Article

Customer service management: Key benefits and strategies

Get customer service management right to improve employee retention and customer loyalty.

By Stella Inabo, Contributing Writer

Published June 12, 2014
Last updated April 29, 2022

You’d be hard-pressed to find a support manager who doesn’t think customer service is important. And yet, many companies are delivering underwhelming customer support. 54 percent of shoppers say customer service feels like an afterthought for most of the businesses they buy from, according to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022.

To provide better experiences, companies need to stop leaving customer service to chance.

By using customer service management—a strategy that involves empowering agents and advocating for the customer—you and your support team will be well-positioned to meet buyer expectations and increase customer retention.

What is customer service management (CSM)?

Customer service management (CSM) is the practice of empowering your team with the tools, training, and day-to-day support they need to deliver exceptional customer service experiences. The goal is to build rapport with consumers, boost retention, foster brand loyalty, and drive sales.

What are the benefits of customer service management?

The importance of customer service management can’t be overstated. CSM enables the support team to do their best work—whether that’s onboarding new customers or championing customer success for existing ones.

With a customer service management plan, support agents can act on customer feedback to improve their service and the company’s products. They can also refine their internal processes for managing customer requests and data, giving them the ability to cut down response times and provide personalized experiences.

The benefits of customer service management extend to support agents, too. Although they play a vital role in the success of a business, nearly 40 percent of agents say they haven’t been treated as well as other employees in the organization. And less than 30 percent feel empowered to do their jobs well, according to our CX Trends Report. With a CSM plan, customer service managers can improve agent training, allocate fair workloads, and ensure the team receives the recognition it deserves.

When customer support agents are equipped with the tools and knowledge they need, they can provide high-quality experiences. They’re also much more likely to be engaged and satisfied with their work, which in turn leads to happier customers.

How to improve the quality of customer service management

So, how do you go about managing a customer service team to improve employee engagement and build customer loyalty? Continuously motivate and empower your agents and adopt agile processes. These tips cover how to do just that.

1. Motivate your customer service team with rewards and recognition

customer service management

Showing appreciation and acknowledging accomplishments can lead to motivated, upbeat customer service representatives.

Every company has a different culture, so be sure to customize your rewards for your workplace. As you experiment with what works best for your team, we recommend you:

  • Set achievable goals

    Customer service objectives allow your team to measure their own success, which is critical to increasing engagement and improving employee satisfaction.

    Your support agents need to know how each objective addresses business needs, too. By connecting individual and team goals to company goals, you help your agents see how they contribute to the organization as a whole.

    You’ll also want to map agents’ targets to specific customer service KPIs—like customer satisfaction score, average resolution time, and first contact resolution—and give them access to a customer service software solution like Zendesk. Our tool makes it easy for agents to keep track of consumer data and feedback and provides visibility into their performance.

  • Reward your employees

    Reward team members who surpass expectations. To start, set up guidelines for how often you want to recognize your agents. Then make sure, as a manager, you identify remarkable achievements. Another way to reward your staff is to acknowledge when they handle a difficult experience well or de-escalate a tense situation.

    You can also take a page out of Zendesk’s playbook: We give a “Needful Trophy” to our support reps who excel in their work; it’s then up to them to pass the trophy on to the next person who goes above and beyond for a customer. This is a great way to raise the bar by allowing the people doing the hard work to determine what merits deserve praise.

    Using a trophy emoji on Slack is another simple way to show appreciation whenever a support agent helps a team member or goes out of their way to assist a customer.

  • Encourage your staff to praise each other, too

    As a manager, you’re not the only person who should be calling out good work. Encourage your support agents to recognize one another when they achieve milestones.

    At Zendesk, we all use Slack to give each other shout-outs. Sometimes the praise is mentioned within a small group, and other times it gets broadcast to the entire company. We’ll show support for our colleagues on anything from a local team channel to the global #humblebrag channel.

    You can even get your customers in on the action. Agent Slack Shoutouts, a Zendesk integration, automatically shares positive customer satisfaction (CSAT) reviews with teams in Slack. This feature uses the customer’s own words to celebrate the agents who work hard to keep them happy or solve an issue. It’s a great way to call attention to impressive customer interactions and boost agent morale.

  • Personalize rewards and recognition

    Remember, one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to rewards and recognition. While some people like a little fanfare, others prefer a quiet word of encouragement.

    Take the time to offer praise in a way that appeals to agents’ unique personalities. For example, an extroverted employee might appreciate a special shout-out during a team meeting. A more private person, on the other hand, may find an old-fashioned thank-you note more meaningful.

2. Support your team, especially during busy times

There are going to be times when you don’t have enough customer service reps to meet demand. Sometimes, shortages are due to the typical sick days, holiday seasons, and new product releases. Other times, it’s because of more unusual circumstances (the COVID-19 era has certainly brought plenty of those).

To cope, devise a good customer service management strategy for days when your support team is struggling to keep up with the number of tickets. Here’s what can help in those special situations:

  • Be upfront with your team

    The first thing to do is let your team know you’re short-staffed. Keep them engaged by explaining why you’re behind instead of just asking them to work more.

    If the extra workload is going to extend past one day, it’s best to be clear about how much more time people will work and to schedule additional hours based on who has availability. Use rewards to keep your team motivated through long hours.

  • Help your team focus on the essential tasks

    Evaluate the day’s work: Are there any tickets your team doesn’t need to address right away? If so, save them for a day when you’re not understaffed. Are there any simple tickets someone from a different department can answer? If so, see if that person can help.

    Cancel all your meetings and postpone any nonessential activities. Ask your staff to do the same so they can focus on the high-priority task at hand.

  • Reduce the pressure on your agents with customer self-service

    Self-service resources empower consumers to solve problems on their own, enabling your support agents to focus on more complicated customer issues.

    Aside from increasing agent efficiency, self-service can also cut down on costs and improve the overall customer experience. 70 percent of consumers say they expect businesses to have a knowledge base and other self-service options.

    When Stanley Black & Decker adopted Zendesk’s self-service web tool and updated its help center content, the company’s customer satisfaction rate jumped to 90 percent. The web tool, in particular, increased sales by 500 percent over the previous year.

    Customers like to help themselves, so give them what they want by leveraging intelligent automation and routing technology, such as interactive voice response (IVR) and AI-powered chatbots. These types of self-service options will help customers find the answers to their own questions while reducing the number of requests your agents handle daily.

    Zendesk’s help center software also makes it easy for agents to update and contribute to self-service content, helping customers find more accurate answers—faster.

3. Support your virtual customer service team

customer service management

If you’re supervising a distributed team, keep customer service reps connected and accountable with regular meetings and consistent communication.

  • Adopt a flexible schedule

    Give your agents flexibility where you can—one of the benefits of remote work is that it allows your employees to work during their most productive hours instead of strictly from 9 to 5.

    Before creating a schedule and assigning responsibilities, take time to understand when your team members do their best work. Some agents are more productive during evening hours, so it would make sense to assign them to the night shift. You should consider your agents’ locations and time zones, too.

    To avoid employee burnout, let agents swap shifts. They should also be able to pass on customer issues to a backup agent in case of a personal emergency or unexpected event.

  • Meet with agents regularly

    A consistent meeting cadence helps agents feel connected, giving them the “face-to-face” time they might miss from not working in an office. It also gives managers regular visibility into agent workflows and progress.

    Consider setting daily morning stand-up meetings or midday check-ins to start. Avoid having meetings for the sake of having them, though. Ensure each meeting has a clear purpose so you don’t waste agents’ time and hamper their productivity.

  • Experiment with communication tools and channels

    Don’t hold tight to the tools you used in your in-office work environment if they don’t make sense anymore. Instead, try new communication and customer service software, and figure out the right combination of email, phone, and video conferencing that works for your distributed team.

    If you’re using Slack, create designated channels for your team. Some can be for different work functions, and others can be for fun. You might have a #watercoolerconversations channel, for instance, where remote team members can chat.

    Slack is also beneficial for surfacing timely or important customer information. With the Slack-Zendesk integration, teams don’t need to jump between tools to get updates on their support tickets. Instead, Zendesk drops customizable real-time ticket notifications into Slack channels to give customer service teams better visibility into what’s happening with their most important accounts. Agents can also create and manage tickets directly from Slack.

  • Hold virtual team-building activities

    Managers can use video conferencing tools like Zoom to host fun team-building activities, such as virtual lunches, celebrations, and happy hours. Determine the type of get-togethers that appeal most to your customer service team. Don’t hesitate to get creative—virtual talent shows, classes, and interactive games can be offbeat and entertaining.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

4. Define customer service team roles

As a support manager, it’s important to balance the needs of your customers and your business by staffing the right roles at the right times. Here are some of the different types of agents you could have on your team.

  • Triage agent: A triage agent assigns incoming tickets to groups. This role is typically a supervisory position, but making it a peer-to-peer position rotates the responsibility. With the latter setup, agents learn how to handle and assign tickets.
  • Phone coordinator agent: A phone coordinator manages the phone queue and gets other agents on the phones when things get busy. When there are no calls, the phone coordinator works on tickets.
  • Ticket tank agent: This team member handles complex tickets that’ll likely take longer to resolve.
  • Live chat/message/social media agent: The agent in this role engages with customers via chat, messaging, or social media channels.

Come up with a prioritization system for these roles. When ticket volume is high, you’ll be able to temporarily pull people from the less-critical roles until the workload evens out.

5. See how top companies create great customer experiences

customer service management

At Zendesk, we host a conversational webcast series called CX Moments. Tune in for 30-minute Zoom sessions to hear how industry leaders at companies like Slack and Etsy deal with CX challenges and triumphs. Each virtual meeting ends with a Q&A session.

So far, CX Moments has explored team topics like transitioning to remote workforces and educating customers and employees about race, allyship, and solidarity. Through these seminars, we try to reinforce that we’re all in this together—through good times and bad.

6. Keep things fresh with rotating roles

Imagine answering customer calls all day, every day—it would get boring after a while, right? Give agents a break from monotonous work by rotating their roles. This system also helps them build omnichannel experience and gain context across the organization.

Here are three examples of functions your support team can fill to help out their colleagues on other teams and learn how different departments work:

  • Customer training: Let agents help customers get the most out of your company’s product or service. After all, there’s no better resource to train your customers than the people who spend all day supporting them.
  • Employee training: Your team can teach colleagues the ins and outs of a new product, service, or channel. They can also provide tips on how to be more effective at helping customers. Product team meetings are an especially great opportunity for support agents to impart their knowledge. They can share customer feedback with engineers so they know which product improvements to prioritize.
  • Knowledge manager: Build out your self-service options by having support agents write blog posts, knowledge base articles, and guides that help customers solve their own issues.

Having agents assist other teams is a good way to leverage their knowledge of the customer and the product. It can also make them feel more connected to the company’s broader purpose.

7. Embrace transparency as a customer service leader

customer service management

Transparency within your support team—from executive management to the front lines—is paramount to your success.

Clear, open communication helps to set expectations and gets things done. The larger your organization, the more important (and challenging) achieving transparency becomes. Here are a few ideas for improving communication across your company.

  • Be present as a customer service leader

    It’s not enough to silently manage from afar, making decisions and letting them trickle down while feedback—good or bad—slowly bubbles back up.

    If your leadership team is making decisions that affect everyone, carve out time to get feedback from people at all levels of the business. Use weekly one-on-one meetings to ensure information is flowing.

    Getting input before making a decision doesn’t determine the outcome—it influences it. So afterward, it’s equally important to explain why a decision was made and whether or not you applied your team’s feedback. Explaining your decision-making process helps get agents on the same page and makes them feel heard.

    In leadership meetings, be clear with your team about the information that needs to be shared, feedback that should be received, and the expected turnaround time. The information must move quickly up and down the organization so decisions aren’t delayed.

    Spend time with your staff, shadowing them and asking them about their work. This level of visibility helps you make informed suggestions for change as a customer service leader.

  • Align on meeting agendas

    Before team meetings, send out a list of proposed topics, including the amount of time you’ve budgeted for each one. Adjust the agenda based on feedback or priority, and send a finalized version beforehand so everyone is prepared to use the scheduled time efficiently. This system is time-intensive, so consider using it for important meetings only.

    It sounds like a lot of work, but over time, an agenda becomes a living document that helps your team stay on track and make steady progress.

  • Request 360-degree feedback

    If you’re responsible for managing and evaluating others, then you also have to be open to hearing feedback about yourself.

    Ask for 360-degree feedback—input from your support agents, colleagues, and superiors about your work—while also completing your own self-evaluation.

    See what people identify as your strengths and weaknesses, and note how their assessment compares to your own. Determine what you can do better, then act on it. The last thing you want is for your team to feel like they’ve taken time to share their feedback, only to see that you haven’t made any improvements or adjustments.

What does customer service management look like in action?

To see CSM in practice, let’s explore a customer service management example.

Imagine you’re a support agent for a data analytics platform, and one of your company’s biggest clients experiences downtime and is unable to log in. Here are the possible steps to a resolution that leverage streamlined processes and empowered agents.

  • File a ticket: An email from your customer creates a ticket that’s routed to a first-level support agent. The agent decides to escalate the ticket given the nature of the problem.
  • Update the customer: The agent sends an email to inform the customer that the ticket was escalated to enable a faster resolution.
  • Escalate the ticket: A team lead who handles network problems is assigned to the case. After assessing the situation, they realize that only this particular customer is unable to access the tool.
  • Triage and resolve: The team lead collaborates with an engineer who is adept at high-level troubleshooting and diagnosing downtimes. While the engineer is working on resolving the issue, the team lead monitors progress and stays in touch with the customer.
  • Close the ticket: Once the issue is resolved, the customer is notified. The team lead sends a follow-up email to the client and asks them to complete a customer satisfaction survey to gauge the support experience.

Bolster your customer service management strategy with the right tools

Customer service management is difficult. Make it easier by equipping your support team with the right tools.

Zendesk, for example, offers a unified agent workspace that displays important customer data and context when agents need it most. It also allows agents to track their progress on key metrics and seamlessly collaborate across teams.

Better yet, Zendesk uses intelligent routing to send customers to the agent who’s best suited to answer their questions. Zendesk even helps teams create critical self-service content, so agents can focus on helping customers with nuanced issues that require live support. These features not only improve employee engagement and retention but also build customer loyalty.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

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