7 Ways to Empower Your Customer Service Agents

Companies famous for customer service all have one thing in common: they give their customer service agents the power to solve problems, give them all the training and support they need… and then get out of their way.

Customer service agents are on the front lines – they interact with customers every day and are by far the most important factor in delivering the kind of customer service that people talk (and tweet) about.

The customer is at the heart of everything we do here at Salesforce, so we know just how important it is to service your customers well when they need help. Customer service agents are an enormous part of that, which is why we’re sharing our top seven ways to empower and support your own customer service agents.

1. Commit to Your Service Teams

This is the most important part. Great service brands start with great service cultures. And while great service cultures may start from the top, they focus on the front: they explicitly give agents the power to go out of their way to delight customers.

A huge part of this is giving them the right training without overkill. Make sure your agents know how to properly respond to customer issues without reading off a script. Instead of massive rule books showing what agents can’t do, have a few principles that focus on the goal: happy customers who tell others about their service experience. Then let your agents do what they need to do to make that happen.

This means letting your agents know what’s possible, and proving it. Many of those exceptional customer service stories we’ve heard about started with an employee who pushed the limits of the norm. Encourage your service agents to think and go above and beyond, and support them along the way. 

This is a major change from the ‘idiot-proof’, productivity-at-all-costs service centres we’ve all been victimised by. And the impact is enormous.

2. Give them access to information fast

The knowledge that could solve the vast majority of customer support issues already exists inside your company. The only problem is making it easy for your agents to find and deploy it, on demand.

A robust knowledge base is a core asset for any empowered customer service agent. But too many companies make it hard for agents to discover the knowledge they need, the instant they need it.

Even fewer let agents contribute to this knowledge base so it’s always growing and up-to-date. That’s a big missed opportunity. After all, these guys see more issues than anybody else. That’s why we use our own Service Cloud in every customer service interaction — Service Cloud Knowledge gives us a wealth of information accessible during the call that enables our agents to find the right answer as quickly as possible. 

3. Connect them with your company’s experts

Even the best knowledge base in the world can’t capture everything your company knows. A lot more will always live in the heads of your people in every department.

Empowered customer service agents need a way to access all this knowledge, expertise and experience. And a company-wide collaboration platform is critical to this. The best are integrated with your customer service console and modelled on social media: with rich profiles that capture everyone’s expertise and experience; threaded conversations and alerts; timelines and the ability to ‘follow’ issues, cases or experts…

With one of these, your agents can say, “I don’t know… but I know someone who does.”

4. Show them every aspect of the customer’s journey

Your customers tell you a lot about themselves as they interact with you across your different sales, marketing and customer service channels.

But most companies limit what agents can see. So they treat VIPs exactly the same as newcomers. Or suggest inappropriate products. Or ignore the fact that a customer is showing all the signs of imminent defection.

The best customer service operations let their agents see everything relevant to each customer – no matter what department or channel that insight came from. No service desk should be an island.

5. Deflect the things that waste their time

A big chunk of service calls are often things that anybody could answer. But you didn’t hire and train just anybody. You got the best people you could find and invested in their training.

A self-service support portal can be a great way to handle routine requests that take time but don’t need the personal touch: like password re-sets.

That frees your people to focus their experience, dedication and charm where it will make the most impact.

6. Get their input

Customer Service Agents have the most contact with your customer. Use the intel and feedback they receive from customers on a daily basis to make your products stronger, patch up holes in your sales funnel, and prevent issues before they start. Eventually, the changes that you make off the back of their input could result in better customer service experiences. 

This can be huge for your marketing and sales teams as well. Most customer journeys start with marketing or sales, and if things go awry they route through customer service. If your customer service teams can help inform issues higher up in the funnel that need to be fixed, they’re not only making the customer experience better, they’re increasing the effectiveness of marketing and sales.

7. Enlist your customers

Most of us have been on an internet forum of some kind, seeking that elusive product answer only one or two other people in the universe have seemed to come across. Lucky for you, that person thought to post the answer to it in a customer forum. 

Your customer base is a massive, untapped source of expertise about your products and services. Often, your customers will answer questions you’ve never aven anticipated, or didn’t have the resources to answer, because as we just saw—only a few people have come across it. 

A customer community can be a hugely powerful way to harness the experience and goodwill of your best customers. It’s also a great source of information for your knowledge base. And the better you are at customer service, the more your customers will want to roll up their sleeves and help.

Go forth and empower.

Today, you’re going to be compared with the very best customer service operations in the world – even if you don’t compete directly with them.

If you empower your customer service agents, you’ll be the one to follow. If you tie their hands, you’re going to lose the people who pay your salary. We hope the seven ideas summarised here help you think about ways you can empower your agents and delight your customers.

Want more ideas on how you can empower your customer service agents? Download our free e-book: 20 Customer Service Best Practices