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The 2020 State of the Customer Service Industry – Part 3

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In the 2020 State of Customer Service - Part 3, our Five Star team discusses the shift to work-from-home in the customer service industry, including hiring and recruitment, associate retention, and at-home office space.

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By Joel Sylvester, Chief Marketing Officer, Five Star Call Centers

Each year, Five Star Call Centers shares the State of Customer Service to shed light on trends and insight that impact the customer service industry that our team has garnered from best practices, tradeshows, conferences, publications we’ve reviewed throughout the year. This year, we introduce a three-part series featuring industry, technology, and the shift to work-from-home. The series will give us an opportunity to dive into each topic and provide you information and resources for your business. New parts in the series will be release October 1 (Industry), October 15 (Technology), and October 29 (Work-From-Home).

In the final part of the series, we discuss the work-from-home in customer service.

Hiring and Recruitment

Customer service is not the career for everyone. That’s not a secret to anyone who may have experienced less than quality customer service. When recruiting and hiring the best talent to fit your business needs, it’s key to understanding the applicant’s personality so you’re ensuring the right personality fit for the job. If you are looking for an associate to emotionally connect with your customer, but empathy isn’t a strong suite of the applicant, they may not be the best fit for your needs. That doesn’t mean that they won’t excel in another customer service role though.

Work-from-home adds a whole new dimension for recruiters. Beyond normal interviews and technology tests, recruiters need to identify team members that can work-from-home as needed. This is even more important as companies move to permanent work-from-home staff. Make sure you and your recruitment team have a solid plan to help identify the best work-from-home prospects.

“I really enjoy working from home because I have a comfortable office and workstation. I also feel like I’m able to focus on taking calls and effectively working on issues I have been trained on and developing a better call flows.”

– Moe J., Wichita, Five Star Associate

Here are four key characteristics we look for when interviewing our own customer associates for work-from-home positions:

  • Time management skills
  • Resourcefulness
  • Reliability/responsibility
  • Understanding of technology

Associate Retention

Not only do long-term employees usually provide a better customer experience, they also cost companies far less in the long-term than continuously training new employees. Building a culture where employees want to stay and are dedicated to your organization are important in long-term success for your team. Employee retention is key, and possible, with a few key steps: Communication, performance understanding, and coaching with a clear career path to promote within.

Communication

Keep open, two-way communication with your whole organization. Whether your keeping employees up to date on the latest happenings of your organization or offering feedback to an individual, open communication is key to making every employee feeling like they are a valued member of the team.

Five Star Tips for Connecting with Work-From-Home Associates:

  • Mail “thank you” notes to associates at home
  • Respond to emails right away
  • Give kudo’s often
  • Submit Employee of the Month nominations

Do you remember that I said two-way communication? Be open and willing to hear both positive and negative feedback from each and every employee. At Five Star, we have an “open-door” policy for each and every employee. Whether it’s by phone, email, or an in-person visit, our leadership team, including owners, are always ready to listen to what every member of the Five Star family has to say. This may be harder to achieve in our new work-from-home world, but it’s possible with the right mindset and putting in the work across your organization.

Performance and Coaching

Nothing is more frustrating to an employee than not understanding how their work-performance is evaluated, or stands, with their supervisor. A once a year evaluation is not enough in the customer service industry.

Offer your team members constant feedback with measurable data to help support the information they are being provided. Offer goals they can achieve and celebrate the wins. Positive feedback is just as important as feedback for improvement. Make sure work-from-home is a topic of regular discussion. Your leaders need to ask how employees are handling their new work routine and atmosphere, and your team needs to understand the positives and the barriers they are experiencing so they can help them adapt when needed or bring best-practices to others in your organization.

Career Path

Do you know how each of your employees wants to grow within your organization? Understanding what career path your employees want to take will only help improve your culture and their dedication to your organization. Make sure your supervisors understand their team’s career goals and encourage them to provide reinforcement to their teams to support those goals.

If moving up the leadership ranks is their goal, feedback and mentorship is key in the supervisor/employee relationship. Are they looking to move to a new internal team? Set them up with feedback and support to help them reach their goals.

At-Home Office Space

In 2020, work-from-home came fast and furious for many across the U.S. Thoughtful planning and understanding of the spaces where employees are working while at home likely didn’t happen the way we would have wanted. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a pause and address the work-from-home environment for your employees now.

“I wanted to let you guys know how much I really appreciate all the hard work Five Star did in just a few days, when COVID-19 hit. I understand that it was a joint effort by all to get so many agents working from home as quickly as possible…” 

– Stacey D., Sioux Falls, Five Star Associate

Space

Help your employees identify a specific workplace in their homes where they can ergonomically set-up their workstations. Video chat with them to see the space and address concerns or work with an ergonomic expert to help your team set-up their home offices.

Noise

Noise is inevitable, whether your team is working from the office or from their homes. With the prevalence of virtual learning during the pandemic, school aged children, along with partners, pets, and a million other noise distractors mean employees are figuring out how to work with new background noise. If your team is handling customer service calls then that noise can be even more distracting. Work with your team members to find a solution to both work-from-home with those distractions and provide the service your customers need at the level they expect.

Quality of Life Improvement

What many may not have expected from the pandemic is a quality of life improvement customer service associates have experienced as they’ve transitioned to work-from-home. No commute times, less money on gas, and, for some, no office dress codes, have been some of the greatest perks to their transition to working from home.

“I like working from home because it is nice to be in the comfort of your own surroundings.  It is great to not have to be confined to an office and travel back and forth….”

-Nellie H., Wichita, Five Star Associate

Work-from-home is here to stay, at least in some format. Addressing how it will impact your business, studying best practices, and adapting will mean setting your business up for success in the long-run and providing a better experience for your customers.

If done right, your employees will embrace and manage work-from-home brilliantly. And you never know when it might inspire a little creativity.

An old dog learning new tricks

Working from home I like very much

except for the fact that I am out of touch

I miss all the people, the fun I had there

but 3 cats I have here and lots of cat hair

I have Toby and Boomer and Riley all 3

I couldn’t ask more for my kitties and me

Blessed to be working from home and still fed

with TV and music, a roof over our head

Why do I like this working from home?

I get to do things like writing this poem

There’s food and drink, and very cool air

a comfortable couch and a nice easy chair

taken care of I am by support and my boss

get to watch Bonanza with Adam and Hoss

How could it be any better than this?

God watches over my life full of bliss

-Danny, Five Star Assoicate

About Five Star Call Centers

Five Star Calls Centers has been an industry leader in the contact center outsourcing industry for over 35 years. They deliver voice, IVR, digital, and consulting services across the U.S. and are dedicated to learning and implementing state-of-the-art technology and leading-edge practices.

About the Author - Joel Sylvester​

Joel’s career spans hundreds of companies and helping each enhance their customer experience. He has recruited, trained, and coached award-winning customer services teams across the globe in industries spanning retail, finance, product support, healthcare, hospitality and more. Today, Joel serves as partner and chief sales and marketing officer for Five Star Call Centers, an outsourcing call center with five locations based in the Midwest.

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