Featured Image for the blog: Customer Service Week is October 5-9: Learn 5 Ways to Celebrate Your Virtual Agents When They Need it Most (Thanks, 2020)

2020 didn’t cancel National Customer Service Week. The festivities are set for October 5-9, and it’s up to you to celebrate your team, no matter where they’re working.

I blinked in March and now somehow we’re finalizing our plans for Q4. This year, we’ve been robbed of ritual. We were tossed into a situation none of us asked for – and certainly, none of us wanted.

We’ve dealt with sickness and loss, missed important meetings, birthdays, weddings, funerals and back-to-school celebrations. And even though we’re resilient and taking it in stride, it doesn’t make the current state of things any more comfortable.

Download Now: 52 questions to ask your agents about well-being and work in their next 1:1 

Add to it the stress of handling unusually angry customers while working in a make-shift home office, sometimes with kids at home, and I can almost guarantee your agents are close to their tipping point.

That’s why this year, more than ever before, it’s vital to appreciate your agents a little extra during Customer Service Week. We love this celebratory first week in October because it puts agents – the heart and soul of our company – back at the center of customer service.

It gives managers like you dedicated time and space to recognize the massive impact your agents have on your customer experience and your company. That’s why we’re offering up five ways to celebrate all the hard work your agents pour into their jobs, no matter what work looks like for your team this year.

1. Virtual coffee meetups

Kick off Customer Service Week and schedule virtual coffee meetups or 1:1s with your agents.

Data shows that the most memorable recognition comes from an employee’s manager. Dedicate time this week to check in with each of your team members. Have your typical 1:1 conversation, reviewing performance metrics and action items, first. Then, expand upon it.

Ask your agents questions about their careers, their life, their aspirations and how they’re really feeling. And, take this opportunity to offer individual praise. Make notes ahead of time, so you have specific moments to call out and appreciate. Build genuine connection and thanks into your every weekly meeting.

Pro Tip: Use your 52 questions as conversation starters to learn more about your agents. And, set the stage for a friendly and casual conversation. Email your agents a $5-10 coffee gift card ahead of time, so they can pick up their favorite drink before you meet.

2. Mail out handwritten cards from you and your other ops leaders.

Only one in three workers in the U.S. feels like they’ve received recognition or praise for good work in the past week at any given time.

“At any given company, it’s not uncommon for employees to feel that their best efforts are routinely ignored. Further, employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year.”  

Annamarie Mann and Nate Dvorak for Gallup

Customer service week is the perfect opportunity to offer up praise to your team and thank them for all they do. Dealing with constant customer complaints and borderline abuse deserves more than a simple thank you. But those two words alone have a pretty incredible impact. Order some thank you cards (we like these) and ship them off to your work from home agents. Better yet, get your ops leaders and your exec team to pen a thank you, too.

[Read Next] What happens when your “great” customer experience comes at the expense of your agents

Recognition from company leaders and managers is proven to resonate most with employees. And, when employees feel praised publicly from the top, they feel more secure and invested in their roles.

Some 68% of workers think public recognition has at least some impact on their ability to get a raise or promotion. When you think about it, it makes sense. If I’m an agent and my manager is vocal about how awesome I’m doing, I’d definitely feel a sense of pride and security when conversations about advancement opportunities arise among leadership.

3. Revisit harsh policies and roll out new ones.

Stop supporting abusive and harmful practices in your call center. Today.

Restrictive policies, airtight scripts and the mentality to “put the customer first” no matter the cost to your agents crush your team.

When I visit call center forums to learn what really bugs your agents, I see far too many harmful practices and antiquated management techniques that steamroll the humanity of customer service agents.

[Read Next] What your agents don’t tell you about working in a call center

Agents call their exit surveys therapeutic because they can spill the details of their awful treatment without fear of retribution. They jump for joy when their phone system goes down, so they get a few minutes of peace.

What’s more? They’re even ditching well-paid positions and job security to go to companies who pay less but treat people like – well, people.

How these agents felt about years of poor treatment really stood out to us:

“ I left a company where I was on track for management. I made good money and had great benefits, but the abuse I was expected to accept each day AND THEN they had the audacity to tell us in a meeting “we have policies in place and want customers to adhere to them, but if they push just give them what they want. We need to keep up our Google reviews.” I started looking for new jobs that day. Your mental health is 100% more important.”

“Though in this job, sometimes I even question myself as to whether or not I’m anything more than a prerecorded voice on the line.”

“I wonder if my company thinks they can just let us be treated like complete $hi+ just because they pay well. Yeah benefits are good but after doing this for YEARS and it’s not changing and getting worse is it really worth it? I really am debating on going somewhere else that’s a $2 pay cut just to be happy and lose a lot of good benefits because I am just DONE. Four years with this company next month and I’m just dead. I used to love my job and now I dread everything about it.”

When you confine your agents to strict policies and inflexible scripts, they feel less than. They endure constant tedium, going through the motions and following policies without a free thought. It makes them feel like replaceable robots, not living, breathing people.

This Customer Service Week, throw suffocating policies and practices out the window. Use CS week and the start of Q4 to set goals, policies and metrics that help your agents do better work. Ditch tired practices once and for all, so your agents know you’re dedicated to making their lives easier every day moving forward, not just one week in October.

4. Offer abundant praise and recognition.

Recognizing your employees makes them happier at work.

Not only that, but according to Gallup, employees who get recognized more often are less likely to leave their companies in the next 6 months.

That’s why this week, a week dedicated to agent happiness, recognition should live at the center.

Use Bonusly’s guide to the Five Languages of Appreciation at Work to learn how your employees really want to give and receive praise. Here’s the zipped-up version.

  1. Words of Affirmation

How to use it: Verbal praising your agent in a team meeting or 1:1

  1. Acts of Service 

How to use it: Stepping in to handle a few customer interactions when you know your agent is overwhelmed.

  1. Quality Time

How to use it: Invite your agents or supervisors to a coffee chat or lunch meeting

  1. Gifts

How to use it: Money and gift cards talk (when you already provide a healthy work environment)

  1. Physical Touch

How to use it: High fives and fist bumps to empower your team after they’ve nailed an interaction.

Another Hint: Current social distancing restrictions (and remote teams) make this a tough category. Get creative and think through how you can fake it. Virtual high fives and toasts are welcome. We’ve done it.

5. Host a virtual lunch and learn series.

Use Customer Service Week to invest in your agents – at work and in life. Kick off a lunch and learn series where you’ll bring in guest speakers to help your agents advance certain skill sets. Maybe even host a virtual health and wellness fair over the next few weeks to introduce your team to new self-care routines. And, work with your peer leaders to cover interactions while your agents take time away from their queues to participate.

With the burden of expensive travel removed, getting a standout speaker to talk to or train your team remotely is more attainable.

Here are some options for speakers you can bring in to help your agents:

  • Customer service expert
  • Financial planner
  • Health & wellness coach
  • Nutritionist
  • Career coach

Think through how you can help your agents improve their whole lives, not just their time at work. Your team shows up to work to earn the income they need for life’s essentials. So, act as a lead supporter and help them grow in areas of life beyond your contact center walls, too.

Keep the momentum of the week rolling and continue to invest in your team. It all starts with connecting over conversation. Get 52 conversation starters to learn more about your agents.