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The science behind customer service motivation

customer service motivation

Customer service motivation is easy to get wrong but if you get it right, it will transform life in your customer service teams. 

Think about it, customer service isn’t just about getting the job done — it’s about doing it with a smile. It’s about the employees who are willing to go the extra mile for their clients, even if it means working harder than they were initially expected. Great customer service isn’t just about efficiency—it’s also, to a great extent, about attitude.

That’s why you can never overstate the importance of motivation in customer service.

But what is motivation when it comes to customer service representatives? What compels them to want to help customers when we know they are not always so nice back?

Let’s have a look.

Why is motivation important in customer service?

high customer rating

In order to answer this question, let’s first take a look at what motivates a customer service agent.

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. 

Intrinsic motivation comes from within and stands for doing something because you enjoy it. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside sources, such as rewards or punishments for performing or not performing certain tasks.

In customer service, intrinsic motivation is very important because it allows employees to give customers the best possible experience without having dependence on external factors.

A study conducted by researchers at Yale University found that a person’s motivation was directly related to their performance in customer service jobs. 

Looking at data from more than 1,400 mid-level managers in hotel chains, the study showed that those who exhibited a high degree of intrinsic motivation (motivation from within) were better performers than those with low levels of intrinsic motivation—even after accounting for potential confounding factors like competence and experience. 

The study also concluded that intrinsic motivation was correlated with both job satisfaction and job performance, meaning that having high levels of intrinsic motivation also makes you happier at work, which is good for everyone involved.

What can you then do to motivate your customer service agents?

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7 ways to motivate your customer service team

One of the biggest reasons people leave customer service jobs is that they don’t feel like they’re helping people. They feel like they’re just pushing buttons — and when people don’t appreciate all the work it takes to push those buttons, it’s demoralizing.

Here’s what you can do to make sure you’re going the right way. 

1. Set clear goals

Every member of your customer service team should be clear on what their goals and responsibilities are, what they need to deliver in terms of performance, and how you expect them to go about their jobs.

They should also be able to see a direct connection between their day-to-day tasks and the broader business objectives of your organization. The clearer those goals are, the more likely it is that everyone will feel like they’re working toward something meaningful, which will ultimately translate into higher motivation levels.

With Kaizo’s Missions, you can give your agents individual time-bound goals that will be based on their prior performance and aimed at improving it. With quantified performance data at hand, you can motivate your team to excel and hit challenging targets.

Here’s an example of such a goal:

Get your average First Reply Time to 30 min by the end of the week

Kaizo goals

2. Give advice by creating Coaching Cards

One way to ensure that each person’s goals are clear is to have an ongoing discussion with them about their performance in relation to those goals. 

A great first step is to create Coaching Cards that outline what you think they need to improve on and how close they are to reaching their targets. This will start a dialogue with employees, who can then ask questions about the cards and get tailored advice on how to improve. 

For example, you can help your agents improve their Customer Satisfaction Rate (CSAT) by giving them customized guidance on what they can do to get there, setting tasks and deadlines to track progress. 

Here’s what it could look like. 

Kaizo Coaching Cards

3. Give autonomy

If there is one sure way to motivate your customer service team it would be this — show trust and guide them instead of micromanaging. Above anything else, people want to feel trusted to do their job, and customer service agents make no exception.

This autonomy means to give your team members the freedom to make decisions on their daily tasks based on their experience and expertise. 

Issues arise when managers treat their customer service team like robots: all doing the same thing, all saying the same thing, and all trying to do it the same way. When they don’t get autonomy in how they speak to customers and what they say, they feel like they’re being forced to adhere to a script when all they really want is to have a real conversation with their customers.

In our recent Kaizo research, we found that 

  • 8/10 customer service agents get a satisfactory amount of autonomy to make decisions in their role
  • 73% of agents want more autonomy in their role 
  • 80% said with more decision making freedom they would work beyond what you expect of them
Autonomy at work stats

4. Lead by example

Motivation and leadership go hand in hand in customer service.

Getting your hands dirty, spending some time on the front lines, and showing your agents how you expect them to handle daily tasks is the way to motivate them and prove that you’re all in it together. 

In fact, even companies like Amazon, Zappos, Craigslist, and Rackspace do something called “everyone does support”, which is a business model calling all employees, whatever their rank and status, to spend some time interacting with customers and solving support tickets. 

Because customer service is such a personal interaction between business and consumer, the relationship between you as a manager and employee will be especially important. You want employees to feel like you’re invested in their success and that they can come to you with any questions or concerns they might have about their job.

5. Reward and show appreciation

reward your support agents

At the end of the day, one of the best strategies when it comes to motivation in customer service is all about positive reinforcement. 

If an employee does something particularly well, make sure he or she knows it! This may seem simple and obvious, but many managers overlook this very basic tool for motivation because they simply don’t have time to stop what they’re doing and praise an employee for his or her work.

In a recent research, Glassdoor interviewed 2,000 people and found that appreciation is the number one thing that can encourage them to work harder. People actually cited appreciation twice as often as the second most common response, with 81% of respondents highlighting the importance of rewarding people for good work

what motivates people to work harder

But our recent Kaizo research into the state of customer service found that we’re far from being there. 

  • 53% of customer service teams don’t have a bonus/rewards program
  • 36% said they don’t receive any recognition from their boss at all

6. Make career development plans

Most customer service agents are millennials — people between the ages of 25 and 40. A lot of them are still students. And a lion’s share of the customer service workforce considers their job as a temporary solution for income. They do not exactly plan on devoting decades of their professional career to customer service. 

And this is where that high employee turnover starts in customer service. Agents are not motivated enough to stay around for longer and climb the career ladder — they can’t see a future in customer service. 

In our Kaizo research we found that only 40% of agents plan on developing a career in customer support, while 60% don’t know or are using it as a stepping stone.

career development in customer service

So, how do you motivate employees to provide better customer service? 

Encourage them to consider it as a long-term career, build growth plans, credit where it’s due, and promote people when they deserve it. You customer service agents need to know that their proactiveness will pay off — their experience and expertise will be noticed. 

7. Build a strong culture

Rome wasn’t built in a day so being consistent with your motivation initiatives is key for ensuring motivation for customer service and improving business outcomes. 

For a long time, customer service training programs focused on the negative: what not to do. This approach is still common today, but motivating people requires more than just avoiding mistakes and bad habits or teaching a new skill. 

As it turns out, the most effective way to motivate someone is to build a culture of coaching, appreciation, and motivation within your team — and use that to help them improve as they go.

Final word

Customer service can be frustrating. Customers often spend large amounts of time on hold, trying to get through to an agent over the phone or an online chat service, only to have their problem go unanswered. And the time spent trying to get a straight answer can sometimes feel like wasted time. 

But it doesn’t end there. 

The customer service industry is rife with challenges, from the mundane to the unforeseeable. Bad news travels fast, so any slip-up in customer care can lead to a vicious cycle that starts small but can quickly snowball.

Motivating your customer agents is the way out of trouble and towards success. It’s also a way towards building a healthy environment that rewards effort. 

The best customer service comes from employees who have the motivation to do their jobs well. Motivation is the key ingredient to not just great customer service, but also to a happy workplace and successful employees. 

It’s all about the culture you build. Start small — end big. 

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