Case Study: Turning Around a Dysfunctional Customer Service Operation

Customer Service Management

A few years ago I received a call from the President of a company operating a customer service group whose primary responsibilities included taking orders from customers as well as field sales reps on behalf of their best customers.

The President told me that complaints regarding the attitude and service provided by the customer service group had been frequent and were coming from both the field sales reps and customers alike.

The problem was significant enough that the President told me to “do whatever you have to fix it because we are losing customers!”

The good news: the President clearly understood the impact that poor service has on customers and revenue. The bad news: she was right – she had a problem!

The first step was to determine exactly what was causing the problem. On the surface it was easy to see that the customer service reps were not performing their duties in a manner consistent with world-class customer satisfaction. But the question remained, why? What were the root causes of the problem?

“..and the survey said!”

In order to discover and understand the root causes of the problem we conducted an Employee Satisfaction Survey. Our observation was that there were some real challenges around the morale and satisfaction of the customer service reps.

From experience we also knew that dissatisfied customer service reps do not produce satisfied customers. So our first task was to determine the satisfaction levels of the employees and what was causing those levels.

A survey was prepared and administered allowing the customer service representatives to anonymously respond to several statements covering a variety of issues.

Specifically, we wanted to measure employee satisfaction within several key areas including the following: Initial Training; On-going Training; Communications; Supervision; Compensation; Opportunity for Growth; Motivational Issues.

The survey provided employees with a number of statements and asked to respond to those statements on a 1 to 5 scale with 1 meaning “Strongly Disagree and 5 meaning “Strongly Agree”.

The results were extremely telling and provided a clear idea as to the steps necessary to positively impact employee satisfaction. The challenge was squarely facing us: improve EMPLOYEE satisfaction in order to improve CUSTOMER satisfaction. Listed below are the key survey findings:

  • Perceived lack of opportunity
  • Perceptions of inconsistency in treatment of employees
  • Perceptions of lack of communication from all levels of management
  • Perceptions of a lack of enthusiasm from everywhere
  • Over all satisfaction score of 2.26 out of a possible 5

While these findings were vital we also identified the following three critical factors from the survey results:

  • Perceptions of a lack of input and control over personal destiny
  • Perceptions of being “less than professional”
  • Perception of the department and functions being less than important to the company

Three main issues jumped out that we felt must be addressed by our solutions: Motivation – the perception that the customer service department was the lowest wrung on the corporate ladder; Mobility – the perception that there was no place to go from the customer service position (once a rep, always a rep); Measurement – the perception that no clear and objective standards of measurement were in place. In order to address the issues we developed three teams staffed with customer service reps, their supervisors, and assistance from my company, TSC.

The first of these teams, the Motivation Team, was tasked with the responsibility to build a comprehensive incentive strategy for the department. The team developed a program that virtually insured that no more than a week would go by without some kind of game, contest, or fun event-taking place.

Many of these incentives cost little if anything to conduct and few included a “pay out” of any type. Instead, the Motivation team focused on creating enthusiasm and a more enjoyable atmosphere, increasing pride and making Customer Service the place to be working within the company.

The second team, the Measurement Team was focused on creating a fair and balanced manner of evaluating the individual and team performance within the customer service department. The team first identified the most important Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the operation. An overall performance metric was created to include each of the KPIs as a part of total performance measurement.

The team also reengineered each monitoring and measurement tool utilized in the department to insure the right things were being monitored and measured. Appropriate minimum standards were put in place and the entire program was implemented. Remember primarily the Customer Service Reps themselves with TSC serving in an advisory capacity did all this.

The final team was the Mobility Team whose task was to create opportunities in what was a very “flat” organization. The team set out to develop real career path opportunities for the CSRs, beginning by documenting the competencies and skills necessary for all the tasks performed within the operation.

From that documentation, the team was able to identify three levels of Customer Service Representatives, each with increasingly complex and difficult tasks requiring greater competencies and skills.

As a result Customer Service evolved into an organization with four distinct levels that created upward mobility and opportunities for each CSR. Supported with training to provide the skills needed, this approach created a strong group of CSRs with skills and competencies of value not only to the Customer Service department, but also to the entire organization.

The short term and long term results were outstanding. Service levels within the operation improved to acceptable standards and began to regularly exceed expectations. Attendance and tardiness issues virtually disappeared. Best of all, measured customer satisfaction increased substantially to an all time high for the company.

We returned to the company and conducted the same survey 18 months after the initial efforts. The results were dramatic and positive as the Employee Satisfaction Score jumped from 2.26 of 5 to 4.15 of 5!

The work was not easy and it required a 100% commitment from upper management in order to succeed. That kind of commitment separates companies who are serious about employee and customer satisfaction, from those who just talk about it.

Time and again the work we have done has shown that the investment of time and effort to find out how your employees really feel and address their concerns provides significant and long lasting returns. Returns that also positively impact the bottom line.

About the Author

Bill Gessert is President of TeleSolutions Consultants LLC, a New Jersey based firm providing consulting services and customer training programs to the customer service and call center industries. He can be reached at 732.767.1421.

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