What comes to mind when you think of the Fourth of July? Perhaps it represents the midpoint of summer and brings thoughts of sunshine and vacation. Or maybe it’s images of backyard barbecues complete with hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, and apple pie. Or maybe your first thoughts are of colorful fireworks dancing in the night sky.
Whatever activities or foods you associate with this American holiday, the true meaning behind the Fourth of July is, of course, independence. The first Independence Day in 1776 was marked by the Continental Congress’s passage of the Declaration of Independence in which the 13 Colonies formally asserted their independence from Great Britain. This document paved the way for the creation of a new country: the United States of America.
The Fourth of July was turned into a national holiday to celebrate independence in the context of politics — specifically government of, by, and for the people. But that doesn’t mean the day can’t also be used to promote other types of independence.
That’s why this year, in honor of “America’s birthday,” we’ve decided to examine the benefits of independence in a professional environment — particularly as it relates to customer support and success professionals.
Independence for Customer-Facing Agents
“Research shows that when employees are given the freedom associated with autonomy, job satisfaction rises,” explains The Chronicle. “It’s theorized that this increased level of job satisfaction in employees stems from a feeling of greater responsibility for the quality of their work. Autonomy has also been shown to increase motivation and happiness, along with decreasing employee turnover.” In addition, having room to breathe and permission to try new things can also help to spark creativity and innovation.
Despite these benefits of employee autonomy, many customer support and success managers struggle with promoting independence amongst their team members. In an effort to ensure that assistance provided to customers is as accurate and efficient as possible, managers often wind up micromanaging agents or requiring that they stick to a prepared script at all times.
While these impulses are understandable, this type of a heavy-handed managerial approach can have significant consequences for agent satisfaction. As CIPHR writes, “How can anyone feel engaged and inspired if [managers] are always looking over their shoulder? A good leader will know that micromanagement isn’t conducive to a happy employee, in fact, the opposite is true.”
I have good news, though: there is a middle ground that will keep both agent and manager happy. Remember that the Declaration of Independence did not prompt America to transition from a set of colonies under monarchic rule to anarchy. Rather than swinging from one extreme to the other, the Declaration and subsequent Constitution brought the new nation to a sort of sweet spot in the center: a democratic republic. Similarly, it’s possible for managers to implement an organizational structure that maintains order while still giving agents sufficient freedom.
Recipe for Success
Just like that all-American apple pie, there is a tried-and-true recipe for creating independent yet accountable customer-facing agents. The key ingredients are:
In order to be able to take a step back and give their agents more freedom, managers must trust them. This is not something that can be established overnight. That’s why most new hires go through a formal probationary period or at least an informal time under close supervision.
For team leaders who are struggling with trust, remember that agents are the soldiers on the front lines each and every day. While no one is perfect, managers can rest assured that agents are usually in the best position to understand and deliver what customers need.
Empowerment is a word that’s near and dear to our hearts. In fact, it’s part of the Squelch company motto: Empower your heroes. Elevate your customer experience.
To us, empowerment is all about arming support and success professionals — whom we believe are heroes for both their customers and companies — with the resources they need to be successful. This can mean anything from providing them with the best CX optimization solution to offering robust employee onboarding and ongoing training sessions.
The better prepared an agent is, the more confident their manager will feel in granting greater autonomy. And as an added bonus, the agent will also feel more confident!
As acknowledged above, no one is perfect. So even with the best preparation possible, there will be times when an agent exercises their freedom and unfortunately misses the mark.
In those situations, managers should resist the temptation to overreact and shut down their agents’ independence. Instead, team leaders should provide constructive feedback to help the agent understand their misstep and how they can do better next time. By taking this approach, mistakes can serve as learning experiences that promote increased trust and autonomy in the future rather than reduce agent independence.
In honor of Independence Day, we encourage all support and success managers to consider ways that they can bravely grant greater autonomy to their agents. And agents, if your manager needs a little nudge in the right direction, we also encourage you to be brave by starting a discussion about how to increase independence for yourself and your peers. We promise your newfound autonomy will taste even better than apple pie.