Free coffee, boxes of donuts and the occasional pizza lunch are all great treats or perks to offer members of a customer service team. They just aren’t enough to ensure they’ll have the level of happiness you need. 

This is more important than some firms might initially realize. There is often a focus on ensuring that customer service agents are productive, or that they’re reducing the amount of time it takes to resolve the various issues that come their way. 

Happiness sounds more like a nice-to-have — something that could probably provide some intangible benefits, but could be sacrificed if push comes to shove. The end result of unhappiness, however, is that it infects all those other key performance areas that customer service agents should be focused upon. 

Unhappy people may do the minimum amount of work required, for instance, rather than taking the initiative to work through additional questions or complaints in the queue. 

Unhappy employees also have a way of creating a negative energy among other members of the team. There’s less chance of successful brainstorming or collaboration. If those same unhappy employees take their feelings outside the office, meanwhile, they might influence their peers, discouraging them from applying for a similar job at your company. 

Worst of all, unhappy or stressed-out customer service agents may present a less than favourable impression towards your customers at a time when they need nothing less than the best impression. After all, a lot of service issues stem from where customers are unhappy themselves, whether it’s a product that’s malfunctioning or a desire to get an exchange or refund. 

If those customers are greeted by employees who are clearly unhappy with their employer, it won’t be a case of “misery loves company” — it will be a case of customers choosing the company of another businesses entirely. 

Some firms may be reluctant to address happiness among the customer service team because it seems largely out of their control. Every human being is different, with a unique blend of needs and desires. There’s no sure-fire way to generate and sustain a love for their job across the board. 

That said, there are a few tactics you can use to optimize your work environment and  increase the odds that customer service agents will feel happier, and that they’ll stay that way: 

1. Build ownership and capabilities to make goals achievable 

Most customer service agents are given fairly specific targets they need to hit, but how they actually reach those targets is sometimes a little nebulous. 

Beyond the basic metrics, for example, agents might be asked to try and influence the sentiment customers express on feedback surveys. Assuming they’re satisfied once a service interaction is complete, they might give a positive rating, but how can agents be more certain? 

The answer is in providing agents with tools to better manage all the information surrounding those interactions, so that they can learn and adjust their approach as needed. Those who use an application like Service Cloud can not only be better prepared when they engage with a customer, but quicker to get ahead of future questions and concerns. 

Similarly, working towards a goal to increase productivity becomes a lot more manageable when agents can work across several channels (such as phone, email and social media) at once. They can then use data to get a better sense of the volumes that come through each of those channels and prioritize their time accordingly. 

2. Offer data-driven ‘tune-ups’

Of course, agents will not necessarily become experts in using advanced customer service tools right away. They may also encounter a particularly difficult problem that isn’t immediately actionable based on what they see in a dashboard. 

Managers can play a strong role here by establishing policies and processes that will give agents access to the kind of coaching they need, when they need it.

In some cases, a quick post-mortem after a difficult call could offer an opportunity to demonstrate ways of using the data available to solve a problem more quickly the next time. 

Or, if an agent seems stuck in a rut or slump after a series of challenging customer interactions, use a tune-up session to put them in control of using data more effectively to get back into a state of flow. 

3. Provide opportunities to progress beyond the routine

When agents start out, they may be given less complex issues so that they can learn the nuts and bolts of the firm’s products and services and build their confidence. Over time, of course, it’s important to ensure agents see a path to advance in their careers, whether it be a promotion or simply getting more responsibility within their current role. 

Companies that have deployed chatbots are often one step ahead of this because the technology can provide an automated way of dealing with common troubleshooting issues and questions. 

Even if you’re not there yet, however, think of how you can establish a rotation of problems that get routed to a particular agent, or perhaps the channels on which they’re focused. Anything that brings more variety to the job is likely to make for happier team members. 

4. Amplify recognition and positive feedback

The best managers know that it takes more than an occasional “Good job” while passing an employee’s cubicle to really make them happy. Feedback should be as specific as possible for it to really resonate. 

The effect of positive feedback and recognition becomes even more powerful when it becomes more public within the larger organization. Consider any and all internal channels you have to make this happen. Some examples here include an employee email newsletter, an intranet blog post or even a group message on an employee social media tool.  

If you want to help customer service representatives love their job, continue to actively monitor and experiment with what works and what doesn’t. You’ll be more likely to see new chances to make a difference — which could make you love your job even more, too.