Five Ways to Engage Employees in Customer Service

Anyone who has ever worked with customers knows how potentially frustrating it can be. Even if the customer is polite and has the best of intentions, once you know a product or service inside and out, it becomes hard to empathize with people who know nothing about it, as they ask questions that are seemingly simple and demand things that seem unreasonable to those who already know the rules. Dealing with the same requests day after day can also really take a toll on employee engagement.

Keeping these challenges in mind, below are five ways to engage employees in customer service.

1. Provide skills training so employees can deal with all situations.

When an employee is unsure of how to solve a problem, he or she is more likely to put off responding via email, put the customer on hold to get help, or offer a less than satisfactory solution just to pacify the customer for the moment. All of these scenarios ensure a customer that is not delighted and an employee who feels stressed by an apparent inability to perform at her best. To avoid this, make sure your customer service team is trained on your products, services, and policies, as well as effective troubleshooting.

2. Empower employees to take action and give them the power to solve problems.

Often, customer service agents are reluctant to help customers solve a problem because it's actually hard for them to do so. They might have to call in a supervisor or get special approval, which will interrupt their workflow and become a headache. Empower your agents to get things done on the spot whenever possible, without unnecessary red tape or road blocks. The employee and the customer will both be happier for it.

3. Offer incentives and make a little friendly competition.

Offer incentives for best post-service satisfaction scores or fewest number of repeated calls about the same issue. Just be sure that you're aiming at the right behaviors. If you offer an incentive for shortest call times, for example, you might just be encouraging your employees to rush customers off the phone rather than truly solving their problems. Publicly recognize and reward those who provide exceptional customer service.

4. Create projects to make the day interesting and interactive.

Sitting in front of a computer screen and answering calls and emails for eight hours straight can be mind-numbing, especially if the inquiries are fairly simplistic. Try to break up your customer service team's work week with other administrative or creative projects that help with productivity while providing a welcome change.

5. Encourage professionalism, but provide an outlet to blow off steam.

You should never foster a company culture where customers are thought of as a nuisance, because they are the people keeping your doors open. However, we all need to joke around every now and then to keep our sanity. Don't sweat it if you hear employees making fun of a caller every now and then, or complaining to each other about how annoying it is when a customer says this or that. A little bit of that is healthy; you should only be concerned if it starts to affect their work or their demeanor with customers.

Your customer service team members are on the front lines for your company and brand. Taking steps to ensure they are engaged and empowered to do their best work is essential to your company's success.

Tom Silk is executive vice president of sales and marketing at WorkStride, a CorporateRewards company.