Employee retention is great. You want loyal team members excited to show up every day, especially since you expend so much time and effort training them for the role. Unfortunately, employee retention has become more of a challenge in the 2020s highlighted by the Great Resignation, and it’s especially prominent in high-stress customer service roles.
We’ve established that customer service can be an emotionally demanding job. We’ve outlined ways that managers can make it better and how customer service agents can dodge burnout, but most people are not customer support lifers.
“Most people can’t do it for very long. Two years is about the max,” says Ty Schalamon of SketchUp.
“How to get out of customer service” is a popular search term on Google for a reason.
If you’re in a leadership role, it behooves you to anticipate this and think ahead to how to maintain your reps to avoid turnover, which can cost your company millions per year. Jeff Toister of Toister Performance Solutions and author of The Service Culture Handbook, says that it can take up to 4 months to replace a single customer service agent.
Maybe you’ve set up a great, customer-focused organization and given your team plenty of support. What else can you do to improve employee retention?
Toister outlines three types of customer service agents and how you can help direct their careers to keep them in the company and reduce your turnover rate.
Customer Service Climbers
Some customer service agents are ideal for promotion to greater responsibilities in customer service, and it’s key to offer those opportunities.
“One type of agent is somebody who’s going to be promoted within your contact center. So maybe there’s a management role, maybe a trainer role, some other level of responsibility,” Toister says.
Silvia Civita, who has been in customer service for over 20 years, emphasizes the importance of giving customer service agents growth opportunities:
They will eventually look for a new job. Let employees know that there’s a career path for them within the company, and encourage them to get involved in additional projects to take on more responsibility and gain new skills. Try to provide training – whether on-the-job or external and discuss any promotion opportunities they can work towards. Find out their career goals and how you can support their development; it shows you’re invested in them and value their contribution.
How do you identify those types?
“The skill set there has to be really, really good at the job,” Toister says.
You have to identify the agents who are exceptional at customer service and then develop them for the next level.
“They either have to have the skills coming in, or you have to develop the skills for the new job. As an example, I used to run a ‘train the trainer’ program, to take agents and help them learn how to become trainers. So that’s one path,” Toister says.
Some organizations may also have pathways for customer service representatives to transfer to new departments. And that customer service experience can be invaluable in other departments of your organization, which is why every employee should be trained in customer service.
Customer Service Escapees
You may have other customer service agents who are excellent at what they do but they’re looking to change their career path. Your best bet with those team members is to transition them to areas where their skills can shine and enrich the organization.
Thankfully, the skills and grit earned through customer service are useful in many other areas.
“Having not only the customer service skills, but the experience of talking to customers day in and day out, and having that customer empathy, is going to help you do a great job in whatever the other role is,” Toister says. Customer service professionals can excel in human resources, marketing, purchasing, and sales roles.
Ty Schalamon transitioned to sales after spending years as a customer service manager.
“The reason I switched is because I missed talking to people. I get to talk to people all day, and I love it,” Schalamon says.
Schalamon likens sales and support to two sides of the same coin.
“Now, what I’m doing is, instead of fixing issues after they buy, I’m helping prevent issues before they buy,” Schalamon says.
His strong customer service background helps Schalamon prevent problems for customers, which takes a load off the customer support team.
“Having that deep understanding of what the customer needs, what they want, and trying to prevent some of those issues before they become a problem, we can try to head that off before they even buy,” Schalamon explains.
“I get a sales call from a customer and they’re like, ‘Hey, I want to do this.’ Let me help you do that. Let me give you the tools to help you be successful. So this is much less stressful. It’s much easier on the sales side,” Schalamon says.
“Those employees are exceptionally valuable,” Toister says.
Some customer service agents are perfectly happy where they are.
“A camper is someone who is very content exactly where they are. They do a great job, but they don’t want to grow. They’re not interested in the career ladder. They like what they do, and they want to keep doing it,” Toister says.
And that’s a good thing!
“You need to have those people on your team because those are your steady people. As the other people come and go, campers make sure everything keeps working right,” Toister says.
Just as you want to nourish your climbers and escapees, you also want to nurture your campers because they’re key to a smooth-running customer service department.
“You need all three of those kinds of people on your team,” Toister says.
“I think we [often] overlook our campers,” Toister adds.
The key to keeping your campers happy is fostering a positive environment where everyone on the team can excel and grow, improving employee retention. A quick review of the steps to ensure that:
- Sell high-quality products and services
- Build a customer-oriented culture by developing a mission statement and sticking to it
- Offer more feedback and support to your reps
- Empower your agents to solve customer problems
- Pay well
- Pull your bad weeds
Regardless, you should still be developing and training your entire team, as it raises overall job satisfaction and helps agents adapt to ever-changing business conditions. Fast Company says:
Nor does the value go away after an employee’s first few years. A 2020 Gartner study found the number of skills required for a single job is increasing by 10% year-over-year, so trainings will continue to be valuable, regardless of an employee’s previous experience. You should also keep offering and updating them as you go to ensure the skills that you’re sharing are still relevant.
We never stop growing, and that’s something to keep in mind to improve employee retention.