How to Put Serve Back into Customer Service

Baseball Team Number One Fan

Two of my passions outside of work are baseball and ministry. Nine years ago these two worlds collided as a youth baseball ministry formed to train young athletes to lead and play differently than the example set for them in the media.  Serving at the annual leadership and skills training camp has been one of the greatest joys in my life. Camp is one week away and I can’t wait!

I was just reading Joe Staples’ call to empower agents to deliver a great customer experience and it really struck a chord. Common sense but so uncommon in practice.

Reflecting, I realized this year’s camp theme, servant leadership, falls into that same category and also has a direct correlation to the contact center. Exceptional customer experiences usually involve an agent that genuinely cares about the caller and puts his or her needs above their own. It’s about more than resolving an issue quickly or hitting a certain service level – it’s an attitude.

Here are a few characteristics of a servant leader noted in Wikipedia:

  • Listening – puts the emphasis upon listening effectively to others
  • Empathy – understands others’ feelings and perspectives
  • Awareness – understands his or her own values, feelings, strengths and weaknesses
  • Persuasion – influences others
  • Stewardship – holds an organization’s resources in trust for the greater good
  • Building community – help create a sense of community among people

Sure sounds like an excellent customer experience waiting to happen! Seems obvious, right? So, why don’t we see more agents genuinely demonstrating these qualities? I believe there are three main reasons:

1. Poorly Defined KPIs – Contact centers often place too much importance on narrowly defined performance metrics that drive behavior contrary to a servant leadership approach. Regardless of what they’re told, agents will manage to what they can quantify and supervisors are measuring. Check out the post, “Two Minutes and 11 Seconds” for a real-world example.

2. Lack of Soft Skills Training – Training programs often fail to address the development of the right soft skills for agents to become effective servant leaders. In that case, it’s not the agents fault. One consultant I worked with was adamant that you can’t hold agents accountable for something they haven’t been given the tools and opportunity to correct – you can’t just expect things to change without action.

3. Staffing Challenges – It’s just flat out hard to fill all the seats in the contact center with people who buy into the servant leadership approach. Some are in it to collect a paycheck and that’s all that matters to them -regardless of how well contact center managers communicate, measure performance, and train their agents.

So what’s the solution? Make servant leadership a core value to your organization and reward those who demonstrate the six characteristics listed above. Help agents realize they are indeed in a leadership role – others are watching and being influenced by their approach to serving customers. Equip agents with the proper training and, better yet, demonstrate servant leadership in how you manage them. Finally, make sure your approach to performance measurement and evaluation is consistent with a servant leadership approach.

Want to deliver a great customer experience? Empower your agents and put the serve back into customer service.

Anxiously awaiting the start of a new season,

Jason Alley

Jason Alley

Jason Alley

Jason Alley is a senior solutions marketing manager for Interactive Intelligence. Since his employment in 2010, Jason has helped Interactive Intelligence develop market requirements and go-to-market strategies for contact center, customer experience, and cloud solutions. Prior to Interactive, he spent ten years consulting with large enterprise contact centers and suppliers for Vanguard Communications, and a company he later founded, SmartContact Consulting. Jason spent the first seven years of his career in sales, marketing, and product management roles working for Aspect, Hipbone, Nortel, and others. Jason received his bachelor’s degree in business economics from UCLA.