5 Ways Online Retailers Can Empower Frontline Customer Service Reps

Feb 24, 2014 11:37 AM  By

Imagine going into your bank to make a simple withdrawal only to have the teller say, “Please step aside and wait for my manager.”

Doesn’t make the best impression on you, dear customer, does it?

Now imagine your customer — one that you likely spent good money to acquire — calling your customer service line and wading through two or three levels of IVR prompts before making it to a live agent. Then, all hopes of getting the problem resolved are dashed when the customer service rep says they’ll need to be transferred to a “supervisor” or some other department to get proper help.

The first scenario would not be acceptable, and neither should the latter. Every customer touchpoint gives you, the retailer, the opportunity to deliver a “Wow” experience — one that keeps the customer coming back and telling their friends about the experience.

Get back to basics with these five tactics for empowering your customer service employees, ensuring your customers feel taken care of when they reach out for help.

Give them the luxury of time.
When agents feel pressured to end calls within a certain time limit, or pick up the phone as quickly as humanly possible, they’re putting more priority on putting out fires and less emphasis on actually getting to the root of the customer’s problem by doing proper research on the issue and potential solutions. It’s not always about speed – successful interactions fully resolve all of the customer’s questions. Think of this as an incentive for your reps to do the right thing, no matter what.

Provide reps with access to the appropriate systems.
Seems obvious, right? Yet I’m always surprised when I call a customer service department at a major company only to learn that the frontline agents at don’t have access to basic information like billing or order fulfillment status. Customer service representatives should always have some level of visibility to help them get their job done. In most cases reps should have access to order statuses through an Order Management System (OMS), historic information about a company’s interactions with the customer through a Customer Relationship Management software (CRM), and an internal wiki or intranet with company information, policy details and product information.

Establish “make-good fund.”
If something goes wrong and all it takes to make the customer happy is a reimbursement or replacement of some kind, your agents want to be helpful and extend this offer to the customer. But when they can’t, they feel helpless and frustrated, and so do the customers they’re trying to help. When something as simple as a carte blanche reshipment of goods will get the job done for a lost shipment, an agent should have the ability to make that happen — no questions asked. You may want to set a reasonable limit to the funds available per rep for a given time period.

Give them the ability to make decisions without escalating the case or involving management.
This expands beyond just providing them with resources, but also the education and training on the specifics of how your business operates. Keeping your customer service reps silo-ed into specific business units may seem like a smart move, but it can often lead to inefficiency and ultimately, frustrated customers. A rep who has the proper tools and also knows “how things work” from the front-end of the site all the way through order processing and billing can more effectively make on the spot decisions that solve problems, and leave them with a happy customer.

Create an “In case of an emergency” box for your reps.
Have you provided your reps with a clear plan of action for the inevitable “I want to speak with your CEO” complaint call? Few things are more infuriating to irate customers than hearing an agent say “I’m sorry, our CEO doesn’t take customer calls but I’ll gladly pass your feedback along.” Or even worse, having to deal with a rattled agent who doesn’t know what to do. It’s critical to define and communicate concrete steps to diffuse these callers, many of which will tie back to systems access and the “make-good fund”.

Chris Vodola is client development manager at StellaService.

  • http://www.beafreelancewriter.com/ Francesca Nicasio

    Great empowerment tips!

    I love what you said about giving agents the luxury of time. It reminds of how Zappos (which always ranks high in customer service) actually encourages its agents to take as much time as they need on each customer, instead of trying to take as many calls as possible.

    • Chris Vodola

      Thanks Francesca, that’s a great example of an organization putting service first by way of their priorities. The moment we start rushing agents off of the phone is the moment we tell them great service takes a back seat to other items that have zero to do with the customer experience.