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Can we be real? Can we clear the smoke and address the truth? I don’t want to be presumptuous and yes, there may be exceptions to some of the comments you are about to read. But chances are – they apply to your organization. Unless your frontline, customer service team has been an area of extreme focus, I’m guessing this article is for you. Unless you have regular, one-on-one coaching sessions where goals and behaviors are being tracked and fine-tuned, this is you. Unless you are teaching and training on the fundamentals of the role and working on good communication skills…well, you can assume this is your company.

Here’s the thing. We often think about our customer service team as being support. In sports terms, we’d call them the defense. We need for them to show up on time (“Hey, we open at 8. Be in your seat at 5 till”). We want them to be nice. Take the orders. Transfer people to right extension. Be nice when people walk in. Smile. Be helpful. Let the customer know we appreciate them. Say thank you. Don’t make mistakes. Don’t do things that will cause our customer to be upset. Defense.

All good things. But isn’t that a low bar? Don’t you think your staff can do more? Maybe be a part of your offensive plan? What is your current strategy for increasing the productivity of your frontline team? How are you measuring it? The truth is, most companies don’t have one.

Think about it. Who in your company engages with customers more than your frontline team? Why are we content with just setting the bar at being “nice order takers?” The best companies have a strategic customer care team. They are part of the growth plan. They play a vital role in the offense.

What are some things that the best companies do to maximize their investment in the frontline team?

They have a process for hiring.

They don’t wing it. They don’t look for dependability and friendly smile. If my goal is to get a warm body to fill a role…well, that’s usually what I’ll get. The best create job profiles that highlight the skills, experience, attitude, previous results, cognitive abilities and habits that are required to be successful in the role. They look for people who have a bias for action. In customer care, I don’t want people who wait for the customer to call in. I want them to take action – do something – to help solve problems, create opportunities, or tighten the embrace with our customers.

They coach and train communication skills.

How we make our customers and prospects feel is important. In this day and age, a customer who doesn’t feel heard, one that feels like they are being taken advantage of, or has their frustrations escalated to anger can do your company harm. A customer service professional who is abrasive, critical, and has a need to always be right can propel your company into the headlines of a negative Facebook post (“They are rude and they don’t care!!), a bad online review (“one star because zero wasn’t an option”), or word of mouth (“You won’t believe…”). One bad interaction can have a sizeable effect on the reputation of your company.

Our frontline team should be trained to handle difficult customers without being emotionally triggered. It’s not personal – it’s business. Emotional control is a skill and it can be trained. Do you role-play difficult scenarios? Have debriefing conversations as a part of your coaching practice?

They are skilled in uncovering opportunities.

The best frontline professional understand that they are in sales. I have a client whose mantra is “If they work here, they are in sales.” Many subpar customer service team members are reluctant to wear the sales hat. They see sales as pushy…something you do to people. The truth is, the best salespeople understand that sales is something you do for people.

Is your team trained to dig deeper? They should find out what kinds of problems and challenges their prospect or customer is dealing with. By asking questions and going deeper into the conversation, we are better able to help the prospect. Maybe there is another product that they will need to make the job go easier? If most people who buy A also buy B, I should let them know. If we think of sales as simply uncovering what problem the customer is facing and then, matching the different ways we can help them solve the problem, it becomes more comfortable.

Training, coaching, and real-world simulation will go far in putting these team members in a position to provide better service for the customer and create more revenue for the firm.

They understand the lifetime value of a customer.

Do your team sort customers based on their potential or their spend? “Jennifer, pick up on line 4! It’s ABC Company!” ABC Company, one of our “whales”, gets the white glove. XYZ Company, who don’t do much business with us…well, sometimes we actually see them as an annoyance.

Have you taught your team the lifetime value of a customer? Here’s the drill. Think of your average customer. Not the ones that get the white glove. Just an average, run-of-the-mill customer. Now, estimate how much money they spend with you on an annual basis. Let’s say it’s $10,000. Next, estimate your average retention rate. Do you typically keep customers for 3 years? 5? 10? Let’s call it 5 years for this example. This run-of-the-mill customer is worth $50,000 in revenue. And every year we keep them beyond 5 years, we can add another $10,000. And do our customers ever give us referrals? You can add that to the equation too. Just a handful of the average customers can, combined, be a significant portion of our company’s revenue.

Our customer service team has a tremendous impact on the retention – and the lifetime value – of a single customer.

This list could go on and on. The underlying point is that being intentional about your customer service team is a strategy for growth. The best companies understand that these professionals are key players in the quest to grow. They are a part of the offense. Expect more. Train more. Coach more. Investing time in this key function will allow your company to sell more – and sale more easily.

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