By Fara Haron
There’s a canned perception of customer service representatives: answering calls all day, reading from a script, addressing customers’ complaints and then moving on to the next. However, if this is how you are leveraging your customer service representatives, you are doing a disservice to your company. On the front lines every day, customer service representatives are often the only interaction your customers will have with your company—they are ultimately the face of your brand. In this sense, it’s critical to view them as an extension of your larger brand team, responsible for having a direct impact on the customer experience. If you’re not training your representatives to be brand advocates for your company, then how can you expect your customers to be?
It doesn’t matter how big or small your business is, or how many customer service representatives you have – it’s critical to create an alignment between your customer service and brand teams. Both teams share a common goal: to create a positive customer experience. They can collectively get closer to that experience by learning from each other. Here are some specific ways to get started:
Recruit the Right Way
Today, applying for a job is typically done online and recruiters may never even come face-to-face with candidates. But, with customer service representatives on the front lines and dealing directly with your customers, their tone, composure and passion matters big time. Therefore, it is critical to recruit the right way by doing so in-person to make sure that potential candidates’ personalities align with the brand. Participating in career fairs or recruiting at a storefront are two great ways where you can control the conversation face-to-face and get to know the potential candidates directly. During these conversations, you will be able to pick up on critical traits, such as empathy, or a candidate’s ability to translate complex matters into simple language—qualities that are often just as (if not more) important than product knowledge. You may also want to consider involving a representative from your brand team in your recruitment efforts. Given their familiarity with character traits that align with and embody the brand, their input can be incredibly valuable at this stage.
Train Them, Thoroughly
Training is crucial for any job, but customer service training should not be taken lightly and should go beyond just checking a completed box from the administrative side. If the training strategies are ineffective, customer service representatives will likely struggle with their product knowledge and feel less enthused about the brand they’re working for. Suggested training timeframes can range depending on the industry, but classroom training in the retail world, for example, can last up to three weeks, followed by an additional two weeks of shadowing advanced representatives and listening in on calls. Once a representative feels assured, they are able to focus on delighting the customers, and not simply just answering questions. Confidence shows through and is the first step to a great customer experience.
The goal of training should be to get representatives comfortable enough where they do not even need to read a script. Instead, their knowledge and familiarity with the product or service should become second nature. They should know the brand and the product or service inside and out to innately know the most appropriate response or troubleshooting suggestions during interactions with customers.
Make Them a Customer, Too
Now that you’ve recruited and trained your customer service representatives in the most effective manner, immerse them in the brand by having them use the product or service in their everyday life to fuel their passion even further. You can do this by giving them free product and/or letting them use the service they are representing. Brands can also take this a step further by taking their representatives to manufacturing facilities to see firsthand how the product is made. Not only will the representatives understand how the product or service works, but it can stimulate their commitment to the brand, allowing them to become true advocates and share that enthusiasm with your customers.
Maintain an Ongoing Dialogue
Today, it’s more important than ever to have an ongoing dialogue between customer service and brand teams as consumers increasingly turn to social media as a way to communicate with businesses for their customer service needs. In a small business setting, it’s especially important, and actually easier, to create a framework for keeping teams connected. Teams are smaller and individuals often play multiple roles, allowing for easier communication between teams. In small businesses where employees are working toward the same goals, alignment and increased communication can improve motivation and ultimately help maintain the success of the business.
As your business grows, consider an organizational structure that allows these teams to stay in close contact, perhaps by having both teams report to the same director or vice president. Allow brand managers to periodically listen in on customer service calls and provide feedback. Similarly, have regular meetings where representatives share recommendations to the brand department like when to pull back on advertising a product feature that is actually unsatisfying to customers, or specific insights gleaned directly from the voice of the customer.
At the end of the day, businesses should strive to make everyone in the company a brand advocate, even if they’re not the face of the brand to your customers. By empowering all employees to be passionate about the work they do, you can keep your customers coming back for more.
Fara Haron is the CEO of CRM Solutions, North America and Philippines, Arvato.