5 Things Call Center Culture Can (And Can't) Do for Your Customer Experience

Brian Cantor

Aware that "happy agents produce happy customers," commentators are beginning to recommend developing customer service strategy in reverse.

The road to customer satisfaction, they argue, begins with agent engagement. If a business does everything possible to improve workplace culture, that investment will pay dividends in the form of a better customer experience. Agent delight will trickle down to the customer, which will produce an outcome beneficial to all involved.

Reality is not so simple. The link between agent and customer satisfaction, though irrefutable, is not as causal as the "happy agents produce happy customers" mantra suggests. Creating a warmer call center environment will surely produce pleasant calls, but if the improved culture is not aligned with market expectations and backed by customer-driven improvements to the business’ systems and processes, the actual impact on customer satisfaction will be greatly limited.

Because agent engagement strategies are irrefutably linked to improved customer experiences, limitations on their impact should not deter their implementation. One must, however, recognize the need to look beyond cultural transformation when attempting to drive customer satisfaction.

Here are five opportunities and limitations associated with improving call center culture.

What Culture Can Do: Improve agent morale

If content with their work environments, agents are more likely to operate at an optimal level. They will feel invested in their organizations and thus committed to doing right by their customers and their corporate superiors. If employees like the work they are doing, they will work with more enthusiasm.

What Culture Cannot Do: Align performance with optimal business objectives

While boosting morale and improving workplace culture will prompt agents to perform their jobs with more passion and effort, it does not guarantee the performance will be more effective. Greater agent effort is futile if the effort is being directed to the wrong causes and evaluated against the wrong metrics. Management’s responsibility is not simply to inspire agents to do more work; it is to inspire the right work.

What Culture Can Do: Improve agent desire to be productive

Invested in their organizations, successfully engaged agents will aim to do as much as possible rather than as little as necessary. They will constantly seek opportunities to improve customer experiences and improve backend operations.

What Culture Cannot Do: Improve agent productivity

Unfortunately, a desire to work harder is meaningless if the call center is systemically bottlenecking productivity. If saddled by archaic technology, uncommunicative systems and siloed business functions, agents, despite their best intentions, will not be able to perform more productively.

What Culture Can Do: Make call center agents more eager about interacting with customers

When businesses believe in management, they believe in the business. And when they believe in the business, they eagerly await opportunities to serve as brand ambassadors. They begin to see customer service interactions less as nuisances or necessary evils and more as opportunities to share the joy and value they experience first-hand. They are better conditioned to serve customers.

What Culture Cannot Do: Align agent and customer mindsets

When advising businesses to "be like Zappos," thought leaders are forgetting that other business’ customers are not like Zappos’ customers. The need for a positive, harmonious work atmosphere is universal, but the specific intricacies of that atmosphere hinge on the specific intricacies of the customer base. Because a business customer seeking replacement machinery parts is not looking for the same "Magical Experience" as a family inquiring about a Disney vacation, a support agent should not be conditioned to approach that customer the way a Disney cast member would approach a customer.

What Culture Can Do: Create warmer, more cordial interactions with customers

Lacking stress and overflowing with positive energy, properly engaged agents are instrumental in creating great customer experiences. Their infectious enthusiasm helps set the tone for warm, positive, engaging interactions.

What Culture Cannot Do: Truly satisfy the customer

Politeness is no substitution for resolution. While customers will appreciate interacting with a pleasant, happy agent, they will not do so if it comes at the expense of the information or resolution they are truly seeking.

What Culture Can Do: Fuel open communication within the call center (and greater business)

By fostering the notion of a team, agent engagement strategies drive effective communication. A positive workplace culture encourages agents to collect valuable customer feedback and then share that feedback with peers and management. It encourages them to contribute to the success of the business.

What Culture Cannot Do: Put that information into action

Agents might be willing to share customer feedback and best practices with coworkers, but if they do not have adequate means of collecting and reporting information, their good intentions will be wasted. Similarly, if management fosters an environment of open communication but lacks the resources to act on the feedback it receives, it will ultimately devalue its own cause. Customers and agents derive enjoyment from talking and being heard but not nearly as much as they do from witnessing their ideas transform into action.