Senior management's impact on customer service

The customer service industry is usually focused on two important roles - the customer and the customer service representative. While those are of course the main players, senior management of the business also plays an important but underrated role in the customer service environment. Managers make the big decisions, and while their work may seem nebulous or too high-level for many customer service discussions, they have a major impact on the way in which customer service is handled.

Set the bar
Customer service reps don't establish expectations. While individual reps will have an impact on the way their peers handle customers, it's only the senor-level managers that have the authority to set standards and best practices for a company. Managers can see customer retention and satisfaction rates. When a team needs to up the ante, the supervisor is the person who steps in to establish new practices.

It's also very important that senior management "walk the talk". As customer service becomes increasingly important to business success, managers need to be extremely customer-centric. If a customer support rep is dealing with an extremely unhappy customer, it should be SOP for managers (even senior level) to step in and speak with the customer directly. This accomplishes two things - first, the customer gets to feel heard. Speaking to a senior manager shows the customer that their business is important, and they are valued as a human being. Second, the rep feels supported and validated - creating highly satisfied employees. There is nothing better than seeing a high level manager step "into the trenches" and work with a customer, not to mention it reinforces the customer-centric culture.

Improve the tools and processes
Customer support software has a significant impact on the level of service a rep provides, and high-level supervisors can have a direct say in the tools available to customer service reps. With a better customer support software solution, reps can utilize past customer information and collaborate with other customer service representatives, ensuring the customer receives the best possible experience.

Senior management needs to ensure their team is well-equipped with up-to-date technology.

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Senior management can have a dramatic impact on the tools available to reps and the way in which customers are serviced.

Senior management controls and makes decisions around purchasing and implementing new customer service software tools. Executives need to ensure their team is well-equipped with up-to-date technology so they can perform their job efficiently. A survey or questionnaire sent out a few times per year can ensure reps' concerns about the tools available to them are heard.

In essence, the more proactive managers are with new technology, the easier it is for reps to provide great service to customers - but only if the representatives know how to handle that technology. Senior-level executives should have a plan in place that ensures employees are properly trained on the new technology. The Harvard Business Review stated that many companies spend too much money on senior management training and not enough on front-line personnel. The review pointed out Zappos as an example of the right way to do this, where call center employees receive extensive levels of training before they ever work a full day with customers.

Encourage reps to use personality and their own ideas
Many customer service reps work off a script, according to Inc. magazine. While this has been the norm for many companies, it isn't the best way to handle customer interactions. Customers don't like scripts. They call in with a problem and expect a real person to help. Someone working from a script and not deviating is only slightly better than a machine, so instead of using a script, Inc. suggested customer service reps' personality and ideas guide them when they talk with customers. Of course for this approach to be most effective, it is essential to hire the right customer support team.

While this new way of handling customer relations will come from the rep's immediate supervisor, the decision to handle inquiries this way should needs to come from senior management. When that shift happens, make sure a training session is implemented. Training will help guide reps so they can help customers the right way.

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Hosting company-wide meetings a few times per year can help break down hierarchical barriers.

Break down barriers
Some organizations are so tied up in hierarchical barriers that it's almost impossible for a lower-level employee to get a message up to the higher ranks. Senior-level executives need to break down these barriers, according to the Harvard Business Review. In fact, they are really the only people who can. Unless they work in an autonomic environment that encourages them to, low-level customer service reps have little power to change things.

One way to encourage communication is to have a designated email account for suggestions and questions that goes straight to top-level managers. Another idea is for senior management to hold quarterly company-wide meetings where reps can voice their ideas and concerns. This process will ensure all good ideas and suggestions are heard, as well as feeding company culture and comraderie.

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