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.
There are two main types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic.
External factors drive extrinsic motivation. These include:
Internal factors drive intrinsic motivation:
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:
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:
Be clear that you acknowledge the importance of the results and lay out how you intend to address them.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tip: Create a safe space, somewhere that is cordoned off both physically and psychologically, where you can discuss issues.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Benedict Clark is a psychologist and writer, having previously spent 8 years in the digital marketing industry. With a master's degree in Business and Occupational Psychology from Kingston University, he writes about the interplay between customer experience and psychology for Acquire.