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June 17, 2016

How to Find, Keep Good Service Reps

Summary:

Great service reps can make or break your company’s image. Hanging on to those who “get it” and are fully engaged is a must.

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The best customer service representatives (CSRs) are a rare breed. Not only do the best understand the technical details, but they also have well-developed soft skills, including communication savvy, and grit. Because let’s face it, CSRs take their fair share of abuse. It’s not easy talking with customers all day, especially when those customers are often unhappy. Yet great CSRs can make or break your company’s image. Hanging on to CSRs who “get it” and are engaged in the essential job they perform is a must.

Experienced agents and brokers know that’s easier said than done. Fewer than two-thirds of customer service employees are engaged, according to the 2015 Employee Engagement Trends Report from Quantum Workplace. That’s a lower rate than for almost every other department, including human resources and sales. A study from Bain & Co. looked at Net Promoter Scores (in part, a measure of how likely employees are to recommend their job to qualified family members and friends) and found that customer service ranked dead last among 10 common business departments.

Retention rates for CSRs in insurance aren’t much better. Our industry had a 28% turnover rate for CSRs in 2015, according to data from ContactBabel. That’s slightly better than the average across industries, which hovers around 33%. Even Zappos, with its laser focus on customer service and employee culture, suffers a 20% annual turnover for CSRs.

The high cost of losing employees and hiring and training replacements is well-established. A CallMe! survey found that the average turnover cost for a CSR is $3,500 per person.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can take three specific steps to make sure you’re bringing in the right customer service reps—and keeping them.

1. Watch for resume red flags

Not everyone is cut out to be a CSR. In fact, the top reason CSRs quit is that they were “just the wrong type of person for the job,” according to the ContactBabel report. Refine your hiring process so you’re employing only the right type of people for the job—otherwise, they’ll never be engaged.

Watch for red flags in resumes, including a lot of short stints at past jobs, especially other customer service positions. Also, keep an eye out for experience that didn’t involve a lot of communication, such as in data entry, administration and so on. Give special attention to applicants with an interest in new technology and experience working with social media channels. And that cliché interview question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” can actually give you a good idea about whether a person’s career goals align with your customer service values.

Some agencies play one or two particularly unpleasant customer service calls to measure how a prospective CSR might react to the most difficult calls he may receive. Others role-play an interaction with a customer, headset and all. You want to make sure would-be CSRs know what they’re getting into. A little extra vetting during the hiring process pays off big-time in building an engaged team.

See also: A Practical Tool to Connect to Customers

2. Treat them right

Study after study has shown that if you want to boost CSR retention, you have to keep reps engaged. A little flexibility goes a long way in keeping people happy at work. Two-thirds of female CSRs are working mothers, meaning unexpected scheduling issues are going to come up. While the job itself requires CSRs to work set hours, finding ways to give CSRs the flexibility to find a suitable work/life balance will help them stay engaged.

CSRs also want a chance to advance their careers. The International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) recently surveyed call centers on the top causes of CSR turnover. The most frequent source may surprise you: better opportunities inside the organization. But representatives don’t always see career opportunities within the call center itself. With CSR-to-supervisor ratios (known as span of control) averaging from 12:1 to 15:1, CSRs realize there’s a less than 10% chance they’ll ever be promoted to the level of their direct supervisor. That means you need to spell out the possibilities for advancement within the department. Consider adding titles—mentor, tech expert or shift supervisor, for example—so CSRs can increase their responsibility and compensation.

You can’t offer a promotion with a big cash bonus to every representative. But other small rewards, from a quick thank you to public praise for handling a particularly tough call, can make day-to-day work much more enjoyable.

See also: 3 Skills Needed for Customer Insight

3. Learn from departing reps

If you’re not picking the brains of CSRs who quit, you’re missing out on a valuable source of information that your competitors are taking advantage of. More than 80% of organizations conduct exit interviews with departing agents, according to ICMI. Make sure your exit interviews attempt to reveal specific things your call center can do differently to keep good CSRs on the job.

But you don’t have to wait until a CSR is headed out the door to figure out what she wants—instead, ask. A brief, informal survey about the perks they’d value most is an easy way to figure out where to focus your efforts. Armed with more information about the benefits and responsibilities CSRs prioritize, you’ll be better able to keep your best reps engaged and serving your customers.

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About the Author

Ann Myhr is senior director of Knowledge Resources for the Institutes, which she joined in 2000. Her responsibilities include providing subject matter expertise on educational content for the Institutes’ products and services.

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