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"I have six minutes to solve their problem, and it's not enough time."
The technical support agent was sharing her struggle with her contact center's talk time goal. She was expected to average six minutes per phone call, regardless of the call's complexity.
It was especially difficult, she explained, when the customer was really upset and she had to choose between helping the customer feel better and just telling the customer what to do.
The six minute goal was intended to motivate employees like this agent to work more efficiently. The real impact was it caused her stress and negatively impacted the service she provided.
Customer service teams have a lot of goals. Here's how to write ones that will help drive the right performance.
Hallmarks of Bad Goal
Customer service leaders often struggle to set goals that drive the right behaviors.
One customer service team leader wanted employees to focus on outstanding customer service, so he set this goal:
Customer service representatives who earn a satisfied rating on 95 percent or more of their customer service surveys each month will receive a $100 bonus.
The result was exactly the opposite of great service. Employees engaged in survey begging to directly ask customers for a good rating. A few even learned to transfer upset customers to colleagues in another department so they wouldn't risk getting dinged with a poor survey score.
Look carefully at that goal and you can see it has three hallmarks that are common among bad goals:
It diverted attention away from customer service.
It rewarded individualism.
It relied on extrinsic motivation.
Employees on this team weren't trying to provide great service, they were trying to earn the bonus. So whenever there was a conflict between good service and earning the bonus, the employees would try to earn the bonus.
The goal also promoted individualism, which caused employees to undermine their colleagues by transferring angry customers to them.
Finally, the $100 bonus was a form of intrinsic motivation. The employees cared about the incentive, not about the customer in this scenario.
The Good Goal Criteria
I noticed an interesting trend while researching customer-focused companies for The Service Culture Handbook.
Most companies I profiled used goals, but they approached them very differently than most organizations. For example, one company I worked with had this customer service survey goal:
The team will earn a satisfied rating on 85 percent of customer service surveys by the end of this month.
This goal met the three criteria of good customer service goals:
It focused attention on customer service.
It rewarded teamwork.
It relied on intrinsic motivation.
Let's break this down a bit, starting with focus. The team's leader reviewed survey feedback with her team on a regular basis. The review sessions weren't focused on the score; rather they consistently looked for opportunities to improve as a team and were naturally motivated to improve service.
Some opportunities were out of the team's control, such as an issue with one of the company's products. In this case, the team leader took the feedback to the product development team so they had clear data to guide future improvements.
Other opportunities were within the team's control. Since the entire team shared the same goal, they were motivated to help each other.
For example, one common complaint were calls that had to be escalated from a tier one team that handled basic requests to a tier two team that handled more complicated issues. Customers didn't like being transferred and sometimes grew even more frustrated when they had to wait on hold.
So the tier one and tier two teams looked at the top reasons for transferring a call and identified several that could be prevented just by giving the tier one team a little extra information.
This behavior wouldn't have happened if the two teams were competing for individual rewards.
I've also noticed customer-focused leaders rarely use incentives. That's because realize customer service employees are generally motivated to provide great customer service. Incentives only get in the way.
Try evaluating your team's customer service goals agains the good goal criteria:
Do they focus attention on customer service?
Do they reward teamwork?
Do they rely on intrinsic motivation?
For some advanced work: