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Doing More With Less Seth Brickner

Here’s the good news: The fact that you are read­ing this likely means that you’re still employed.  While oth­ers in this cur­rent econ­omy may find them­selves unem­ployed, your company’s man­age­ment con­tin­ues to believe in you and your abil­ity to help it achieve its goals.

Now, what might seem like the bad news: You are expected to achieve your employer’s goals and deliver qual­ity cus­tomer ser­vice with fewer peo­ple and on a smaller budget.

While at first this might seem like bad news, it might also be an oppor­tu­nity to jus­tify your company’s faith in you, with the pos­si­bil­ity for career advance­ment in the future.

Let’s look at how both you and your com­pany may ben­e­fit from this idea of “doing more with less.”

Five Ways to Do More with Less

1. Reex­am­ine job descriptions.

Begin by review­ing the duties out­lined in your orig­i­nal job descrip­tion. Iden­tify those duties that you have not been doing, but could be. Are you respon­si­ble for cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing for your team, for cus­tomer reten­tion or cross-selling? Should you be?

Dis­cuss with your man­ager what you’re doing now, what more you believe you could be doing, and what you believe might be han­dled bet­ter by some­one else or not done at all. Your man­ager will be impressed by your will­ing­ness to take on new tasks to help the com­pany dur­ing dif­fi­cult eco­nomic times.

The next step is to solicit the same review by those who may report to you. This will help you bet­ter under­stand how to allo­cate resources and whom you can count on for var­i­ous respon­si­bil­i­ties within your department.

2. Look for ways to work smarter.

There’s noth­ing like a reduc­tion in your work­force to point out the inef­fi­ciency in your oper­a­tions. By look­ing for ways to work smarter, you’ll be able to spot oppor­tu­ni­ties to improve processes and pro­ce­dures that may not have been obvi­ous at higher staffing levels.

For exam­ple, what hap­pens dur­ing shift changes? Is there ade­quate time to brief the incom­ing team, or are there gaps that could be addressed by chang­ing the hours of the shifts?

Are pro­duc­tiv­ity met­rics up or down? Why? What’s changed, and how can we do bet­ter with what we have?

Are order­ing, pro­cure­ment, report­ing and doc­u­men­ta­tion pro­ce­dures effi­cient? Look for any bot­tle­necks, ana­lyze where the prob­lem occurs and con­sider alter­na­tive pro­ce­dures that make bet­ter use of your lim­ited resources.

The same goes for the prob­lem solv­ing skills of your team. It takes sig­nif­i­cantly less time for an employee to under­stand a request, fill an order, trou­bleshoot a tech­ni­cal issue or answer an inquiry if that employee under­stands what the cus­tomer is really after. Some­times what the cus­tomer needs is not what s/he requested; the more astute the employee and the bet­ter her or his prob­lem solv­ing skills, the faster s/he will be able to sat­isfy the customer.

Help develop your team’s ana­lyt­i­cal skills by involv­ing them in com­plex cases. Ask them what they would do, and why. Be ready to ques­tion their responses, and guide them to rea­son­able solu­tions that are free from bias, intel­lec­tual lazi­ness or a lack of process.

Con­sider train­ing for you and your staff in crit­i­cal think­ing skills. Your com­pany will ben­e­fit from your team’s stronger ana­lyt­i­cal skills long after econ­omy pros­per­ity returns.

3. Shorten call length and improve first call resolution.

Met­rics that become more impor­tant as you try to do more with less include call han­dle time and first call (or in many cases, least-contact) res­o­lu­tion. Both of these mea­sure your staff’s abil­ity to work effi­ciently. Here are three cus­tomer ser­vice tips for improv­ing both:

  • Encour­age front line team mem­bers to focus on the cus­tomer. Focus can by achieved by min­i­miz­ing dis­trac­tions, tak­ing notes, try­ing to under­stand the customer’s atti­tude and apti­tude lev­els, and con­firm­ing any infor­ma­tion that may not be clear.
  • Teach your tech­ni­cal team mem­bers how to phrase cus­tomer issues as “when…then…” state­ments. An exam­ple of a “when…then…”statement would be “When the system’s rebooted, (then) the IP con­nec­tion can’t be restored.” The great advan­tage of rephras­ing an issue this way is that it helps clar­ify, to both the cus­tomer and the tech­ni­cian, where they will begin look­ing to resolve the prob­lem. The faster a tech­ni­cal rep learns to state an issue in “when…then…” for­mat, the faster the res­o­lu­tion of the prob­lem can begin.
  • Show front line team mem­bers how to inter­rupt politely. In all cases expect those in which a cus­tomer is upset, demon­strate to your staff the polite and pro­fes­sional way to inter­rupt a cus­tomer who is ram­bling. By tak­ing con­trol of the con­ver­sa­tion, reps can keep the call on track and make the best use of both the customer’s time and your company’s resources.

Help your staff develop these skills by prac­tic­ing them. If your com­pany records calls, find one that went longer than nec­es­sary. Sit down the rep in ques­tion, lis­ten to the call together, and look for ways that the call may have been han­dled more efficiently.

If calls aren’t recorded, lis­ten in a live envi­ron­ment or ask to be cc’d on e-mail correspondence.

While this type of coach­ing takes time, it is likely an essen­tial part of your job. The bonus is that show­ing your staff how to be more effi­cient pays huge div­i­dends on a daily basis!

4. Iden­tify new challenges—and work to over­come them.

Have the recent pol­icy changes at you com­pany affected the customer/representative rela­tion­ship? New con­di­tions may bring with them new chal­lenges, and you can’t guide your team if you don’t under­stand what they’re fac­ing. Exam­ine how under-staffed, over-rushed con­di­tions that may have been caused by recent cut­backs are affect­ing your team.

Ask your front-line employ­ees if they feel that they’re han­dling cus­tomers dif­fer­ently since cut­backs or pol­icy changes occurred. Do they feel they’re able to pro­vide top qual­ity cus­tomer ser­vice? What do they need from you to do their jobs properly?

Help where you can. Get them as many rea­son­able resources as pos­si­ble, and when you can’t, explain why. Don’t be afraid of get­ting in the trenches your­self to assist dur­ing par­tic­u­larly busy or stress­ful peri­ods. This goes a long way to improv­ing the morale of your team and demon­strat­ing your com­mit­ment to them.

5. Sharpen your Coach­ing Skills.

If cut­backs have left you with fewer peo­ple on your staff, lever­age the oppor­tu­nity to pro­vide more per­sonal atten­tion to each remain­ing team mem­ber. If you’re find­ing it hard to do more with less, chances are that the peo­ple who report to you are too. As their coach, it’s your respon­si­bil­ity to under­stand their chal­lenges and help them do the best job they can.

Observe the tech­ni­cal and cus­tomer ser­vice skills of your rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Do they have enough prod­uct train­ing? Are they pro­vid­ing top qual­ity cus­tomer service?

Sharpen your coach­ing skills by focus­ing on three basic areas:

  • Defin­ing suc­cess: Team mem­bers have the right to know what you expect from them, so make sure your goals for them are clearly defined and under­stood. All team mem­bers should have a list of the cri­te­ria by which their per­for­mance is evaluated.
  • Mon­i­tor­ing per­for­mance: Observe the cus­tomer and coworker inter­ac­tions of your team so that you under­stand their lev­els of pro­fi­ciency. The more time you spend on the floor, shoulder-to-shoulder with your team, the bet­ter you’ll come to under­stand them and the more recep­tive they’ll be to your feedback.
  • Pro­vid­ing feed­back: Don’t be afraid to pro­vide feed­back to your team mem­bers! If you’ve been dili­gent about observ­ing them, they’ll know your feed­back comes from a first-hand under­stand­ing of their per­for­mance. Praise the behav­ior you want to see repeated, refine the behav­ior that needs a lit­tle tweak­ing, and cor­rect behav­ior by demon­strat­ing the way to do it properly.

Always posi­tion feed­back for what it is: the oppor­tu­nity for team mem­bers to learn, improve and advance in their careers.

Con­sider the sit­u­a­tion at your com­pany. Hope­fully you’ll be able to apply some or all of these ideas to increase your and the company’s effi­ciency, pro­duc­tion and/or revenue.

Seth Brick­ner is a Devel­oper and Facil­i­ta­tor with Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems Inter­na­tional. In addi­tion to train­ing and devel­op­ment, his back­ground includes edu­ca­tion, tech­ni­cal sup­port and cus­tomer ser­vice. When not trav­el­ing or in front of a com­puter mon­i­tor, Seth can be found run­ning, cook­ing, play­ing gui­tar, read­ing, con­vinc­ing him­self he can sing, or enjoy­ing the hik­ing trails of Colorado.
6 Doing More With Less
Seth Brickner
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