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Customer service is a thankless job.

The front-line employee's main duty is to take back-back calls, fixing problems, and listening to customers groan and complain. Then there are the rare and hostile customers that will make an employee cry. All the while, your upper-level manager hovers over you, questioning if your team is meeting their goals and completing their tasks.

Needless to say, it's a very fast-paced environment.  And as a supervisor, motivating and supporting employees can be difficult. Workers are prone to negativity and cynicism. This attitude can quickly become contagious and poison the work atmosphere.

To that end, you have to continually think of new initiatives and tactics to stimulate employee engagement and keep morale high.

A challenging work environment

Much of my early career was spent as a CS team leader for a large e-commerce organization. Since I had worked my way up to that supervisor role, I didn't fully understand what it took to lead a team.

As a result, I mainly relied on my intuition, books, and direction from my own boss to succeed.  

Through trial and error, I began to see patterns emerge with time. Some actions, words, or practices seemed to inspire employees to work hard and stay motivated. 

Continually implementing these practices helped our employees feel motivated, happy, and engaged

That said, the system isn't perfect, of course. There were difficult patches even when I was trying to put these ideas into action. It's critical to remember each employee is unique -- what is motivating to one employee might not be encouraging to another. However, I found these ideas to hold true across most people and settings. 

Let’s dive in!

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6 Lessons about Motivating Employees I Learned as a Customer Service Manager

1 - Give impromptu coaching and feedback sessions

As a team leader, part of my duties was to host bi-weekly 1:1 meetings with my team members. Before these meetings, I would listen to a sample of their calls or emails, rate them and give feedback and pointers. The goal of this exercise was to help keep agents’ performance and service on track. 

Agents looked forward to having a sit-down meeting, and they loved getting feedback.

But what I quickly discovered was many of them did not remember the phone call incoach@3x question. When you're taking over 30 calls a day, they all start to blur into one another. As a result, my feedback was less impactful. I was essentially giving them feedback about something that happened two or three weeks earlier. 

So I started coaching with more spontaneity.

Almost every day, I would wander the floor and listen in on conversations. If an agent had difficulties with a client, it would be obvious, and I would perch myself next to them to support them while they were on a difficult call. The customer could be put on hold while I gave them immediate feedback and suggestions. 

Impromptu coaching helped agents stay motivated. First, employees felt more confident handling a tough call when they had immediate help available. And more importantly, the feedback I gave them in the moment was far more likely to stick in their minds than waiting two weeks.  Spontaneous coaching also minimized my own work because agents rarely escalated calls to senior staff. In the end, it was a win-win situation

2 - Most employees are highly motivated by learning and challenge

We often assume that employees are allergic to hard work or don’t want to hear negative thoughts about their performance. 

For example, you might think that telling them something negative will be difficult for them to hear, or they may become defensive. But, in my experience, this presumption is not true. 

The team that I managed was hungry for a challenge and feedback -- both positive and negative. This was especially true for younger employees, those who were still in school. These employees were keen to learn and grow or to be told where they wereGuide_EmployeeRecognition falling short and how they could improve. 

Customer service is a highly task-driven environment. This means it can be repetitive and become mundane quickly, especially for fast learners. I must admit that the most challenging aspect of my job was coming up with new ways to challenge employees. 

For example, I would try and take the time to evaluate their performance and give them feedback and pointers to help them improve their skills. And I would think of tasks and responsibilities to delegate to those that showed interest in leading teams.

For instance, I would have employees lead the daily huddles and help me with evaluations. It was through this experience that I realized just how vital growth and development are to employee motivation. If they don’t feel challenged in some way,  they can lose enthusiasm for the job quickly. 

3 - Remember to invest in developing your lesser performing employees

Managing a CS team, you quickly realize that people have different strengths. For example, some employees may be faster at providing written customer service because they are native speakers of the language you are using. Alternatively, some may be more efficient because they are more experienced and better aware of the policies and procedures than someone more junior.

That said, on any given day, there was a mountain of tasks to fulfill.  And it was my duty to distribute those tasks among team members to ensure that they get done. overlook@3x

As such, I was very tempted to offload all these tasks on our team's top performers. Doing this gave me a sense of security that the work would be done on time, requiring minimal supervision.

But, I noticed that this tactic, although effective in the short term, had its long-term problems. 

  • First, your top performers, as good as they are, also get tired and overworked. Just because an employee is ambitious doesn't mean that taking on every task is sustainable for them in the long run. These eager employees can lose motivation if they are overworked. Or worse, they can become emotionally disengaged if they feel management has taken advantage of their enthusiasm.

  • Second, by being biased toward your top performers, you're not giving the other team members a chance to develop their skills, learn, or grow. It is common for "lower performers" to feel even worse about themselves if they see you delegating important work to other agents. In other words, they may lose even more confidence, reducing their performance even further.

Sometimes people need a bit more practice, coaching and support to thrive. Although this means the tasks might not get done as quickly, or the employee may need more coaching in the short term. However, in the long-term, you're setting your team up for success as the group's overall strength and performance will be more balanced.

4 - Check-in on people often and use your intuition to see if behaviour is off 

One day, I noticed an agent was having a tough time. Many calls for simple issues escalated quickly. And she grew impatient and frustrated, which only made the situation worse.

Customer service is a job that requires a lot of mental control and empathy. When workers are not in the right headspace -- feeling upset or stressed, they have fewer mental reserves to deal with angry customers or to put on a happy face. Simply put, when employees are in a bad mood, it affects the quality of their work rather quickly. 

To that end, as a manager, if you want to keep performance and motivation high, it is essential to catch any feelings of stress and frustration early. And the best tactic to do this is to check in with employees often and address any issues proactively.

For me, this meant prioritizing small, frequent check-ins and not waiting until our bi-weekly meeting, but doing it daily instead. 

For example, by walking around and saying hello to everyone, asking them how they are doing. But most importantly, using my eyes and ears and human intuition to see if any employees were acting "off" and addressing it quickly if need be. For example, I wascheckIn@3x always on the lookout for some of these typical behaviours:

  • More impatience than usual
  • More frustrations and irritability
  • More difficulty with simple tasks 

When you notice this change of behaviour in any employee, it's crucial to take the time to sit down with them and ask them about their stress levels. I have found that being proactive will show your employees that you care about them, which will help them maintain morale and keep them motivated. The truth is, not every person will feel comfortable admitting they are overwhelmed.

That said since one of my team members was experiencing many difficulties, I spoke directly with her. It became clear that she was dealing with a lot of pressure and stress from the phone calls. Even though she spoke English very well, it was not her first language, and because of her accent, some callers even harassed her. 

Her morale was affected, as you can imagine. So I took her off the phone and had her work on emails. She learned policies at a more relaxed pace and practiced her responses to common questions. When she was put back on the phone, she was rested and in a place to perform her best. 

5 - Public recognition is very important for morale

As a team leader, I had access to any positive reviews left by happy customers. Every Friday, I would pick a couple of the best reviews from the week and send them to the entire team. 

The goal was to publicly recognize agents who gave excellent service and to keep morale high. Employees loved having one of their positive reviews broadcast in myAsset 78i weekly "recognition" emails. 

Interestingly, I noticed recognizing agents only for their speed and efficiency; for example, "Jane closed x amount of tickets this week" was less impactful. It sometimes made employees who took time to give personalized service feel resentful. 

I learned some critical lessons from this exercise. First off, recognition is an important tool to keep people happy and motivated. In an industry like customer service, where many people work together and negative emotions can spread like wildfire, supporting morale and positive energy is critical. Regular recognition is a fast and affordable way to put a smile on everyone's face.

Second, praise is a crucial tool to show employees what the company values.

Let me explain. 

The company held our department to some strict KPIs. And what always took priority was the quality of the service. As such, celebrating employees for the quality of their service shown to the entire team that quality service was our prime goal. As a result, employees seemed more motivated to improve their service and get positive reviews from clients, rather than focusing on speed and efficiency. 

6 - Plan fun social activities to help people connect

An agent's duties are inherently exhausting on a mental and emotional level. There's a lot of human interaction with clients -- both happy and angry, and a lot of constant multitasking. 

For this reason, keeping an atmosphere of calm, friendliness, and support among team members was essential. Simply put, the work environment needs to be healthy andsocial activites @3x upbeat to keep employees fueled and motivated.

The promotion of social activities was essential for maintaining a positive and friendly work environment. This initiative was something that was supported from the top-down.  

Almost every Friday, the team gathered for drinks at work to celebrate the end of a long week. There were also team-building events planned outside of work every few months. These social activities gave people an opportunity to get to know each other better. And in extension, it made employees enjoy working and collaborating during work hours.

Final Thoughts

I had no prior experience managing a team when I began my supervisory role. Being an excellent frontline agent led to me being promoted. 

Yet, my experience as a front-line agent did give me an edge, as I knew what workers wanted from their managers to feel motivated by their jobs.

My main takeaway: Employee motivation isn't a complicated, unsolvable puzzle. 

Though experts have devoted entire books to management tactics, I found that getting back to basics is the best strategy. 

In other words, it's the simple tactics done consistently have the most significant impact on employee motivation. 

For example, proactively checking in, creating challenges, and giving regular recognition. These small efforts build over time, reinforce team members' connections, help employees develop their skills, and make employees feel valued and supported. 

Michelle Cadieux
Michelle Cadieux

Michelle is the lead content writer at Applauz. She has a Psychology background and loves to read and write about human happiness, motivation and decision-making. She loves scary movies and cooking classic Italian food.

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