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Tales from the Front Lines of Customer Support

It’s no secret that customer support (CS) work is not for the faint of heart. After all, CS by definition involves providing assistance to people who have a question or problem and thus are likely to be confused at best and irate at worst. And often, it’s a customer’s own lack of knowledge or skills that’s causing a problem.

As one corporate customer support agent explains, “What I like the least about my position is talking to incompetent customers…” A software development manager who often provides technical support to customers agrees, saying, “My worst example was when I asked a client ‘What browser are you using?’ and they replied ‘Excel.’ That makes it VERY difficult to resolve their problems.”

Moving towards the “irate” end of the spectrum, one CS engineer describes, “The least enjoyable part of working in a support [department] is, naturally, comforting angry customers — when they are infuriated by things beyond your control. Sometimes it is simply not your fault — or not your product’s fault. But it’s [to] you they all come to vent off.”

The Worst Aspects of Customer Support Jobs

As comments like those make clear, customers themselves are one of the most challenging elements of support work. In fact, in a study of more than 300 CS agents conducted by Dimensional Research, nearly half responded that “Customers take their problems out on me” was one of the toughest parts of their job.

But the difficulties of support work extend beyond confused or angry customers. Rounding out the list of the “Worst Aspects of Customer Support” are:

  • I get blamed, even if it’s not my fault.
  • I feel like I’m always in fire-fighting mode.
  • My work days are unpredictable.
  • Lack of respect within my company and field.
  • Too many systems and processes.
  • Very hard to find the information I need.

Impact of Agent Satisfaction on the Bottom Line

While it would be next to impossible to avoid ever having a challenging customer, it is possible for companies to make changes that would eliminate (or at least reduce) some of the other top agent complaints. But before exploring HOW they can do so, let’s take a moment to address WHY they should want to.

From the standpoint of the agent, you’d hope that your employer would want to improve your job satisfaction simply because they care about you as a person and want you to have an enjoyable working environment. And for some employers, that is reason enough.

But for many companies today, everything comes down to boosting profits. That’s why it’s important for employers to understand the connection between agent satisfaction and the business’s bottom line. Put simply, happy agents lead to happy customers, which in turn increases revenue while reducing costs associated with employee turnover.

Opportunities for Improving Agent Satisfaction

Once employers understand why they should care about CS agent satisfaction, what can they do to improve it? If we return to the “worst aspects” of support work listed above, they can essentially be grouped into two buckets:

  • Need for better CS tools and processes
  • Agents feeling a lack of respect and empowerment

The need for better tools and processes for customer support can’t be understated. In fact, it’s at the heart of why we built the Squelch software solution — to help agents find the information they need while filtering out the extraneous data they don’t.

But for now, we’re going to turn our attention to the other bucket. From getting blamed for things that aren’t their fault to constant fire fighting and unpredictable work days, agents are crying out for greater respect and empowerment. The good news is that companies can answer their call by developing the right CS culture.

Front entrance of The Ritz-Carlton hotel

CS Culture Spotlight: The Ritz-Carlton

In last week’s blog post, we explored the definition and importance of corporate culture in general and customer support culture in particular, focusing on the theme of connection. Now, we’re going to examine how CS culture can improve agent satisfaction by enhancing the respect and empowerment of your support team, using the example of The Ritz-Carlton.

Respect

The foundation of The Ritz-Carton’s culture is the motto: “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” With this one simple statement, the luxury hotel chain manages to establish in its employees:

  • Respect for one’s self — “I am a lady/gentleman.”
  • Respect for one’s colleagues — “Just as I am a lady/gentleman, so are my colleagues.”
  • Respect for its customers — “Just as I am a lady/gentleman, so is each of my customers.”

Empowerment

In addition to its motto, The Ritz-Carlton has established 12 service values that reflect its customer-centric mindset. Among them are:

  • “I own and immediately resolve guest problems.”
  • “I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests.”

Lots of companies say they expect employees to immediately resolve customer problems and that they are empowered to do so. But The Ritz-Carlton actually puts its money where its mouth is. As Forbes explains, “One of its remarkable policies is to permit every employee to spend up to $2,000 making any single guest satisfied.” No manager approval required.

Through this policy, customer-facing employees are entrusted with not only the authority but also the means to follow through on the service values listed above — not only immediately resolving guest problems but truly going above and beyond to create unique and memorable experiences.

“Empowering employees is an extraordinary expression of trust. It’s actually a great way to tell your team, ‘I believe in you,’” writes leadership coach Stephen Blandino. “The Ritz doesn’t just set high standards, it gives its Ladies and Gentlemen the authority to do what’s necessary to reach that standard.”

Share Your Own Tale from the Front Lines

Does your company have a CS culture that respects and empowers its support professionals? Tell us about it via Twitter at @SquelchIO, and we just might feature you in a future blog post!

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