7 ways to manage a remote customer service team
Post summary for managing remote customer service teams:
- Share information
- Understand your audience
- Unite the team
- Use the right tools
- Set and measure KPIs
Do you like the idea of answering emails while sitting on the beach?
Or how about finishing up a presentation, while enjoying your favorite vanilla-spiced latte from the café nearby?
You’re not alone.
Remote working is growing in popularity, and for a very good reason.
Employees who can control where and when they work are more productive and have a better work-life balance compared to those who do not, according to new research by Pennsylvania State University.
For customer service teams in particular, remote working allows staff to get through 13% more calls each day according to a study by Quarterly Journal of Economics.
But how do you manage a remote customer service team when your team span different countries and time zones?
Traditional management techniques, like in-person meetings and quick chats over the coffee machine are difficult, if not impossible when your team is based in different countries.
Sure, you can share a coffee over Skype, but is it really the same?
And while there are big advantages to employing remote workers, like being able to assemble a team of experts from anywhere on the planet, managers need to adapt in order to communicate, problem-solve and successfully track the progress of their employees.
Thankfully, managing a multinational team doesn’t have to be a complete headache. That’s why we’ve put together seven easy ways to successfully manage your remote customer service team from anywhere in the world.
Let’s get started.
1. Use cloud-based project management tools
While email is an instant and easy way to communicate, it’s not an ideal platform for managing projects when working with a team of remote staff.
In fact, an endless stream of email communications can quickly become messy and overwhelming.
To help manage projects, information and communication needs to be centralized in one easily accessible place. A cloud-based project management tool allows your team – no matter where they are located – to login and access the information they need within minutes, while at the same time providing you with an overview to all projects at any given moment in time.
There are plenty of specialist project management tools about. Here at SuperOffice we use our own project management tool that is built into SuperOffice CRM, This allows us to access internal customers service processes and guidelines as well as customer information, all without the need for our team to be in one location.
2. Share information through a knowledge base
According to the recent American Express Customer Service Barometer, 99% of customers say that getting a satisfactory response or talking to someone knowledgeable is essential for a great customer service experience.
However, even the customer support pros will come across a question that requires a bit more research from time-to-time.
When working remotely, your team cannot just simply walk over to you and ask for support – especially if there’s an 8 hour time difference and it’s in the middle of the night for you!
Instead, your team has to resort to email, which could lead to a delay in getting a response that ends up leaving customers frustrated.
TSIA and Coveo’s 2014 State of Knowledge Management Report found that 27% of brands have not updated their knowledge base for a long time.
That’s almost 1 in 3!
And, according to Esteban Kolsky’s paper, Justifying Knowledge Management in Customer Service, 28% of an agent’s time is spent searching for the right answer, and the right answer can only be found 20% of the time.
Well, that’s no good!
By having information in one easily-accessible place, a knowledge base gives your team the answers they need right there and then. You could use a private wiki for this type of knowledge share or create your own internal customer service knowledge base. To really get the best use from your knowledge base, encourage your staff to update it and add answers on an ongoing basis.
3. Be clear about who the audience is
Good customer service is about your ability to quickly solve problems, fulfil requests and build an understanding between your business and your clients. To do this successfully, your remote customer service team needs to understand who they are talking to on the other end of the phone, email or social media channel.
By making sure that every team member understands your audience and how to interact with them requires up-front training, as even a basic understanding will give your team the skills to provide an excellent customer service.
Before you train your team, think about the following questions:
- Who are your customers?
- What are their values?
- Do they need quick answers or carefully-considered, in-depth replies?
- Does your audience span multiple countries, languages and cultures? Or are they specific to one particular part of the world?
This exercise is similar to how we in the marketing department created buyer personas within our lead nurturing strategy. This helps us craft a targeted marketing message, rather than sending a “one message to all” approach.
Once your team has this kind of insight, their service will match customer expectations regardless of cultural differences.
4. Unite your team
Managing a remote team comes with a new set of challenges, not least with building a good relationship with staff that live in different countries and across different time zones.
And while it might seem that you don’t really need to get to know someone who lives on the other side of the world, someone who you might only meet in person once per year, it is in fact a really important factor in managing happy and productive teams.
In fact, research by Queens University of Charlotte found that 39% of surveyed employees believe that people in their own organization don’t collaborate enough, and only 27% of employees receive communication training.
By getting to know your team members, you’ll have better communication and increase staff retention rates.
To unite your team, encourage small-talk between your staff and allow them to get to know one another, such as getting to know their interests, family life and local area.
This can be achieved in a number of ways, through the use of instant messaging including Skype group chats and Google Hangouts and creating a basic intranet with staff profiles and ‘About me’ pages.
Here’s an example of my ‘About me’ page on the SuperOffice community:
No matter how many remote workers you have, make sure you encourage them to unite as a team in order to improve their ability to communicate, problem-solve and share knowledge.
5. Make use of video chat
You may not be catching up in the office kitchen over what you did over the weekend, but there are plenty of ways to hold regular face-to-face meetings with your remote team regardless of time differences and location.
Video chat is a low cost way to meet with your team, allowing you to talk face-to-face.
Tools such as Skype, and more recently, Google Hangouts, are free and easy to use, and will help you keep your staff in the loop with new processes and upcoming challenges while at the same time being able to listen to their feedback.
When Powwownow asked CIO’s what they think about desk phones, 65% responded by saying they think they will be redundant by 2017.
And not only that. Did you know that the average attention span on a video call lasts 12 minutes longer than that of a phone call?
With those kinds of numbers, it’s easy to see why more people are switching to video calls than making phone calls.
Think about the last time you saw a desk phone, was it recently?
I haven’t seen one in a long time!
To make good use of video, create a schedule of routine calls that allow you and your team to chat one-on-one, whether that’s working through a specific problem or discussing personal development. For training purposes, vodcasts (recordings of videos) are particularly effective – allowing your team to re-watch each session and gain the most from each learning module.
6. Use customer service software
Customer service teams deal with a lot of clients on a daily basis, and these conversations can be a challenge to keep track of.
Customer service software allows staff and managers to track conversations, monitor client relationships and revisit past communications with a customer at-a-glance, all of which are incredibly important when teams are scattered around the globe, in making sure that every staff member can access the latest customer information with a click of a button.
Customer service software allows you to stay clear of micro-management, which can be very time consuming and counter-productive with a remote team. Instead, customer service software provides you with detailed insight with a customizable dashboard that includes reports such as:
- Number of calls taken each day
- Number of issues resolved
- Hours worked by each staff member
- High-priority issues in need of addressing
- Tasks assigned to the team leader or manager (you)
In fact, while analyzing 250 companies to see how they manage customer support, we found the best in class customer companies all used customer service software.
Here’s an example from where you can view pre-defined reports based on the most popular requests. Simply click on the report of your choice and get instant access to the data:
Other useful platforms include social media management tools such as Hootsuite, which we have used here at SuperOffice. These tools allow managerial insight and reporting on the likes of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.
7. Set KPIs to help your team grow
It may be easy to forget the goals of your remote team members, but it’s important to remember that they have a career path too. If you neglect to acknowledge this, you will risk losing your team!
Reward hard work by setting clear key performance indicators (KPIs) with each member of the team, allowing them to focus on important tasks, reach their personal goals and move up through the business.
Whether your remote staff work full time, part time or on an ad-hoc basis, it is your responsibility to monitor and evaluate these KPIs on a regular basis with routine one-on-ones, follow-up training and a set of clear, mutually-agreed objectives.
While it’s challenging to manage staff members who span different continents and time zones, the digital world allows you to adapt in ways that make geographical barriers almost non-existent.
Remember, champion the use of cloud-based technology and establish meaningful professional relationships. By doing so, your team will be happier and more productive.
And most important of all, your customers will enjoy a first-rate service without any exception.
For more ways to help your remote customer service improve, download our free “customer service email templates” white paper here.