Leading Remote Teams to Deliver Effective Customer Service Looks Different
Leading remote teams to deliver effective customer service becomes a real problem for remote teams. This problem becomes particularly pronounced when they have never had to deliver on customer service in a remote environment before.
For many people, customer service interactions are filled with miscommunication, confusion, frustration, and—on the part of the provider of the service, i.e. the organization—the providing of customer service is viewed as a “loss leader” rather than a relationship driver.
Thus, setting the table for the posture of treating customers like numbers rather than people, rushing the tendency toward human connection, favoring speed to conclusion and escalation over actually solving a problem, or, in the Internet era, not actually allowing customers to be heard from.
And now, in a time of massive workplace disruption, where close to 80% of people are now working from home, organizations are in the position of having to provide customer service in ways that honor social distancing and government public health edicts.
What’s a leader to do?
Leading Remote Teams: Some Points to Consider…
For leaders new to leading remote teams, there are a few points to remember about the basics of excellent customer service and providing that excellently to clients and customers who are struggling with their anxieties around the disruption of the familiarity of face-to-face communication.
Two Sides – There are two sides to customer service: The client/ customer and the human manager, team member, supervisor, et.al., providing the service. Those two sides have emotions, ideas, thoughts, and desires that need to be carefully and thoroughly negotiated for an effective outcome.
Human-to-Human, Even if There’s a “Bot” Involved – In transitioning from face-to-face customer service to distance-based and remote customer service, teams need to be reminded that the failures of automation will be more glaring rather than less. Teams and leaders should be cognizant of the fact that all customer/client service is human-2-human first.
Empathy is HUGE – In times of great disruption, empathy becomes more important, not less. This means that speed to solution takes a back seat to acting with compassion toward clients and customers. With teams that are just going remote, that compassion is a two-way street. This allows for a real human connection. Some organizations, like Zappos, got this a long, long, time ago.
Active Listening Shouldn’t Be Ignored – Listening with one ear, listening while waiting for your chance to speak, and listening while thinking about anything other than what is going on in the communication interaction is a problem for many individuals on teams engaged with in-person, face-to-face communication. This becomes even more obvious in customer/client service interactions where disruption and anxiety are prevalent, where the confusion is everywhere and where leaders just “want one thing to ‘work’.” But, real communication means slowing down, self-monitoring emotions, and clearing the mind to not only hear but to also listen attentively.
Leading Remote Teams to Deliver Effective Customer Service: Three Tips for Leaders
Leading newly remote teams to provide excellent customer/client service in a time a workplace disruption isn’t easy for leaders. And it probably shouldn’t be.
However, there are a few tips to remember that leaders can implement right away that will make the transition easier and more effective in the end:
- Collaborate with the team by providing and enforcing, clear two way expectations. This can be very difficult in times of stress and high anxiety and the leader should double down on clear expectations around customer/client communication and reinforce those expectations constantly for their newly remote teams.
- Prioritize depth of communication over speed to resolution. This requires the leader trusting that their team is well trained in listening, actively engaging, and is interested in growing the customer/client relationship rather than entirely self-focused in a service interaction. Prioritizing depth over speed may also mean that the leader may have to advocate up the chain of command and the hierarchy of leadership above them to preserve the customer service happening through their team’s efforts.
- Apply a simple equation: align-adjust-realign. No team new to remote working while also challenged with providing customer service at the same quality as they had been before disruption is going to make that transition particularly well. Leaders must initially align the team to goals, expectations, communication, speed, and collaboration. Then, they must be flexible and adjust to current conditions as they change “on the fly.” For the customer/client they should not be privy to these changes and shifts. Finally, the leader will realign the team and continue forward in the new environment.
If leaders perform the align-adjust-realign process well—and keep in mind the other two tips—they will instill their newly remote teams with confidence that they can provide high-quality customer/client service during these times of massive disruption.