How to Create Good Customer Service Goals

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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.

Notepad and paper with the word "goals" written on it.

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:

  1. It diverted attention away from customer service.

  2. It rewarded individualism.

  3. 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:

  1. It focused attention on customer service.

  2. It rewarded teamwork.

  3. 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.


Take Action

Try evaluating your team's customer service goals agains the good goal criteria:

  1. Do they focus attention on customer service?

  2. Do they reward teamwork?

  3. Do they rely on intrinsic motivation?

For some advanced work:

Goal Setting Mistakes That Will Crush Your Service Culture

The new executive looked with dismay at the list of strategic goals the CEO had shared. They were designed to help the organization create a service culture, yet she knew the list was not very strategic nor did it contain actual goals.

One goal was "provide customer service training for employees." Merely ticking the box to show she completed the training task wasn't going to create a service culture. 

The CEO either didn't understand or didn't care since the goals had already been shared with the board. His chief concern was making sure the training happened sometime during the fiscal year.

Unfortunately, this executive is not alone. I periodically ask individuals and leaders to share their goals with me; they are rarely well-written. 

Goals are intended to focus behavior and motivate people to give extra effort towards achieving them. Good goals can reinforce a service culture by getting everyone to work together towards a specific achievement.

In many cases, poorly-conceived goals can crush a service culture by focusing employees on uninspiring tasks such as "provide customer service training." 

Here are five common goal setting mistakes and how to avoid them.


Five Common Goal Setting Mistakes

Look carefully and you'll see these are all connected to the SMART goal model. Here's a quick review:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound


Mistake #1: Not Specific

Goals are often written in vague terms that make it difficult to understand exactly what the organization or team is trying to achieve. Here are some real examples:

  • "Improve customer service"
  • "Continue drive towards standardization"
  • "Increase support capability"

Vague, non-specific goals don't effectively focus behavior that because people aren't really sure what "improve customer service" means.

The fix is to make it specific. For instance, think of why you want to improve customer service and what specific impact that might have on the organization. Examples might include:

  • Reduce customer churn
  • Increase first contact resolution
  • Improve the net promoter score (NPS)


Mistake #2: Not Measurable

Many goals lack a specific measurement, which makes it impossible to tell whether or not the goal has been achieved. None of these have a specific number connected to them:

  • Reduce customer churn
  • Increase first contact resolution
  • Improve the NPS score

It's hard to focus our performance if we don't know what counts as success. The fix here is to put a number to it.

  • Reduce customer churn by 5 percent
  • Increase first contact resolution by 10 percent
  • Improve NPS score to 55


Mistake #3: Not Attainable

A stretch goal may get employees to give a little extra effort. When that goal feels completely out of reach, employees may either give up or engage in unethical behavior.

It hurts a service culture when employees stop trying. It kills a service culture when employees do things like enter fake survey results or deliberately alter their numbers.

Wells Fargo provides a recent cautionary tale of what happens when you set unrealistic goals. Thousands of employees collectively opened more than two million phony customer accounts in an effort to meet a sales target of eight financial products per customer.

The fix is to set goals that require some effort to achieve yet are well within reach if employees work hard and execute correctly. Improving the NPS to 55 is probably unrealistic if it sits at -10 right now. It's probably attainable if the current score is 50.


Mistake #4: Irrelevant

Goals can cause problems when they are connected to something other than the customer service vision or the organization's strategic plan.

Here are a few real examples:

  • "Improve reporting"
  • "Win an award"
  • "Expand staff"

Keep in mind that goals are intended to focus behavior. So behavior may focus on something other than the customer service vision or strategic plan if they aren't expressly aligned.

The fix is to choose goals that represent progress towards the customer service vision. One way to do this is by asking the question, "Why?" to a non-aligned goal statement.

For instance:

  • Why do you want to improve reporting? Perhaps you want to spot trends more easily. 
  • Why do you want to spot trends? So you can identify problems and fix them.
  • Why do you want to fix problems? So you can reduce customer churn.

In that case, you might set a SMART goal around reducing customer churn and outline specific ways you want to improve reporting to help you achieve that goal.


Mistake #5: Not Time-Bound

I know a lot of people who want to write a book. Most never do. 

One of the reasons they never do is they don't set a specific time by when that book will be written. That makes it easy to avoid creating any concrete plans. 

My goal was to write a bestselling book in 2017 and I set a book launch date of April 4. Having this specific target caused me to write a detailed action plan designed to help me achieve my goal. And I did—The Service Culture Handbook hit the 800-CEO-READ bestseller list for April.

In a customer service context, let's say you want to reduce repeat contacts by 20 percent. A SMART goal should specify when you hope to achieve this by so you can set some specific plans to get there. For example:

Reduce average monthly repeat customer contacts by 20 percent by July 31, 2018.


Take Action!

One immediate step is to review your goals against the SMART model. You can learn more about SMART goals and download a helpful worksheet here.

If you want to go deeper, make sure your goals align with these good goal characteristics.