• Why Customer Service Is Important (But Unappreciated)

    Tue, 4 Oct 2016, in Customer Service

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    Customer-Service-Jobphoto credit Zepfanman.com

    When powerfully disruptive technologies get on our radar, we all take notice. Consider the rise of Uber and Amazon Dash. Just a decade ago it was inconceivable getting a personal, on-demand driver or your laundry detergent re-ordered with a push of a button.

    A small nudge in market-driven customer expectations can attract a torrent of customers to ill-equipped businesses. Oftentimes, responsibility of dealing with more customers falls squarely on the shoulders of customer support representatives. They’re expected to be knowledgeable, helpful and friendly even when the environment least calls for it.

    Read More: How Speed Kills in Customer Service

    Could this explain the challenges businesses face in communicating culture, recruiting and training for support positions?

    Measuring emotional labor and its effects

    No customer wants to deal with a lazy waitress, passive-aggressive clerk or a flight attendant who avoids eye contact so they don’t actually have to take any orders. Yet, such lapses in judgment (and courtesy) are quite common and are a direct result of emotional labor – a term coined by Arlie Hochschild’s in her book The Managed Heart.

    In her book, Hochschild demonstrates that it takes measurable effort to display certain workplace emotions such as friendliness and enthusiasm. This work is required to overcome the difference between emotions an employee is expected to display and emotions an employee actually feels.

    But what happens to the person when feelings become commoditized? This can have an negative overall effect on the support representative and eventually on customer engagement.

    Here are a few ways to avoid this:

    • Hire the right people for the job.
      Someone who is passionate about your industry is bound to have it reflected in customer service. It’s a good idea to hire car enthusiasts to work in the automotive department of a store, for example.
    • Set the tone of support culture.
      Managers don’t get the right behavior by asking for it, they get the behavior they encourage, nurture and reward. Managers should encourage positivism, risk-taking and facilitate career advancement.
    • Establish communication channels.
      Support teams suffer when leaders aren’t there – or don’t lead by example. Give employees a feedback and coping mechanism when external factors affect job performance.

    Where customer service reps find themselves

    Customers, support agents and business owners all want different things.

    We especially shouldn’t deny that company-employee relationships are adversarial in nature. One is thinking about how great it would be for the other to come to work on Saturday, while the other just wants Friday to be over.

    Then there’s resentment according to wealth, power and social standing. Your employer isn’t obliged to share company information with you. What concerns them are your performance targets.

    Besides, you have your own things to worry about. Lunch breaks, Facebook updates, news sites, personal commitments – things that rank high on the agenda for you, but certainly not at all important to the employer or to the customer.

    What’s worse, this way of thinking is reinforced by our culture and mass media. Movies, television and news articles talk about the underappreciated worker. There’s usually no context provided about the business owner’s investment, risk, profit margins, taxes and costs associated with each employee. Nor do we hear about the end-user’s concerns on the other side of the spectrum.

    The role of the business owner

    Customer support representatives are often faced with pressures from both sides.

    They understand that customers appreciate human service as opposed to being treated as a number. It’s human nature to remember friendly support interactions in a positive way, whether or not the end result is what the customer desires.

    Yet they must support customers in working conditions as dictated by their employer. Managers simply aren’t open to or don’t spend enough time addressing root causes of employee disengagement and burnout:

    • They’re not letting them do the job for whatever reason
    • They’re not listening to their input and implementing it
    • They’re not leading by individual and “team” example
    • They don’t assign responsibility or have crisis management
    • They can’t honestly and openly say why employees should care

    Leaders have a responsibility to understand what talents and abilities every employee brings to the company. These should be the building blocks of your company culture. All too often managers fall into the trap of only asking the questions they’re seeking reassurance on. This doesn’t help in getting accurate responses or addressing the problem areas of any business.

    Perhaps the most important thing to do is to look inwards. Many of us find it difficult to let go of the reins and gather the courage to be more vulnerable. It’s important to expose yourself to objective feedback from those who you depend on: your employees and customers.

    Besides, if you’re not giving it your all, there’s always the possibility – in our world fraught with expressive individualism and abundant social capital – that your customer service job won’t be so easy to fill.

    Read More: Why Fire Bad Customers and How to Do it Right


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