In my career, I’ve of course seen managers not be able to handle adversity or not be willing to take client escalations, but it was a couple recent events that really reinforced with me the importance of calm for customer service managers.
The first example happened when I was interviewing an internal candidate for my Client Services manager development program at Indeed, called Indeed Lead. I asked this employee to talk about her current manager, and the focus of her description was calm. This manager kept the team from getting overwhelmed when the workload was heavy, stepped in with a solutions-oriented approach when the Sales team was being tough, and generally brought a sense of calm to the group. It was clear that this made a huge impact on the employee and was guiding her own approach to becoming a new manager. She wanted to be calm under pressure too.
As a contrast, the second example was the opposite of a calm manager. I was at one of my favorite restaurants picking up takeout, and was being helped by the manager. Suddenly, two employees walked up and suggested that a customer had left without paying. The manager was struggling with continuing to help me while also supporting his employees. Ideally, he would have asked another employee to cover the takeout counter while he investigated, or asked the employees to wait while he finished my transaction. Instead, he blurted out, “You guys are both idiots!” to his employees in clear earshot of customers. What was even more stunning was that one of the employees responded, “You’re right, we are idiots,” making me think it wasn’t the manager’s first outburst.
When I historically have thought about important service manager competencies, I’ve leaned toward caring, teaching, leading by example and being a product expert. While those together form a solid foundation, they all can fly out the window in periods of stress if the manager can’t also be a calming influence on the team.
In late 2009, I started my Small Business service team at Indeed with a single employee. At the time, I had no idea what it would become, or how much it would eventually mean to me.
Along with that group’s management team, we scaled the SMB service function incredibly, learned how to automate and simplify processes, brought costs down, and generally turned the team into high-performing service organization.
Those are your HBR headlines and they are great. But my highlights live elsewhere.
1. Elevating the role
In building out the SMB function, we wanted a team that made sense in a business that had previously been mid-market to enterprise-focused. This wasn’t easy because we were hiring for roles we never had before, namely employees to handle the high volume of inbound tickets, phone calls and chats we would be receiving. We didn’t want the typical 40 percent turnover for call center jobs. So we worked to elevate every part of the role – higher base pay, regular bonuses, flexible work hours, work from home, perks, team events, free lunches and the like. We didn’t want a typical call center, nor the typical call center employees, so we elevated the job.
2. Servicing the under-serviced
When this team began, there was the belief that the client base could be successful without customer service altogether (self-service concept). While we always worked to make the product as self-serve as possible, I also knew that the SMB client segment is notoriously under-serviced and would be hungry for help with the product and with hiring best practices in general. That proved to be true, and our commitment to SMB service eventually became a brand differentiator for Indeed. When SMB clients made a hire, it was a celebration for both them and for us.
This combination of an amazing employee experience and a “wow” client experience eventually became my model for customer service no matter the client type. But it was this SMB build-out and evolution that really brought it together for me. That’s a big reason why I’m so excited to have joined Justworks, where SMB owners, entrepreneurs and their employees are our focus. I’m thrilled to be able to apply this model again.