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The Rise of Technology Means Your Employees Matter More than Ever

As customers increasingly look to solve their own issues online, the problems that reps have to deal with are far more complex; customer service teams need to rethink their hiring and development processes

As the internet and online communication seeps further and further into all our lives, the thought of dealing with a human being to fix a customer problem – anything from a missing delivery to a delayed flight – seems increasingly remote. Most people would far rather get information and resolve an issue online than call someone.

So it’s great that technology allows companies and their customers to solve so many issues; it makes customers happier and costs companies less. But the downside is that when customers actually do need to talk to a customer service representative, their problems are never simple.

And this calls for a shift in how customer service teams hire and train their reps – something which has gone largely unchanged for decades.

Make it Easy

Analysis of millions of customer service interactions shows that the best way to increase customer loyalty is to ensure customers have to expend as little effort as possible to resolve a problem, and this means that, contrary to what many customer service managers think, companies don’t need reps who are willing to be nice to customers. Far from it, they need reps who are outspoken and want to take control of the customer conversation.

There are seven distinct customer service rep profiles, according to a global study of 1,440 reps across a wide range of industries – this infographic has more (pdf) – and the one that companies should look for is those that fit the “controller” profile.

  1. Empathizer: Valued for their understanding and listening skills.
  2. Hard worker: Follows the rules and script.
  3. Controller: Outspoken and opinionated, uses his expertise to direct the customer interaction.
  4. The rock: Doesn’t take things personally.
  5. The accommodator: Uses discounts and refunds to meet the customer halfway.
  6. The innovator: Generates new ideas and options and tries to improve processes.
  7. The competitor: Always intent on out performing her colleagues and changing each other’s views.

When hiring customer reps, service managers demonstrated a distinct preference (42%) towards the empathizer profile; described as “service orientated” and “a good listener” (see chart 1). But controllers outperformed all six other profile types on a range of quality and performance measures, including being the best at providing low-effort service.

Chart 1: What managers want and what they’ve got  Source: CEB analysis

Controllers Boost Performance

The controller rep tends to guide customers through the service interaction, diagnosing customers’ problems, and resolving them most quickly. Controllers are confident decision makers, who take charge of the conversation and often customize the solution to speed things up.

Reps with the controller profile are less likely to have customers ask to speak to someone more senior – what’s known in the business as an “escalation” – which drives up handling time and increases bottom line costs. Overall, reps that demonstrate characteristics belonging to the controller profile out-perform all other profile types (see chart 2).

Chart 2: Controllers outperform the rest  Source: CEB analysis

Finding Controllers, and the Right Managers

Customer service managers are faced with three challenges when it comes to staffing up a team with controller reps: they need to hire more controllers, coach existing employees to provide a “controller experience,” and build a climate within existing customer service teams for controllers to thrive. This guide provides more information (pdf) on on how to attract reps that possess controller profile characteristics and how to distinguish between controller and non-controller candidates.

However, hiring the right frontline talent is only one piece of the puzzle. It is also vital to ensure that frontline managers (those in charge of teams of customer service reps) understand the controller approach. Companies in CEB’s networks that have changed the way they hire and develop frontline managers, as well as reps, have seen big improvements to their end of year performance review process. The process became far more streamlined and managers received fewer challenges from employees.

Finally, as an increasing number of companies outsource their service centres to an outside provider, it pays to involve outsourcers too. Those in charge of the outsourcing contract need to make the outsourcer accountable by helping them understand the challenge, and also helping their reps understand why they should be looking to make service as effortless as possible for customers. This will get buy-in from all parties.


More On…

  • Kick Ass Customer Service

    Download a copy of CEB's article in the Harvard Business Review that explains the research behind this post in more detail.

  • The Effortless Experience

    Learn how helping customers solve problems quickly and easily is the most successful way to build customer loyalty.

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