Should You Give Your Customer Service Reps More Autonomy?

Should You Give Your Customer Service Reps More Autonomy?

A good customer service experience can affect your public image and have a huge impact on your bottom line. In today’s business world, better customer service means higher retention rates, lower customer churn and a better brand image. So how do you improve your customer service experience? One of the simplest ways is by allowing customer service agents more autonomy when interacting with consumers.

What autonomy looks like in customer service

Don’t get the wrong idea about autonomy – it’s not letting employees loose who are allowed to do whatever they please. Giving your customer service agents more autonomy simply means giving them more freedom to resolve customer needs using their own discretion. An example of this would be allowing agents to give customers a certain amount of credit or a refund if they are unhappy with your product or service.

There needs to be a solid framework for how agents deal with customers needing service, but within that framework, agents can make discretionary calls and resolve issues on their own. This can help you to create a better environment for customer service in your company by letting employees go above and beyond to help customers get the resolution they need.

The benefits of more autonomy for customer service agents

The Salesforce 2015 State of Service report says that 65 percent of empowered customer service teams are high-performance teams. Employees tend to perform better when they have more autonomy in their jobs because there is a sense of ownership and true empowerment to find solutions. Your customer service employees are the face of your company to customers who may not have had a great experience with your product or service. Those agents need all the tools they can get to turn that negative experience around.

A 2015 report by Microsoft reported the following statistics about how U.S. consumers interact with a company’s customer service department:

  • 81 percent call customer service phone numbers
  • 78 percent send emails
  • 64 percent use live chat 

All of these interactions are done personally with a customer service agent. Customers seek a quick, easy, and satisfactory resolution to their problems. Empowering your agents with greater autonomy can give you the following benefits:

  • Quicker resolution of simple problems
  • Fewer employees needed per issue
  • Less pressure on management to solve every problem
  • More knowledgeable customer service agents
  • Engaged, happier employees
  • High satisfaction with customer service experiences  

All of that sounds great, but is there a catch?

Ensure your policies are well defined

Customer service is always changing. A 2015 report by Microsoft found that 90 percent of customers expected some self-service channels for customer service, including online portals or FAQ pages. This means that a large majority of customers want to find answers on their own without having to interact with customer service agents at all. Having empowered employees doesn’t do any good if they are not interacting with your customers.

Creating an effective environment for autonomy is hard. The more a customer relies on your service, the more difficult it is when you have an interruption in service. Cell phone providers provide a good case study of the tightrope businesses must walk. Analyzing customer reviews on customer complaint sites about AT&T and other cellular providers is telling. Usually, customer support agents don’t have the power to resolve the underlying issue (outages, roaming areas, etc.).

In these situations, service providers can empower their customer service agents by offering discounts and giving agents the decision-making power to offer these discounts to irate customers. Even with empowerment, an accountability structure has to be put in place to keep employees operating within set boundaries. You cannot give employees complete autonomy with pricing. In addition, a poorly constructed framework for service may lead to inconsistency in how some customers are handled.

No system is perfect. But when it comes to customer service, giving a certain level of autonomy to your agents can make an enormous impact. Despite consumers’ desire for automated service options, many use more personal means of interaction to resolve an issue and get what they need. Autonomy can improve those personal interactions and make your customers happier than ever.

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