There’s no doubt you’ve heard the adage, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, but teach a man how to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.”
You can apply the same wisdom to customer service. Too often, customer service agents feel like they don’t have the knowledge or authority to solve problems on their own. Instead, they consult a manager or team lead to make sure they are providing the right resolution. That leads to frustration all around—including for customers who have to wait for their issue to be addressed, as well as managers who aren’t able to prioritize their own responsibilities because they have to keep close tabs on their team.
However, if you equip your reps with the right tools, knowledge, and policies, you can empower your representatives to address more customer issues independently. And this benefits everyone in the organization. According to Harvard research, autonomy is a critical component of motivation and a key driver of performance. In other words, autonomous employees will do better work. That, in turn, creates a better customer experience and benefits the company as a whole. Plus, when customer service agents are more self-sufficient, leaders have the flexibility to focus on core business-building responsibilities.
What, specifically, can you do to empower your customer service agents so they can be more self-sufficient? Use the following tips.
Deliver Better Onboarding and Training
Employee empowerment begins on an agent’s very first day. A thorough onboarding process will ensure that your customer service reps have a comprehensive understanding of how to use your tools and technology, best practices for addressing customer issues, and company policies and procedures. By providing them with a solid foundation of training, you can take an important first step to making them self-sufficient.
To make that onboarding as effective as possible, consider the pace of the training. A jam-packed week-long training can be overwhelming and lead to knowledge loss. Consider spacing out training or incorporating self-paced modules, along with easily accessible training materials, to allow employees to learn (and refresh their knowledge) at a pace that works for them.
Provide the Right Tools
Especially today, technology can make a big difference in enabling your employees to do their jobs. Internal chat systems, for example, empower employees to reach out to coworkers in real time. Customer relationship management (CRM) software can house valuable notes about customers’ previous interactions with customer support and any past issues and resolutions. Knowledge management software allows employees to easily search for and find the information they need to assist customers. Without these types of tools, customer service agents won’t be able to perform their basic responsibilities, let alone become self-sufficient.
In addition, consider self-service tools for customers, like a customer-facing knowledge base with searchable FAQs or a chatbot that can point clients to relevant information and documentation. These tools allow customers to find answers on their own—especially to common, straightforward questions—which can deflect calls from your customer service team and allow your agents to focus on the issues that truly require their expertise.
Make Resources Easy to Find
Especially when agents are on the phone with customers, they need to be able to think on their feet and act quickly. But that can be difficult if they have to search through emails, a company intranet, and old files to find the information they need. Instead, you can empower your customer service team to become more self-sufficient by providing them with a centralized, searchable knowledge management platform. By housing all company policies, procedures, best practices, FAQs, and more in one central location—and making it easily searchable by keyword—reps will be able to locate and use any piece of information in a moment’s notice.
Keep Resources Up to Date
It’s important that resources are easy to find, but it’s equally critical that they are kept up to date. Customer service agents can’t effectively and confidently resolve customer requests if they’re not sure whether they’re referencing the current version of a policy, process document, or other relevant information.
Doing this manually can be time consuming, so it’s helpful to select a knowledge management platform with tools to help you automatically archive outdated or irrelevant content. By making sure that your knowledge management platform contains only trusted, up-to-date content, your employees will be better equipped to find accurate information and use it to resolve customer issues.
Encourage and Recognize Autonomy
Empowering your customer service team to be self-sufficient starts at the top of your company. Leaders must demonstrate that they trust employees with a reasonable amount of power and autonomy to solve issues on their own. In other words, they must create a sense of psychological safety so reps feel confident they won’t get in trouble for sharing their ideas or taking the initiative to solve a problem.
One of the most well-known examples of this is The Ritz-Carlton, where leaders allow employees to spend up to $2,000 per guest to solve a customer issue—all without running it by a manager. $2,000 may seem like a lot, but that’s intentional; leaders want to demonstrate the extent to which they trust their workers.
Consider how you can recognize and promote a culture of trust and self-sufficiency, whether it’s specifying a dollar amount that each employee can spend per customer interaction or simply recognizing or rewarding reps who take initiative.
Provide Coaching and Encourage Mentoring
There are probably a few recurring customer issues your agents encounter on a regular basis and can easily resolve on their own. However, to learn how to address more complex issues, it’s helpful to provide ongoing coaching and mentoring from more experienced representatives. Veteran employees can help newer agents understand their roles, learn how to navigate complicated customer challenges, and think through possible solutions.
Beyond in-person coaching and mentoring, you can also encourage senior employees to record their expertise in your knowledge management platform. Ask them to document answers to common questions, best practices, and any tips they have for addressing unique situations. This way, even if senior reps decide to leave the company, you will have their knowledge preserved for new employees.
Empowering customer service agents to be more self-sufficient benefits everyone: employees feel more ownership and satisfaction, customers receive quicker resolutions, and team leads have the flexibility to focus on other tasks. Ultimately, by creating an autonomous team, you can deliver the best possible customer experience and enhance your company’s competitive advantage.