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Outsmart customer service understaffing before it kills your CSAT

customer service understaffing featured image

Customer service understaffing is one of the biggest issues plaguing companies today. 

When businesses are looking to trim costs, customer service is usually the first department they cut down. But cutting staff isn’t just a budget move — it’s a customer retention killer.

Lack of staffing in customer service has been linked to declining customer satisfaction, which, in turn, leads to lower loyalty and greater defections. 

In fact, 68% of consumers are ready to pay more for products and services from a brand that provides solid customer service experiences. On top of that, 90% of consumers believe that an “immediate” response is crucial when they have a question related to customer service; 60% of those respondents say that an “immediate” response means a reaction within 10 minutes or less. 

But what if you have some staffing issues in the workplace? How do you avoid the pitfalls of understaffing and give people the level of service they expect? 

We have some ideas.

What is understaffing?

understaffed cs team

Understaffing is a term you use for describing a situation in which a company or organization does not have enough employees to meet its needs. In some cases, that lack of staffing can come from a rapid scaling process or a recent scaledown. 

Understaffing problems can lead to several challenges, including decreased productivity, customer service issues, and increased employee stress.

And in customer service, understaffing is actually a tangible problem. When you don’t have enough people to handle demand, it impacts the company’s reputation immensely. Understaffing issues can lead to long wait time, frustrated customers, and a significant loss in revenue. 

But the most obvious problem with understaffing is that it can lead to poor customer experience

When you have fewer people working, those remaining are overworked and less able to deal with each individual concern or issue that arises. A customer who’s had to wait 20 minutes in line may not be satisfied getting a call back in two hours, or having to wait until the next day for someone to return their call at all. What’s more, with fewer employees, there isn’t always someone available to answer questions customers may have while they’re waiting.

When you don’t have enough staff, you may also find that your employees are undertrained or not properly motivated to perform well. This can lead to an overall decrease in the quality of customer service, team morale, and the level of professionalism, which can be detrimental to your business’ brand reputation.

So are customer service teams working short staffed today?

Downsizing in customer service

downsizing in customer service

As worries rise that the US economy may enter an intense recession, many corporations have announced major layoffs, which is one of the main causes of understaffing.

Two real estate companies, Redfin and Compass, have announced employee reductions of 8% and 10%, respectively.

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, has recently announced his plans to reduce paid staff by 10% and the company’s workforce by 3.5%. 

In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic and the current world turmoil have caused massive layoffs both in established corporations and startups.

startup layoffs

Still, the customer service department is usually among the first departments companies look at when they try to cut costs. And since this industry tends to be seasonal, letting people go in low season might feel like the safest decision, but talent is harder to find than one might hope. These layoffs help save money in operations but do not foster better relationships with customers.  

Read more: VIDEO: Forecasting support team capacity amid the holiday season with Ekster, SendCloud, PastBook & VanMoof

For example, Booking Holdings eliminated about 25% of its workforce across 60 countries in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic. After those layoffs, its Booking.com unit has lopped off another 2,700 call center jobs within a few months.

layoffs by function

The impact of understaffing in customer service

Rapid downsizing leads to problems with customer service staffing, which can have an immense effect on CSAT, company reputation, agent performance, etc. Here are some of the negative effects of being short-staffed on companies and their customers.

1. Quality

When there are fewer employees available to assist consumers and operate manufacturing lines, the quality of the product and service diminishes. When a company prioritizes quotas over quality, fewer people must work harder to handle a greater volume of work, and mistakes rise.

Poor quality erodes a company’s reputation and drives consumers away over time.

Read more: 17 unique ways to improve quality assurance in a call center in 2022

2. Customer satisfaction

satisfied vs dissatisfied customer

When an organization is always short-staffed at work, it’s hard to provide adequate service, and customers may have to wait longer for assistance or go without assistance altogether. This can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction

In some cases, understaffing at the workplace may also result in poor employee satisfaction and frustration, because they cannot interact with the customer properly and give them the attention they deserve. 

3. Employee productivity and stress

In many cases, layoffs feel like a betrayal, one that demotivates even those who avoid losing their job. As a result, the remaining customer service staffing is likely to grow more disengaged

Needless to say, customers are always negatively impacted by agents’ detachment from their roles and responsibilities.

Understaffing in the workplace makes remaining workers responsible for additional work, which increases stress on agents to complete tasks and fulfill performance goals. Working short-staffed also affects employee morale, lowers job satisfaction, harms an employee’s mental and physical health, and can lengthen the amount of time they must take off from work. 

According to the CNBC Momentive Workforce Survey, by the end of 2021, half of all employees believed their employers were understaffed. 43% of them admitted having thought about leaving their jobs in the previous three months. One-third of workers nationwide had considered leaving their jobs for a long time.

How to outsmart lack of staffing in customer service?

Sometimes hiring new people is not an option (budget constraints, time limitations, different priorities,etc.) How do you then play your cards right to give customers the best possible service using the resources available?

Here’s where you start. 

1. More is less: use your resources right

Knowing how and where to optimize your processes for your resources to focus on what matters most is crucial. Automate unnecessary manual work, and make sure to save time on QA rating and reporting. Using Excel for calculating metrics is not just a thing of the past — it is a luxurious way to waste time when you are understaffed at work. 

You might be tempted to spread your limited staff across all of the tasks you need to accomplish, but it can actually be more effective to concentrate your team’s efforts on the most important tasks. This is because when people feel like their work is important, they’re more engaged and invested in the outcome. 

For example, if a customer comes in with an urgent problem that needs immediate attention, having only one service rep available can motivate them to get the problem resolved quickly instead of letting it drag on while they also finish other tasks.

Read more: Customer Service Efficiency:  E-Commerce Guide + Tips from Industry Leaders

2. Motivate your agents

It’s critical to make sure customer service reps are consistently motivated and encouraged to provide their best work.

When people know what you expect of them, they’re more likely to do it. Instead of focusing on punishing poor performance, focus on setting specific goals for each employee that can help drive better performance and reinforce the importance of doing good work. Make sure you have regular check-ins with each employee to track their progress towards their goals and provide guidance along the way.

The goals you set for your agents need to be specific and time-bound, related to individual performance and overall company goals. The more detailed you can get on those goals the better. 

Here’s how you can create those goals (called Missions) in Kaizo. 

Rewarding employees for great customer service can also motivate them to perform at their highest level. They will feel gratitude and satisfaction for their efforts, which will motivate them to do better work in the future. When they believe that their organization sees and values their efforts, they are more likely to keep that internal motivation up.

3. Leverage technology

There are lots of processes that go into customer service. You handle returns, complaints, refunds, general Q&A, purchases, etc. No wonder it is so easy to get trapped amid all that data, trying to find a way to decrease your Resolution Time and stop tossing a customer around like a hot potato.

Oftentimes, AI-powered customer service tools can help you keep track of customer satisfaction levels and identify areas where service needs to be improved. It can also help you manage your customer service staff more effectively, by providing real-time data on call volume and customer wait times.

This is why you need an all-in-one platform to bring all of those processes together for efficient customer support operations and empowered agents. Kaizo, for example, utilizes real-time data to track performance and analyzes insights and customer interactions to help you give agents actionable advice on where they can improve. With the help of Kaizo, you don’t have to worry about staffing issues in the workplace anymore.

4. Look for resources internally

To outsmart the lack of staff in the workplace, make sure you are using your resources efficiently. And one sure way to start doing this is by enhancing customer service training, retraining and reskilling your agents when the situation calls for it. 

When you’re short-staffed, it’s tempting to throw your hands up and declare that your employees simply can’t handle the demands of a certain day. This can be true from time to time — but more often than not, your employees are capable of doing more than you may realize. It’s just a matter of getting creative about how to do the job without adding staff.

By creating a culture of coaching, you can keep your agents in this learning mode at all times and make sure they can fill in the gaps when your short-staffed teams need a little help. 

5. Identify priorities

When you’re on a tight budget but your customers are asking for extra help, it’s easy to feel like you don’t have the money for more staff. But hiring new employees isn’t the only way to handle an understaffed holiday season. One strategy is to prioritize customer issues so that you address the most urgent ones first.

As an example, if you’re at a travel agency and a customer comes in with an issue, maybe their flight has been delayed and they need to extend their car rental. The former is probably going to be a more important issue than answering questions about vehicle rental. So make sure that the customer gets helped right away while another person answers the questions that can be deprioritized at the beginning.

In addition, any tasks that are essential to the operation of your business should be given top priority. These may include customer service, accounting, and inventory management. 

After all, it’s impossible to deny that the economy is in a state of flux. Companies are doing more with less and learning how to become more efficient with their resources. But when companies are faced with peak periods of business, it can be difficult to handle an influx of customers without adding on staff. 

By using these simple tips you can get the most value out of your existing teams and kick understaffing issues to the curb.

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