Fostering creativity in customer service can be a unique way to liven up the workday and offer professional development opportunities.
If you’re unfamiliar with BBC television, let us introduce you to the masterpiece that is Taskmaster. The show consists of a handful of comedians and television personalities competing to complete an array of tasks set by— the Taskmaster.
Some of them seem simple, like “eat the most watermelon in two minutes,” “get this ball into that bucket,” while others are more absurd, like “create the best interpretive dance to a ringtone” or “paint a picture in the dark.” Yes, it’s entertaining to watch celebrities embarrass themselves, but what truly makes the show so compelling is its unbridled championing of lateral thinking: problem-solving by an indirect approach, typically through viewing the issue in an unusual light.
Are we saying that you should start having your employees fight to outwit each other by seeing who can be the most “obtuse” thinker during their day-to-day? No (though wouldn’t that be interesting?) However, much like the contestants of Taskmaster, a strong customer support team member is highly adaptive, confident, and arguably most importantly— creative.
Creativity is a professional skill
Anyone who has worked in customer service can attest that a high turnover rate is common. This could be for a few reasons. The most obvious answer is that customer-facing positions, especially those that often deal with complaints, can be mentally exhausting. It is also, admittedly, a lot of the same every day, and while critical problem solving is a relevant tool of the trade, it is a lot of patterned behavior. The A = B mentality can quickly turn stale, so what do you do when you’re feeling a bit mind-numbed from the monotony?
The lack of professional development that can lead to a fatal sense of unfulfillment and possible workplace resentment isn’t often discussed. However, fostering creativity can be a unique way to liven up the workday and offer professional development opportunities. While creativity may retain customer service agents, it’s also key to business growth. Research shows that 80% of people see unlocking creative potential as the key to economic growth; only 25% feel that they live up to their creative potential.
Provide a safe space to play
Many blogs will tell you that the automation of tasks will free up time for your support staff to focus on more complex issues. While this is true and a definite MVP of producing productivity—it’s, of course, not that simple. More free time doesn’t automatically equal a more engaged mind.
In his book, Range, author David Epstein says, “Modern work demands knowledge transfer: the ability to apply knowledge to new situations and different domains.” What’s that mean? Essentially, focus on the breadth of knowledge instead of depth. Known as “broadening,” the pursuit of knowledge-rich experiences can stave off the cognitive entrenchment that impedes innovation. It is vital to give your employees room to experiment with objectives inside, outside, and unrelated to their jobs without feeling guilty or afraid to do so.
Utilize block scheduling
Block scheduling is a format that helps boost productivity by concentrating certain tasks into specific chunks of time. It is the sprint mentality over the marathon, but it works. This process can often add clarity as it takes out distracting, stressful variables, adding intention, and imparting boundaries that can relieve the employee from feeling overwhelmed by the need to rush or burnt-out from the repetition.
Perhaps more importantly, block scheduling provides your team breaks to recharge, making them better equipped to think outside of the box when they return. Using a shared calendar to navigate and evenly distribute high-volume ticket times is a way to ensure everyone has an opportunity to explore new ideas in and outside of the role.
Provide skill-building opportunities in and outside of the job
Inspiration can strike in some shocking places. Encourage your reps to be generalists by offering extracurricular classes and sessions that are an excellent way for your team members to discover new interests or passions to apply in their role and help maintain their work-life balance. By providing various platforms and opportunities for employees to engage in things they might not have otherwise, they’ll benefit from professional development in the forms of thought-leadership, increased confidence—and increased creativity.
Another way to approach this is with ongoing learning opportunities such as webinars, conferences. Providing your team with training and experience in areas that have little or no relationship to client-facing tasks is a quick way to broaden potential growth opportunities.
Furthermore, having a list of suggested reading and using the expertise of your more veteran reps in reference resources is another way to utilize the entire span of your internal knowledge.
Companies that invite their employees to thrive, not just in the company, but as people, by engaging them with meaningful opportunities to learn and grow are investing not only in stronger teams but more loyal ones as well.
Have open communication
According to research from ADP, three challenges prevent workers from gaining critical skills and knowledge:
- An overwhelming amount of information: the difficulty to keep track of what’s useful
- Lack of effective tools: the difficulty to find the most useful information
- Frequent updates and changes: the difficulty to reliably access current information
It’s possible that employees may not be thinking out of the box or proposing different solutions due to the fear of making mistakes, falling behind, or not having their ideas supported. How often have you seen the example of someone not raising their hand because they fear being laughed at?
Present openings for discussion by directly asking your team, “What would you like to learn?” Make it clear to your employees as much as possible that your organization values— and understands the importance of— creative, critical thinking. Make sure also to recognize and celebrate risk-taking and not just the outcomes. When people feel empowered to act on their ideas, they’re more likely to apply their best
Communication should be encouraged to span outside of the support team as well. When reps need outside expertise to serve a customer, turning to other departments for help can quickly become a good resource to have in their back pocket.
Invest in creativity
The honest answer is that much like the seemingly simple, somewhat strange challenges on Taskmaster, there are no exact right and wrong ways to approach customer service. Yet, your team must have the flexibility to develop creative solutions and feel safe doing so. Also, like comedic television in general, we don’t suggest going too far the other way, rebelling against obvious answers to seem more exciting and dissolving efficiency into chaos.
Ask for consistent feedback from your employees to find the right blend of timing and interest for the full impact of the benefits of creative problem-solving. Lastly, in a competitive field like support, offering personal and professionally rewarding work environments will set you apart from your competitors. Fulfilled employees make for great advocates, and with the increasing relevance of reviews from jobseekers, that kind of praise travels fast.