Empower Your CSRs to Satisfy

Bigstockphoto_office_executive_comp Empowerment is an important issue for any business that has Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) taking care of customer issues. I recall a couple of client call centers where there was so little empowerment that CSRs had to raise their hand and wait for a floor supervisor to approve even the most simple issues.

"This lady received her widget but it was broken during shipment. Can I send her a new one?"

It was de-motivating, de-meaning and di-sastrous to the call center’s efficiency. I have a friend who worked for a major corporation where the culture was utterly professional. Nevertheless, CSRs had to raise their hands to be excused to go to the restroom!

Those are extremes, but you get my point. Companies often clamp down on CSRs in fear that any pinch of empowerment will turn into a pound of problems when they start giving away the store. What I’ve found most interesting about companies who actually give CSRs empowerment to take care of the customer is that the CSRs often turn out to be more stingy than their supervisors or managers want them to be.

I believe some of the CSRs’ stingyness comes from cynicism. CSRs handle all of the probem calls, and they will talk to problem customers. They have to deal with the vast minority of customers who may be trying to take advantage of the company and they talk to them a disproportionate amount of the time. It’s easy for them to begin feeling like all customers are just out to take advantage of the company.

I also find that most CSRs really do care about their company. They take it personally when customers try to take advantage of the situation. They become very protective. To cheat the company becomes cheating them by extension – and they will usually fight against it.

Nevertheless, companies who empower their CSRs to take care of the customer, provide reasonable guidelines, and consistently coach/train their CSRs accordingly, generally find a lift in CSR morale and customer satisfaction. When a good customer calls for the first time with a legitimate issue, the CSR can handle the situation swiftly, often exceeding the customer’s expectations!

  6 comments for “Empower Your CSRs to Satisfy

  1. December 14, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    Tom,
    Thank you for the link back to my blog post about agent empowerment. I agree with you that empowering agents is essential in contact center efficiency and morale. You’ve provided some great examples here!

  2. December 15, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    Hi Tom,
    Having been a CSR at a call center, and still a CSR-just not in a call center anymore, I really get what you are saying. There is this incredible freedom that comes with that kind of empowerment. Not only am I free to fix this problem without raising my hand, I am free to help this person-free to spend the corporation’s money and free to do what needs to be done.
    Having to ask before doing anything makes you feel like a cog in a machine. They could have a computer do the same job you are doing if you are that restricted. It shows the sort of distrust and low value some Call Centers put on their workers when they don’t trust them that they know how to take care of both the customer and the company at the same time. Most of us have that sort of built in common sense, if people would only let us try.
    It also feels so bad on the other side, when you call with a simple problem and you have to wait for the CSR to ask his Mommy if its ok to make it right. But when they step up, fix your problem and make decisions, you feel like you connected with a real person who really cared and not just another connection in some middle managers customer action flowchart.
    Good Post.
    AC

  3. December 16, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    I think that empowerment is something that it very easy to say but very difficult to enable.
    To empower an employee really means to enable that employee to take risks.
    Most companies have lots of policies in place to stop staff taking risks.
    One of the best examples I saw was to eanble agents to give financial compensation of £20 or $40 to any callers who had a poor personal service. Amazingly the cost was not as much as the company thought and agents were remarkably good at spotting when callers were trying it on.

  4. December 17, 2007 at 9:11 am

    Great comments, folks.
    Jill, thanks for the props. Your blog is a constant source of great content for me.
    AC, thanks for staying in touch! You’re right, if you are going to pay people to make decisions then let them make them. If you want autobots then hire the transformers.
    Jonty, thanks for stopping by again and for being a witness. If you give CSRs the empowerment they aren’t going to give away the store!!

  5. December 26, 2007 at 6:04 am

    Hello Tom;
    Although you and I both dedicate to CSR’s, we do so within different stages. The stage you tend is the ideology of telephone/ consumer interaction whereas I concentrate on direct face-to-face consumer interaction. I do however agree that the performance of excellent CS standards in the absence of eye contact is indeed much more tedious and requires skills more attuned to keen audio observations and powerful but disciplined verbal communiques. Having said that, much of that which we teach is synonymous.
    In a united effort I suggest you acquire this most enlightening book by Frank Luntz, a political pollster and consultant and author of “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.” It is a compelling read that will arm you with a new slant on bettering customer service by coaching CSR’s to structure their communications understanding it is what consumers hear that ultimately defines satisfaction. Once CSR’s understand this premise and assuming they’ve the ability to adapt, defining responses in careful consideration that customers HEAR the correct message becomes the vehicle for satisfaction.
    To illustrate political examples: Ronald Reagan when campaigning for the Presidency referred to increasing welfare payments for the poor as “helping the poor improve their standards of living”; he referred to providing healthcare to the uninsured as “instituting programs that will improve the health of America’s uninsured”; when he spoke of risng tensions with Russia he referred to them as “presenting to Congress plans that will lessen the tensions Americans are feeling with respect to our Russian challenges.”
    His messages are of solutions rather than increasing tensions by referring to the presence of problems; they are structured to tell American’s what they want to hear; improved standards, bettered health, and relieved tensions. If the pie tastes great, who cares how it was made? Customers only want things to taste good!
    Therefore, as a CSR it is more productive to speak in terms of solutions. Customers are not interested in why the problem either happened or exists; their interests lay simply in proper and measured solutions (in political terms; a “measured response”)
    Frank Luntz’s book is extremely enlightening. I highly recommend it!
    Regards,
    Arnie Sherr

  6. December 26, 2007 at 6:52 am

    Thanks for the great comment and the recommended reading, Arnold! You are right. It’s about communicating solutions not explaining/excusing the problem.

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