It’s hard to envy the customer support manager.
Of all the roles in a company, this role might just be the most difficult one. In general, customer support experiences some of the highest turnover rates of any department in a company.
At the same time, it’s also one of the most critical departments, responsible for generating ROI in numerous direct and indirect ways. High turnover in customer support creates a critical problem that cannot be ignored.
For these reasons, the impact of managing a poorly performing customer support team is huge. Having a sound strategy that will get underperforming employees to meet expectations - without alienating them and sending turnover rates sky high - is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.
Below, we lay out some key considerations customer support managers should be aware of when creating a strategy for handling poorly performing employees.
Teach, Don’t Discipline
The biggest mistake managers make is assuming a poorly performing employee needs to be “disciplined.”
In reality, this is a paternalistic viewpoint that has no place in the modern workforce. Support employees are responsible adults - after all, you were willing to hire them - and that perspective needs to be the North Star when building a strategy.
When an employee is underperforming, approach it as a learning opportunity. Forgo the language of punishment and castigation in favor of one of mentorship and teaching. An employee needs to understand what is expected of them and why their current performance is falling short of that standard.
Remember, people respond to positive feedback much better than they do to threats. While you may feel frustrated by the pressure of meeting your boss’ expectations, that feeling only runs counter to your ultimate objectives. You’ll get much closer to support employees’ performance once you ditch the “me vs. them” mentality and start thinking of employees as partners.
Focus on Empowering Employees
Once you get in the mindset that poor employee performance is a signal that a team member needs help and not an obstacle to be overcome,, you can take it one step further to fully unlock their potential.
Empowering people to take control of their work is one of the fastest and most proven ways to increase motivation, and by extension, performance. Empowered employees are more willing to take pride in their work, and also more willing to step out of their comfort zone in order to go the extra mile to help the team achieve objective performance metrics.
So, what does an empowered employee look like?
For starters, they don’t look like a glorified automaton being constantly micro-managed. This might seem counterintuitive to customer support managers who feel that if the performance is not there, the answer is to force it to be there.
Not only is this a drain on resources - it requires more of the manager’s time to micromanage - it’s just not effective. After all, there are fewer managers than employees, and they simply don’t have time to do every employee’s job for them.
Empowered employees are those that feel there is a symbiotic relationship between themselves and management. This is why cultivating that teaching relationship is so important.
They believe that management sees them as capable adults who can be trusted to make decisions within a definite space on their own.
If they do make an honest mistake, they feel confident management will also have their backs when they need help and offer support to do better in the future.
Customer Support Is About People
Ultimately, managing a poorly performing customer support center comes down to a single word: people.
Due to the historically high turnover rates, customer support managers are very often guilty of feeling like it’s simply their lot in life to have “ungrateful” or “lazy” employees. The reality is that such a mindset creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Every organization and business is going to have its own “objective” customer support metrics. No matter what they are and no matter how you are measuring them, they won’t help if management’s subjective mindset with the employees responsible for meeting them is founded in antagonism.
Treat the people you’ve hired like capable adults and approach them from a place of mutual respect, responsibility, and mentorship. The resulting sense of empowerment will unlock their true potential, making it easier to manage them and resulting in higher performance levels.