actual need has been identified already half-way the previous century.
A short psychology lesson
In the 1950s, the American psychologist Harry Harlow conducted a series of controversial experiments on young rhesus monkeys. He sought to determine what is more important for the survival and development of the monkeys: food or affection. Therefore, he separated baby monkeys from their mother and placed them with a surrogate mother. He created two versions of a mother-shaped object out of garden fence wires, with one version being covered with soft cloth and the other version was just the wire, but the mother had a feeding bottle attached to her. Basically, the soft surrogate was cuddly and therefore offered affection, but no food, and the other surrogate provided food without affection.
When the baby monkeys were placed with the surrogates, all the babies preferred to spend their time on the soft surrogate instead of the feeding one. When Harlow distressed the babies by scaring them, all of them sought comfort with the soft surrogate instead of the feeding surrogate.
The only time the babies spent on the feeding surrogate was the time needed to get fed, and then fled back to the cuddly one. Even though the experiments went on for many years and different experimental designs were applied, the point was made clear: both with and without distress, primates (such as monkeys and human beings) need affection more than food in order to survive.
So, there it is. The actual primary need of all human beings is affection. Affection is described as “positive feelings or emotions that derive from acknowledgement of one’s own values in the character of the others, usually in the context of relationships between human beings”. It relates to being understood, being heard, being seen, and being acknowledged for what we stand for.
Which brings us to today
Very recently, we’ve been faced with major developments in our world that distress many of us. Just recall what happens when you add increasing gas prices at the service stations to a global pandemic, in the light of a war on the European continent, multiplied with an energy crisis, topped with some inflation.
Indeed, massive consumer distress. Consumers are in a limbo when it comes to their purchases, their ability to enjoy their booked vacations, questions about testing or vaccinations, or maybe on how to meet their basic needs. In times of massive distress, we see that people tend to seek contact with other human beings for comfort and soothing through affection.
In our world, we were confronted with increasing contact volumes, more complicated questions and the need for reassurance that the customer’s problem will be solved, preferably with the solution they have already formulated for themselves.
At the same time, we see massive employee distress by way of The Great Resignation. Employees are leaving their jobs because of toxic environments, unpleasant bosses, little room for development or their private life. Another trend we see is quiet quitting, where employees do the minimum required and are psychologically detached from their job.
How EX and CX are mutually beneficial
Some might still question the viability of a prosperous career in customer services, but I am not one of those people. A customer service department has all the ingredients and potential to be the best starting point of a booming career.
I have seen it, I’ve experienced it, and I have facilitated it. Maybe you haven’t encountered a customer service department that has been a true career kick-starter. That doesn’t mean it has no potential to become one, it just means the circumstances have not been right – yet.
Compare it to nurturing a plant: they all need light, water, and soil to be at their prettiest, and in the right amount for that specific plant type. Depriving or overdoing can both lead to a dying plant. You just need to learn what this plant exactly requires, and cater to these needs. A little understanding is all it takes.
In general, customer service is a job people end up in due to circumstances, rather than actively pursuing a career talking to angry customers. But I see great potential in people working in the customer services department. In general, the customer service team knows more about the product or platform than anyone else in the company.
They understand our customers, since they are not afraid to talk to them. Our customer care teams usually know how to make sense of trend breaches in data reports that we cannot explain, simply because they interact with the customers.
The list of skills customer service profressionals master is endless, but usually include:
- Incredible problem-solving skills;
- Multitasking like a pro;
- Negotiating the best outcome for both the company and the customer,
- Collaborate in a team;
- Summarizing complex situations;
- Be empathetic,
- Detecting the needs of others;
As professionals, we know what techniques to apply with customers to keep them happy, and how to create feedback loops into the organization in order to improve customer experience.
However, the approach of improving your EX in customer service to contribute to company growth may sound more unfamiliar. The idea is quite simple: by actively enabling your customer service team to grow into different roles within the company, you:
- Keep valuable knowledge in the organization;
- Create perspective for the team;
- Contribute to scalable growth.
So, what steps should customer service leaders take to support hardworking employees?
1. Reflect on how you value your department and team
It all starts with you. How do you feel about your department and your team? It is not uncommon within companies to value the customer care department quite low, compared to other departments. It’s reflected through the salaries, the perspectives, working hours, corrective measures on behavior that don’t always exist for other roles, the perks. However – it is also important to understand how you feel about the department, regardless of what the rest thinks.
2. Understand your team: the challenges and the personalities
This step is the most time-consuming, but also the most crucial step to take. It might even influence the outcome of how you value your department.
My career within customer services started as a side job during my studies, which puts me in the fortunate position to understand exactly what colleagues from my team are experiencing. However, some customer service leaders were promoted to the role from another department and thus have either never experienced the challenges of working in customer service. In the light of our new discovery, that affection is the core driver, I would highly recommend spending some time on a regular basis experiencing what your team is dealing with.
It will not only help you understand their challenges, but also how you should shape your processes and procedures. Understanding your team is not only about the work. Equally important is to learn what beliefs, values, wishes, fears and burdens your individual team members have. There are numerous tools and models published online to learn about personality types within your teams, how to identify your own, and how to understand the mechanisms behind them, as well as the interactions in between them.
Get to know what the team thinks of the company, the leadership, the way of working, what they’re missing, what they’re wishing for, where they’re coming from. It takes an open and safe environment where people trust you enough to be vulnerable. Maybe you’re not at that point yet, but that’s okay. A little effort will get you there.
3. Promote learning and development
Now that you understand your team, it’s time to start organizing all the information you’ve gathered and create lists of tasks, responsibilities, competencies, and skills. This is a thorough job, but probably one that your team can help you with. Which skills are required to do the job within your customer service team? Make sure to look for the basic skills as well as the more advanced skills. Also, I recommend thinking of extra tasks that can be done by your customer service team. Perhaps updating FAQ articles isn’t a core task, or are agents doing QA on each other’s tickets? Make sure to list the skills too and categorize skill-levels.
Once you have an extensive overview of the skills and competencies needed for the roles, evaluate per colleague at what skill level they currently are, and where the potential for growth lies. The best practice is to do this together with the employee, where the customer service leader can facilitate the process but not control it.
Facilitating means creating enough accessible opportunities for the team members to grow, learn and develop. Just remember it’s their process to do it, it’s your role to support it.
4. Advocate growth within or outside your company
Wow! You’ve done so much work already at this point. Time to take it to the next step, of actively pursuing growth for your team members outside your department, but only for those who want it. Luckily, you already know this because you took the time for step 2, and you’ve created a safe space where everybody can voice their wishes – even if they don’t align with yours. That should be okay too.
The key to advocating growth of your customer service colleagues within the company has two elements: understanding the needs, wishes, and goals of both your team, and the company. Maybe there’s a role for a junior sales manager open, and you have someone in your team with great negotiation skills. Or the legal department is expanding, and you remember from your conversations that you have somebody in the team with a legal background whose skill set matches the role perfectly.
The point is, your enthusiasm about your team, and your belief in their value together with your knowledge of their drivers and skills, makes a perfect advocate for growth within the company.
But you should also be open to growth outside your company. It might not contribute to the growth of your company, but it’s about the affective mindset. If you’re willing to support whatever decision is best for your employee even when that means losing them, you’re on the right track.
More for customer service leaders:
- 7 Feedback Techniques That Customer Service Teams (Should) Love
- Identifying Your Betty: Finding Your Superstar Customer Support Agent
To learn more from Cynthia, you can often find her in webinars and podcasts in the customer service sphere – or check out The Caring Company.