Customer Service

10 Ways to Motivate Your Customer Service Reps With Psychology

March 6, 2020
12:00 am

We need motivation. Without it, we wouldn’t so much as get out of bed in the morning. Motivation is the driving force behind the decisions we make and the behavior we exhibit. 

As a leader, motivating your customer service team is one of your top priorities. After all, motivation directly affects the productivity and happiness of your team, which in turn affects the quality of work produced – and that impacts your customer relationships.

How does motivation work?

Employee motivational model

There are two main types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic.

External factors drive extrinsic motivation. These include:

  • Economical/instrumental: Examples include salary, job security, and working conditions
  • Social/relational: Examples include friendship, status, and fun

Internal factors drive intrinsic motivation:

  • Psychological/personal: Such as challenge, achievement, and meaning/purpose
difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation

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How to gauge motivation levels

Performance reviews are the traditional venue to discuss an employee’s thoughts and feelings, but in a face-to-face scenario, your team members may not feel comfortable sharing everything. 

To understand how employees really feel about their role, ask them in a survey. You might reveal previously hidden issues around motivation and identify changes you need to make. There are a number of tech solutions, such as Survey Monkey or Google Forms, that can help you conduct internal surveys. 

When surveying staff, make sure you:

  • Guarantee anonymity to increase response rate
  • Involve your employees in their design to ensure relevancy
  • Keep staff informed by providing results

Try posing questions to gauge motivation levels, and use a Likert scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree for the answers. A few examples might be:

  • When I’m at work, I am completely focused on my job duties.
  • I get excited about going to work.
  • I am inspired to meet my goals at work. 

Be clear that you acknowledge the importance of the results and lay out how you intend to address them.

1. Create the right work environment

First and foremost, employees need an environment where they can feel safe, as well as one that tends to their physiological needs. In Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs, these factors form the very foundations everything else is built on. If you don’t get this part right, the rest may seem less important.

Advocate for an office environment that provides:

  • Adequate lighting
  • Proper ventilation (e.g air conditioning and/or opening windows) 
  • Sufficient personal space
  • Acceptable noise levels 
  • Policies that protect staff against harassment, bullying, and so on

Tip: Use acoustic tiles on the ceiling and provide customer service reps with noise cancelling headphones to minimize background sound, allowing them to communicate more effectively with customers.

2. Acknowledge individual motivations

Not all employees have the same motivations. Extrinsic factors, such as pay, may be very important to some, whereas others may find that intrinsic factors, such as simply being helpful to customers, provide enough motivation. Motivating your customer service reps means understanding what is truly meaningful to them.

  • Ask questions about what is meaningful to employees ( e.g. “Describe the work environment or culture in which you are most happy. What activities are you engaged in when you lose track of time?”) 
  • Use data from personality testing where possible to understand what makes employees tick
  • Structure reward systems with a personal slant where possible (e.g. a gift card for a personal favorite restaurant)
  • Pay attention to what makes employees happy or frustrated on a daily basis

3. Set clear goals

Goals provide us with a sense of direction and purpose. The influential Goal Setting Theory by Locke and Latham demonstrated the power of goal setting in creating higher performance. It stipulates that goals must be created in a particular way to be most effective. That means using SMART goals.

SMART goals

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An example of a SMART goal for a customer service rep might be:

Decrease average call time from 5 minutes to 4 minutes 30 seconds within 6 months.

The goal is SMART because it is:

  • Specific: The goal is clear and broken down.
  • Measurable: The goal involves a tangible metric.
  • Attainable: The goal does not ask for an unrealistic change.
  • Relevant: The goal is directly applicable to the job role.
  • Time-based: The goal is to be achieved within a six month time frame.

4. Offer trust and autonomy

When every aspect of your work life is outside of your control, that has a devastating impact on motivation. Employees need the sense of agency provided by the ability to make decisions and determine their own course of action.

  • Set clear boundaries and then give employees freedom to operate within those boundaries
  • Facilitate customer service reps setting their own goals to strive for

Tip: Rather than arbitrarily setting a target for a customer service rep to achieve by the next performance review, ask them what they think would be a reasonable improvement to be made in that time.  

5. Provide opportunities for personal growth

Don't assume that promotion alone equals progress. When customer service reps see development within themselves, that helps push them even further forward. Encourage individuals to engage in learning for their personal development as well as their professional development. In the long run, they can use new knowledge and skills to contribute to the organization’s success.

  • Offer coaching, mentoring, and training
  • Provide customer service reps with stretch tasks beyond their usual remit
  • Offer support for learning outside of work, especially when you can encourage the development of skills useful for the job 

Tip: Set aside days throughout the year for customer service reps to have for personal development. Use this time to volunteer for charity, for example, which can be particularly beneficial for nurturing empathy.

6. Communicate openly and honestly

Communication is the foundation of all good relationships, and the one between company and employee is no different. If employees feel out of touch, they have no sense of what they are working towards and that’s a sure-fire way to demotivate your team.

  • Be open and approachable: Make it clear you have an open door policy, but set clear boundaries around when and how you are available to make sure it is honored.
  • Keep team members up to date: Ensure customer service reps are in the loop through regular meetings.
  • Create opportunities for your team to communicate: Internal social media networks can be extremely effective in offering a forum for information and idea sharing, particularly if the teams are spread across geographical locations.

Tip: Create a safe space, somewhere that is cordoned off both physically and psychologically, where you can discuss issues.  

7. Show you care

We rely on other humans to bring meaning into our lives. Something as simple as a quick “How are you doing today?” can really make employees feel valued. Demonstrate an understanding that life extends beyond the workplace by being flexible where possible and encouraging employees to take the maximum breaks and benefits they are entitled to.

  • Offer praise and celebrate achievement: Tell someone when they have done well.
  • Take the time to review progress: Schedule sufficient time for catch ups and commit to them.
  • Tell the whole company about individual successes: Post up positive comments from customers on a communal space. You could create a specific channel on Slack for example.

8. Create a sense of belonging

Create a sense of belonging

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Humans are hardwired to belong, so tapping into that tendency can be a fruitful source of motivation. Customer service reps perform best when working for your company becomes a core part of their identity. So here’s how you can facilitate a sense of belonging:   

  • Use team building exercises: Try something that requires collaboration, such as a scavenger hunt.
  • Involve team members in decision-making: Consult customer service reps on their opinions to get a view from the front line. They may well be in the best position to understand the wants, needs, and frustrations of customers based on their conversations.
  • Tell employees how their work fits into the overall business plan: Explain how what they do is important in achieving strategic goals.

Tip: Create a customer-centric mission statement to bring everyone together. It helps customer service staff feel part of something bigger than themselves and brings meaning and purpose to their work.

9. Set a good example

Leadership and management set the tone and culture for the customer service team. Customer service staff will look to you and model their behavior on what you do. Leaders are often (erroneously) thought of as at their best when telling other people what to do, but they are much more effective when they show the way instead.

  • Get involved with customers: Try manning the phones/live chat alongside your customer service team every now and then.
  • Act with a positive upbeat approach: Spread positive energy to those around you. 
  • Treat others respectfully: Treat employees well to create a supportive atmosphere.

10. Encourage job crafting

Intrinsic motivational factors can be extremely powerful, so one of the most effective ways to improve motivation is to use job crafting – a technique which helps employees reframe their jobs as more personally meaningful. 

  • Task craft: Change up responsibilities so customer service reps spend more time doing what’s suited to them, perhaps through more time on live chat rather than the phone.
  • Relationship craft: Change up interactions by creating opportunities to deal with other individuals they wouldn’t normally, creating new working teams or setting some time aside to be in other departments.
  • Cognitive crafting: Change up the mindset by encouraging customer service reps to see their job as creating joy for customers rather than simply the task of answering queries, gather relevant customer feedback and go through it with them.

One company that does this particularly well is Zappos. By placing the focus on the human aspect of customer service the job is framed as improving people’s lives and bringing happiness to the customer.

But remember, there’s more to success than motivation

Although it’s a massive contributing factor, a high performing customer service team needs more than just motivation.

As AMO Theory states, the relationship is best summed up by:

AMO theory

Provide the right tools for the opportunity

No matter how keen a customer service rep is to do their job, without the right tools, your team can’t work effectively, and that hard-earned motivation could easily evaporate. Truly stellar customer service is only possible when modern systems and technologies provide the opportunity for customer service reps to help customers swiftly.

Hire and train for ability

Your customer service reps should not only be tooled up and motivated, but they need to be capable of doing the job, too. To make sure this is the case, get the hiring process right and provide all the training that’s needed to build up the required skill set. 

So, if you have motivation, ability and opportunity, you will put your customer service team in the ideal position to perform at their best. And the upshot of all that is that your customers will be motivated to stick around.


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