As companies continue to transform to LAER effective companies, Support organizations continue to find themselves in the midst of contact disruption and transformation. In a previous post, “9 Ways to Transform Your Support Services Organization,” I shared nine letters in the T-R-A-N-S-F-O-R-M acronym that represented a key area of support with thoughts and advice on how to tackle the challenges.  

While it is important to focus on each of the letters, two are rising to the top: S (Shift the Support Culture) and F (Focus on the Employee).

The Reasons Support Organizations Need to Transform

Shifting the support culture includes viewing support as an organization that can drive up renewals, drive down churn, and have a strong impact on customer upsell and cross-sell. In LAER effective companies this is the new reality. 

Creating a culture of customer ownership and driving the notion that every employee is critical to owning the success of the customer is more important than ever. Support leadership needs to continue to find ways to incorporate Support employees into the higher-level success of the company, while also creating a purposeful focus on customer success narratives as well as traditional metrics.

Now to the second letter, F (Focus on the employee). Earlier this year, we wrote a members-only paper, “10 Elements of a Successful Employee Engagement Program,” about the rising attrition and declining employee satisfaction for Support employees. With each of those numbers trending in the wrong direction, the time is now for an evolution of Support employees. Support leadership will need to maintain a strong focus on employees, their engagement, their emotional connection to the company, their overall curiosity, and their drive to be engaged with customers in a meaningful way. Emphasis on automation is a significant driver, but continuing to focus, and in some cases re-focus, on employees is vital.

It is not unusual for support to experience high attrition. A majority of the industry attrition is voluntary, and it’s due to monotonous tasks that are boring and lack true value. Driving high employee engagement through creation of interesting work that challenges and rewards employees is beyond necessary. It sounds basic, but support is facing a critical supply-and-demand problem for skilled employees who want to make support a career.

To Retain Great Employees, You Need to Ask the Right Questions

One of the things I notice as I chat with our members is the focus on reducing headcount and cost cutting. I know the pressure to do both is critical, but I believe that is the wrong conversation. The right conversation is more focused on:

  • What parts of the Support roles can be automated?
  • The parts of the role that require people skills are not going away and can be argued are becoming the most critical skills in the current battlefield of customer experience
  • Look at the tasks within the roles that are leading to low productivity, or are repetitive, overly-manual, or non-satisfying/not challenging
  • Continue to reinforce that the tasks can be automated (not the entire role)
  • Emphasize the focus on creating Support roles that are satisfying
  • Approach automation projects as a complement to Support roles, not as a competitor

To assist managers and leaders in having the right conversations in their companies, we recommend using the “Evolution Pyramid”. This pyramid is built on four key E’s: Expectations, Engagement, Employees, Effectiveness. This model can be used for many projects, plans and work. Consider this model as you align your organization to be LAER effective.

4 secrets employee engagement  

The 4 E's of employee engagement.

Expectations

The first E, Expectations, may in fact be the hardest to tackle. We’ve all heard it before; expectations equal trust. “I expect you to have your project plan submitted by tomorrow morning,” or said another way, “I trust you’ll have your project plan submitted by tomorrow morning.”

If you reverse that to the employee view, they expect (trust) us to listen to them. Too often we create solutions for our customers AND employees in a vacuum. We create teams, develop project plans, buy technology solutions and deploy some type of technology solution. The solution is meant to make the customer and employee lives better. Tools are part of the solution but so are the smart people you have working in support today. We need those smart people to feel comfortable sharing their ideas, being curious and being part of the change that we want to introduce. Today many companies are struggling with this cultural change. Employees expect us to listen and we need to do more of it.

Engagement

How many of you have begun measuring employee engagement in your company or in Support? We see this as one of the bigger areas of focus today. Support employees are doing the day-to-day work. They know what they do that is repetitive, they know what is mundane, they know what time could be saved if they had automation so that they could truly be doing interesting work versus the items that honestly could be done by tools. Look for suggestions, measure who is suggesting and what they are suggesting. When one of those suggestions turns into a production project, reward that engagement.  

The day employees stop making suggestions is the day we worry, because they are starting to indicate a bit of a ‘checked out’ attitude.

The other side of engagement is the customer side. How often are customers providing suggestions?  Are you looking at these suggestions? If your customers and your employees are still invested in you as a company and as a solution, they will continue to provide ideas and suggestions. The day employees stop making suggestions is the day we worry because they are starting to indicate a bit of a “checked out” attitude.

Employee

The next E and the center of the pyramid is Employee. Traditional support skills inventories look for traditional elements: troubleshooting, customer service, ability to write, problem solving, etc. While those are good to catalog, we must now begin cataloging the other skills. The competition is strong today for data scientists, data analysts, and AI technology people, which are critical hires for Support. Today we need people with disruptive thinking, the ability to looks at tasks and think “automation”, the ability to take what are traditional tasks and be able to re-engineer those tasks with the use of technology. Support employees are nervous about their jobs, so let’s involve them in the very thing that makes them anxious. Let’s help them see that re-engineering the more traditional tasks will only be for the good and not the undoing of what they hold dear—job security.

Effectiveness

Support is going to evolve and be in an altogether different place very soon. We are getting closer to the customers, we have to balance that with creating the jobs that allow for those skills to shine and we need to measure our success and effectiveness in different ways.
Measure, report, and improve the right measurements. Ask yourself if today you are picking the right measurements, are you sharing the results in such a way that you tell the whole picture of your Support organization? Are you as effective as you can be? Has employee performance and productivity improved? Let’s be honest, very few people come to work and say, “I’d like to be low or moderately productive today.” The projects you pick should have positive impacts across the board.     

Get More Insights on Improving Support Culture for the Culture for the Future

Let’s not repeat the self-service mistakes we (as an industry) made. Remember that? We were going to build self-service, customers were going to love it, we were going to reduce headcount. Employees weren’t bought in, and customers certainly weren’t either. And for years we measured the ROI of self-service and wondered why it wasn’t better? Why did we not see the returns we wanted? Why weren’t we effective with our self-service solution? There are many reasons, but one of the major was we tried to impose something and were surprised when we were opposed by both employees and customers.  

I would also encourage you to talk to us about membership in TSIA’s Support Services research practice, where you’ll get the latest industry data, frameworks, and a plan of action for ensuring your Support organization can be at its best. Let’s continue to have the right conversations and move our industry forward.

Read more posts in the LAER Effective Company blog series:

 
 
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Judi Platz

About Author Judith Platz

Judith Platz, is vice president of research, Support Services, for TSIA. During her over 25 years of customer support experience, she has been responsible for supervising and coordinating multiple functional, strategic, organizational development and technical work streams, including technical support, account management, business consulting, implementation management, and training.

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