Small actions, from starting every meeting with colors to recognize emotions to encouraging agents to take time off, can significantly improve engagement at work.
Have you ever been to a restaurant where every member of the staff was rude or plain angry? Unhappy workers are a pretty good indicator that a particular restaurant is not a great place to work. Employees might have to deal with a cranky boss, be overworked, or miss the empowerment needed to do their job well.
Having a terrible work environment affects not just productivity, but also the relationship you’ll have with your customers. Since your customer support team is always on the front line, they’re responsible for ensuring consistently positive communication with customers. A single negative interaction can hurt your business’ reputation. It takes roughly 40 positive customer experiences to undo the damage of a single negative review.
Since February is the month of love, it’s the prime time to think about how you can put together a more caring atmosphere for your team. Creating a great work environment is an effort that affects so many layers of your company, your support team, and your customers. Happier employees make for happier customers.
Read on to learn how successful support teams create a healthy and positive work environment for their agents — and how that impacts the work they do:
- Encourage agents to take time off
- Allocate time for agents to work on projects outside the queue
- Provide training budget for customer support reps
- Foster an environment where reps can take their own decisions
- Recognize that emotions are part of the job
Encourage agents to take time off
Would you like to sleep better, improve your mood, and be more productive? Take a vacation.
Research has shown that taking time away from your job can have physical and psychological health benefits. According to the Harvard Business Review, taking more vacation results in higher success at work as well as lower stress and more happiness at work and home.
However, taking time off isn’t just about a regular vacation. It’s about letting your team know that it’s ok to take a break when needed. At Harvest, for example, if an agent is going through a particularly stressful or emotionally draining time, they know it’s ok to take a “mental health day”. By letting other team members and managers know that they’ll be off that day, agents can focus on themselves and go back to work feeling recharged.
What if the unexpected happens? COVID-19 has changed the lives of many people, either because they’ve had to start working from home or because their company is going through a tough time. At Appcues, for example, agents from the support team have been taking a long weekend once a month since the pandemic started. This way, team members have an extra day to focus on the things that make them feel good – it can be a much-needed release valve in the times we live in!
Allocate time for agents to work on projects outside the queue
The work you do in customer support is essential – you’re a subject matter expert responsible for teaching your customers how to use your product or service. But to build a great work environment, agents need to spend time away from the phone and the queue. In other words, give customer support reps time to work on projects beyond their regular tasks.
Those projects can be related to their work in customer support, like areas where they’d like to improve in, or other topics that interest them and where they are excited to contribute. For example, a team member can focus their time out of the queue producing step-by-step product walkthrough videos. If an agent prefers writing, they might be able to develop the knowledge base.
For example, at HubSpot, a customer support rep who specialized in social media started a social media channel for rapid customer support on Twitter. They took the insights they learned from customers to create a project they thought would be impactful. The profile now has over 6,000 followers.
Any project they decide to take on will help them develop their skills in a different way than those strictly related to the interactions with customers. Your support through that process is essential to improve your agent’s work environment.
Provide training budget for customer support reps
Whether it’s used to improve skills directly related to their job or they’re interested in learning a skill used by other departments, providing agents with a budget for training is a great way to improve their work environment. In fact, 68% of employees say training and development is their company’s most important policy.
When you think about training, don’t just focus on traditional education or books – let employees decide how to best spend their budget. For example, top support teams use the money to attend conferences related to their industry, from Zendesk Relate to the Adobe Summit. Conferences offer the opportunity to connect to other peers in the industry and share your own experiences while gaining insight into other professional’s work.
The best way to use the training budget is by letting each support reps decide how they’d like to profit from it. Giving a budget instead of you deciding how to spend it lets agents take the responsibility of choosing the activity that best suits their interest.
Foster an environment where reps can take their own decisions
A positive work environment is where support reps feel supported to learn from each other and their mistakes. That includes a robust onboarding and training process and a culture that promotes a healthy feedback loop. Very related to this culture is that your agents have enough decision-making power when it comes to helping customers.
Decision-making power is directly related to job satisfaction. Research from the World Health Organization shows that decision-making power increases performance and job satisfaction and reduces financial losses.
Make sure you empower and motivate your agents by showing them how much you value their work and commitment. This will help you improve their happiness, loyalty, and desire to provide the best support they possibly can for customers.
Ask for their feedback and recommendations and include them in decision-making processes to improve your products and customer support flows. Top support teams put this in practice by bringing support reps to higher-level leadership meetings, or cross-functional meetings with the product and sales teams. Your agent’s feedback is critical to tell the other teams what is and isn’t working for your customers.
Recognize that emotions are part of the job
Today’s workplace is a challenging one: organizational changes, new colleagues, mergers, or transfers. Add to that the fact that, as a customer support rep, you might have to face difficult customers going through their own challenges. At work, you’ll often have to juggle multiple priorities, sometimes with limited resources. To succeed in any job, but especially in customer support, it’s essential to recognize how our emotions affect our actions and other people’s actions.
When we manage our emotions, we can handle better the challenges that the job brings, from de-escalating a tense situation with a combative customer to handling conflict with a co-worker.
A positive work environment is one that accounts for this fact. It doesn’t need to be complicated.
For example, one successful customer support team that wished to remain anonymous always starts their weekly team meetings with a color scheme: red, orange, and green. Before everyone’s update, they share how they are feeling that day. Say “red” if you’re going through a rough period; “orange” if you’re just ok, and “green” if you’re doing well. This simple routine allows people to share as much as they want while recognizing that this person might be going through a tough moment. It encourages feeling empathy with that person while at the same time, they can get support from the rest of the team.
Care for Your Agents By Improving Their Work Environment
To create a positive work environment where your customer support reps can thrive, you’ll need to have a strategy. Some changes are straightforward, like offering a training budget while some require a shift in culture, like giving your agents higher decision-making power.
Whatever it is you choose, make sure that you include the team in discussing how they would like to improve their environment.
Listen to the support team and also encourage a healthy feedback loop. Small actions, from starting every meeting with colors to recognize emotions to encouraging agents to take time off, can significantly improve engagement at work. At the end of the day, it’s about showing that you care.