Customer Service Representatives (CSR's) are often among the lowest paid employees in most organizations. Yet they're among the highest influencers of the customer experience. Let's look at the logic - or the lack thereof:
Employees who interact with customers all day long are in a position to influence the customer experience in a positive or negative way. Because they're in this highly-sensitive tactical position, it would be wise select employees for this job who are inherently capable of delighting the customer with better discretion.
But most companies hesitate - and rightfully so - to grant such latitude to such low-paid workers. After all, their pay is low, because they lack the aptitude and experience to warrant higher pay (and greater latitude in decision-making with respect to customers). There are five big reasons why the Customer Service Representative should be a higher-paying position.
1: A higher wage will attract higher-quality candidates.
If companies offer a higher wage for CSR's, they'll attract more experienced candidates for the position. Candidates with a higher level of experience will have more likely learned and acted upon what it takes to delight the customer, and to do so judiciously, with the mutual interests of the customer and the company. They'll be more capable of making the right decisions in those moments of truth, where the experience could go either north or south, depending on the actions of the CSR. This type candidate can warrant the trust to please the customer without giving away ranch, as is often the fear of call center managers. This brings us to the second reason...
2: Higher-quality CSR's can deliver a better customer experience.
CSR's who can be trusted with the latitude to make the best decisions in the moments of truth are better positioned and more capable of delivering a superior customer experience. When a first-line representative at a bank is allowed to waive an overdraft fee without putting the customer on hold to seek approval, the customer immediately has a better impression of the bank, and will feel their loyalty to the bank grow stronger. And this brings us to the third reason...
3: Higher-quality CSR's increase customer loyalty.
A consistently higher quality experience drives greater customer loyalty. When a customer is delighted with the service provided every time she comes in contact with the company (often through a CSR), the customer will actually look forward to engaging with the company. This is the heart and soul of customer loyalty. And loyal customers often don't keep it a secret - they recruit more customers, bringing us to the fourth reason...
4: Higher-quality CSR's are catalysts for increasing market share.
When a customer has a great experience, they tend to talk about it. This positive talk from a customer is more credible, and more powerful than the most expensive marketing campaign. Strong positive word-of-mouth attracts more new customers, and does so at a relatively low cost. And that brings us to the fifth reason...
5: Higher-quality CSR's generate higher profits.
One of the highest expense categories for a company is Sales & Marketing. But when a current customer "sells" a friend or family member on becoming a customer, the company gains the customer and the additional revenue, without the expense of sales and marketing. As a result, word-of-mouth customers are higher profit customers.
When a company invests more in their customer service team, they're more apt to generate a better customer experience. And a better customer experience increases the loyalty of existing customers. Loyal customers recruit new customers through positive word-of-mouth at a lower cost of sales and marketing, which increases profits for the company. This virtuous cycle begins when an organization makes the decision to recruit higher quality, more experienced CSR's, by offering a higher wage.
If the shoe doesn't fit, should you still wear it?
We've all hear the saying that "Timing is everything." Surveys are no exception.
The entire customer experience was going well.
My wife and I were greeted immediately upon entering the showroom, and offered help in a non-intrusive, low-key manner. The salesman was not at all pushy; in fact, we found him to be quite helpful. When we settled on a vehicle, and agreed on a price, we were introduced to the finance manager, who promptly completed all the paper work with us.
When our new car was brought to us, the salesman demonstrated all the controls, gauges, levers and buttons, showed us where each of the 32 cup-holders were located and even offered to connect our phones to the blue-tooth stereo. We were happy customers.
When customer-facing employees are paid more, do customers receive a better experience?
According to McDonald's CEO, the answer is "Yes."
“We know that a motivated work force leads to better customer service, so we believe this initial step not only benefits our employees, it will improve McDonald’s restaurant experience,” said Steve Esterbrook, CEO of McDonald's, according to an article in the New York Times.
When employees are paid more, they're more likely invest more discretionary effort into their work; they're willing to go the extra mile. A 2013 study by human resources thought leader Aon reveals that pay is a key driver for employee engagement. For a customer-facing employee, this may mean working a little harder; trying a second time to satisfy a customer. The added discretionary effort can turn the corner for the customer from merely satisfied to delighted. And delight drives loyalty.
When employees are paid more, their attitudes improve. They're more positive, and this comes across in their demeanor with the customer. Higher pay reduces financial stress. While research indicates that a more positive attitude can reduce stress, the inverse is also true - reduced stress allows a better attitude to happen. A customer can smell a bad attitude from a mile away and a positive attitude from two miles. People tend to be drawn toward positive people, and away from negative ones. Positive employees attract more customers.
When employees are paid more, they stick around longer; they're less likely to move to another employer for incrementally higher pay. As a result, the work for as a whole becomes more experienced. And greater experience brings greater knowledge, more confidence in doing the work, and a reduction in training and hiring costs. As HBR points out, there are indeed high costs associated with low wages, and frequent turnover is just one of them.
There are plenty of systemically good reasons to invest more in front-line employees - those who most directly interface with the paying customer - but perhaps the most strategically sound reason of all is to improve the customer experience. Greater customer experiences lead to greater customer loyalty, an higher revenue and profits.
What's so special about seeing fresh flowers in public restroom?
I almost didn't receive a FedEx package recently, because someone screwed up the shipping information. The package was shipped to the correct address, but the recipient's name - mine - was truncated.
The name appeared as "James Wa" instead of "James Watson."
I was a guest at the Omni Orlando in ChampionsGate, Florida. The package was to be held for me at the front desk. For two consecutive days, each time I called the desk to ask if the package had arrived, I was told, "No - nothing has arrived with your name on it." But the package was there the entire time.
Techncially, they were correct. My name wasn't on the package because the person entering the "Ship to" information typed the following 39 letters on the second line of the address:
"HOLD AT RECEPTION DESK FOR JAMES WATSON."
But only 35 of the 39 letters appeared on the shipping label when it printed. That's right, the software program that prints out the shipping labels will only print the first 35 letters. In 99.9% of the cases, I'm sure that's not an issue. But in my case, it was. And that's the only case I cared about on this particular day.
So who's at fault here?
An argument can be made for each of these, but regardless of who's at fault, there was a breakdown in a "back office" process that had caused me to not receive my "Next Day" package for 2 days. And that caused me to think negatively about 3 companies involved:
The Point is This:
It's not only the front-office, customer-facing employees that impact the customer experience; it's also the back-office employees and processes that can impact the experience, the brand and the reputation.
So, what to do about it?
Carefully map out the entire customer journey, but when you do, include behind the scenes processes that can impact the customer experience. It can be something as remote and banal as the number of characters that print out in and address field that can hurt your brand and reputation. It's these invisible factors that lurk beneath the surface that can really do damage. Don't let them.
What back-office experience factors exist in your business?
What can you do to fortify them?