Hopefully, the coronavirus pandemic will come to an end in 2021, and preferably sooner rather than later. And while we can kiss goodbye to some of the more unpleasant parts of pandemic life like fear-inspiring news coverage, closed public spaces, and wearing pajamas every day, some things will be here to stay. Remote working is one of those things.
While remote working was becoming more popular before the pandemic, with adoption growing steadily year on year, coronavirus massively accelerated this shift. With companies forced into remote working overnight, the pandemic became the biggest remote working experiment the world has ever seen. And the experiment brought some surprising results.
Many companies were resistant to remote working in the past for a variety of reasons. Some companies felt that employees don’t work as hard when their managers aren’t there to lord over them. Other companies believed that the office atmosphere was critical to employee productivity. However, the pandemic proved that these concerns were unfounded. According to one study by Airtasker, remote employees work 1.4 days more per month than office-based employees. The benefits of remote working were realized by both employees and businesses. Businesses save costs on building space and utilities and get more from their employees (increased work output). And employees enjoy a better work-life balance because they don’t have to battle commutes.
Remote customer service teams were a proven success in the pandemic, and in many ways, these teams kept businesses afloat during those financially uncertain times. However, that isn’t to say there aren’t challenges to running a remote customer service team. Culture is a massive part of any healthy and productive team within a business, but cultivating a great culture isn’t easy. Unfortunately, it can be even harder to develop this culture remotely, but it’s still 100% possible. In this blog post, we will detail the recipe for creating and sustaining an effective remote customer service culture. Let’s take a look.
Key Features of an Effective Customer Service Culture
Before we can look at how to sustain an influential customer service culture remotely, we first need to understand what constitutes an effective customer service culture in the first place.
This means respect towards other employees and respect towards customers. Respect always starts at the top, with the managers and leaders within a company. When employees feel respected, they’re more likely to pay that respect forward. Respect is contagious in that way.
Often, the concept of respect is lost in the sea of other priorities within a business. Managers have targets to meet, KPIs to track, and superiors they need to report to. However, make no mistake, in employee surveys, respect often ranks very high on the risk of what matters most to workers. They want to feel respected and valued by higher-ranking staff.
So why is respect so often overlooked in workplaces and customer service functions specifically? Because in many ways, respect is fundamentally strange. It’s one of those things that you don’t think about at all when you have it (when you feel respected), but it takes up a lot of space in your mind when you don’t have it. Most of us can probably think of other areas of life where the same logic applies. Think back to when you were in your teens and learning to drive. If all your friends could drive and you couldn’t, driving seemed like the most important thing in the world. But when you finally learn to drive, it suddenly seems like the most mundane thing – why did you spend so much energy thinking about it? Driving is just one example, and for you, it might be something else entirely.
Because of this disconnect between employees who feel disrespected and those who don’t think much about it at all (because they are respected), managers are often unaware of the problem.
We can break respect down into two categories:
Owed respect is the respect given freely to all team members. It’s about making all members feel included, safe, and valued. It’s the kind of respect we provide to everyone because they are human beings, and in a work setting because they are our colleagues.
When workplaces don’t have enough owed respect, we start to see higher instances of micromanagement and over-monitoring.
Earned respect is about recognizing the talents, skills, experience, and contributions of specific employees. This is where you provide additional respect (or reward) for good work.
Managers who don’t recognize when employees have gone out of their way to produce excellent work lack earned respect. The same is true for managers or employees who take credit for other’s work.
Striking the Balance
The customer service functions with the healthiest culture strike the perfect balance between earned respect and owed respect. If managers only recognize earned respect and otherwise micromanage or are rude to other employees, this creates a toxic atmosphere where employees can’t thrive. It also promotes resentment within teams. However, environments with owed respect but no earned respect lead to too little incentive to do better work. If employees aren’t recognized for the unique achievements they bring to the table, they will be less inclined to go the extra mile.
Other Key Features of an Effective Customer Service Culture
- Employee Empowerment: Employees feel confident making decisions. They feel trusted to take the right action and don’t feel compelled to run every decision by a manager. Customers also benefit from empowered employees because their issues are resolved faster.
- Rituals: Rituals are a cornerstone of culture. They can be how you do team meetings, the social events your team takes part in, or how you talk to customers. For example, the language and phrases you use with customers can be considered a form of ritual.
- Service philosophy: What is the goal of your customer service function? If you asked each agent for your customer service philosophy, would you get the same answer? Ideally, you should. Employees should be clear on their vision and philosophy and feel united in a common goal.
- Team bonding: Related to rituals but not the same. Agents should feel like members of a team, not a lone employee.
- Pride and belonging: Employees should feel happy and proud to be members of the company and the team and feel that they belong.
- Support: There shouldn’t be a culture of “that’s not my job”. Employees should pitch in to help other employees when needed. This allows the company to thrive and strengthens bonds.
- Storytelling: Stories and shared stories are how we make sense of our place in a team and our team’s place in the business’s success.
5 Ways To Sustain an Effective Remote Customer Service Culture
1. Improve Communication
A crucial part of keeping customer service teams thriving is promoting effective communication between team members. It all starts with technology. Do you have pro-social tools that employees can use, like a flexible and robust instant messaging service? What about video calling? Is your video conferencing software easy to use? Can employees click a few buttons and be connected with who they want to talk to? Or is it a laborious process?
There are other ways you can promote effective communication:
- Set standards for communication best practices: How quickly do you expect team members to reply to managers or colleagues during the workday? Would you prefer they rely on specific tools more than others? For example, do you want to promote IM for most communication and leave video conferencing for team meetings?
- Develop a weekly email: This can include a summary of all critical developments within the team that week, including KPIs. However, it should also promote culture by recognizing achievements or significant life events of employees. For example, if one team member is raising money for charity or just got married, you can also include this in the email.
2. Build Camaraderie
This is about team bonding and reducing the effects of isolation. While remote working comes with several benefits, some employees can start to feel isolated from the world without the right support. A recent survey found that “loneliness” was the second biggest challenge that remote workers face. Here are some ways you can combat this:
- Allow ‘fun’ chats: Could you create a chat channel where employees can talk about non-work-related things?
- Zoom parties: After-work events that take place over video conferencing can help team members bond. It’s a chance for employees to get to know each other on a more personal level in a less formal setting.
- Promote face-to-face interactions: Unless it’s impossible, employees should always have their cameras turned on during video conferencing calls. Seeing faces is an integral part of building a connection. It promotes trustworthiness and likability.
3. Enforce Breaks
Employees often work harder from home, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need a break. Employees can often forget to take breaks when working remotely, or they remain seated at their desk when they wouldn’t if they were in an office. By enforcing breaks, you’re communicating that you care about your employee’s wellbeing and value their health. When your employees are happy, they do better work, so you should be invested in their happiness.
4. Ask How Everyone is Doing
You can implement tactics to promote well-being and healthy culture, but that doesn’t mean you should assume everything is running as intended. Sometimes you need to adapt things for your team or individuals in your group. There’s no replacement for merely asking how everyone is doing. It would help if you did this twice in every period (every week or month).
The first time you ask everyone as a team. This is an opportunity for everyone to share with each other how they are finding the challenges they are faced with. They can express the things they enjoy and any concerns they have with other team members present. It’s a good way for teams to bond because it makes people realize they’re not alone – we all experience similar emotions.
The second time it should be privately, in a one-on-one meeting with each employee. Not everyone will feel comfortable being honest or sharing in an environment with others.
5. Team Meetings are Essential and Should Never Be Missed
When remote employees only connect with team members once a week over video conferences, a lot rides on this interaction. This is the time they:
- Get to know their team members.
- Realize their contribution to the team (how they support the overall goals, and how they compare to other employees).
- See the shared philosophy come to life.
- Build relationships and learn who they can go to for help. For example, one team member might talk with authority about one element of customer service. The other team member knows they can go to this person for advice.