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How to Improve Your Customer Service Agents’ Career Development

Jon Hill
4 mins
workplace mentor assists with customer service agents' career development

Your customer service agents are vital to the customer experience. Their efforts directly impact your brand’s reputation and your organization’s bottom line, and it’s in your company’s best interest to train them well, keep them motivated, and retain them long term.

Yet call centers have long been deemed a “revolving door” for customer service agents, and the Great Resignation has only worsened matters. While many team leaders strive to foster a supportive culture and sense of loyalty among their employees, increasing turnover rates destroy team morale, drain department budgets, and put extra stress on remaining agents. It’s easy to feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.

So, what’s the solution? If we take a page from top-performing customer service teams, the answer is clear: it’s time to invest in your customer service agents’ career development.

Today, we’re uncovering a few specific reasons turnover is on the rise and why professional development is key to long-term retention. 

Why is Customer Service Turnover So High?

Businesses of all sizes and industries struggle to keep their customer service team engaged, and, as a result, customer service turnover has reached 58%, according to one estimate. And when knowledgeable employees leave, it negatively impacts the customer experience.

It’s no secret customer service pros are feeling overworked, undervalued, and burnt out. But what causes agents to feel this way?

Low wages

You know customer service is challenging work. It can be mentally and emotionally grueling to spend your workday solving increasingly complex problems, fielding complaints, and handling angry customers while remaining calm, empathetic, and professional. And it’s especially difficult to manage all of the above if you’re not well-compensated. According to Pew Research, this was the primary reason workers left their jobs in 2021.

If employees aren’t earning a competitive wage or don’t see an opportunity to make more in the near future, they’ll inevitably move on.

No advancement opportunities

Career growth is a powerful motivator. When agents know they have an opportunity to earn more money and clout, they’re more inclined to stick around and meet their goals. But if employees see little-to-no hope for upward mobility, they may feel like they’re wasting their time.

When employers fail to provide opportunities for advancement, mentorship, or skill growth, agents feel like they aren’t valued. In fact, in a LinkedIn survey, workers cited the inability to learn and grow as the No. 1 reason they’d leave a job.

Feeling disrespected

Agents often encounter unhappy customers who occasionally become disrespectful, rude, and even verbally abusive. These negative interactions can zap employees’ motivation and wreak havoc on their mental well-being. Unfortunately, customer complaints have surged over the past couple of years thanks to supply chain issues and staffing shortages.

“Even in the best of times, people tend to underestimate the effort and expertise and work and care and thoroughness and coordination that goes into serving them,” says Harvard Business School Professor Ryan W. Buell in an article for The Harvard Gazette. “Now, in more challenging times, the gap can be even bigger.”

How Professional Development Impacts Employee Tenure

According to a Salesforce survey, career growth is the No. 2 benefit customer service employees say they need to stay in their job (second only to a raise). So, if you want to address turnover, you have to get serious about customer service agents’ career development.

Here’s why:

It helps employees feel recognized and valued

When you invest in helping employees grow their skills, it shows you have confidence in their abilities and support their success. Empowering employees won’t change the challenges of their job—like engaging with upset customers—but it does make those challenges feel more worthwhile.

It boosts job satisfaction

Employees who have the opportunity to learn and grow professionally at work are generally more satisfied and feel more fulfilled.

It motivates employees to stay and progress

Skill-building supports advancement. If employees are encouraged to grow professionally, they’ll be more motivated to explore opportunities within the organization rather than seeking a role elsewhere.

While employee education and development require an upfront investment, helping employees grow their skills and proficiencies is a win-win. They’ll be happier and provide even better customer experiences, and your organization will benefit from a more knowledgeable workforce. Plus, you’ll have a larger internal talent pool to draw from when filling more advanced positions.

How to Create a Successful Career Development Program

Here are a few things you can do to support customer service agents’ career development:

Get serious about succession planning

Hiring managers can attest it’s often easier to promote from within than source outside talent—especially for intermediate and senior positions. That’s why it’s helpful to create a pipeline for internal advancement. When you codify your succession plans, it’s easier to provide a clear career path for customer service agents.

Provide easy access to knowledge

Help employees do their best work by democratizing knowledge across the workplace. By breaking down silos and centralizing your company’s collective intelligence using a knowledge management solution, you’ll make it easier for employees to expand their expertise. As an added benefit, easy access to information also helps employees address customer needs faster and feel less stressed.

Encourage continued education

Zappos is often celebrated for its incredible customer service and low turnover rate. But this isn’t a coincidence. The company is successful largely because its customer service employees are trusted, empowered, and encouraged to pursue growth.

All customer service reps have access to a free education hub where they can take any course of interest during their downtime at work. Why? Because Zappos knows that supporting employees’ education will directly benefit the entire organization.

Incentivize growth

Provide incremental raises for completing various skill-building efforts or taking on additional responsibilities. For example, you might create a mentorship opportunity where you provide more experienced agents with a bonus or wage increase for coaching and supporting new hires.

As a customer service leader, you know it’s always been challenging to find and retain great talent, and today, it’s even harder. Fortunately, it’s not a lost cause. By prioritizing customer service agents’ career development, you can slow turnover, boost your teams’ skill sets, foster better customer experiences, and improve your bottom line.

June 8, 2022

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