Customer service is a paradoxical business function. Although the nature of customer requests are repetitive by nature, your customer service is supposed to deliver a personalized experience to each customer.

This uncertain nature of customer support can sometimes open a can of worms for both the customer service professionals and the customers. While the service professionals get their jobs done to the bitter end, it often leads them to burnout, mental health issues, and a host of other problems.

That’s probably the reason why the call center industry in the U.S. has an average turnover rate of 45%, one of the highest across industries. The business impact of this problem can be huge.

The stress that your customer service employees go through can find their way to your customers. For example, when your call center staff lack motivation at work, it shows in their everyday interactions with customers. These things can lead to a general apathy towards customers, a hostile team environment, and a colossal fall in customer loyalty.

But there is hope. You can train your customer support teams to care genuinely about customers if you take specific steps towards improving their workplace conditions. Below, we have listed four steps you can take to start inspiring your employees to be more caring towards your customers.

#1 – Treat them like customers

Most businesses don’t treat their employees the way they deserve.

The relationship between customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) is highly proportional. In many ways, your employees are your first customers. To quote author Steven Covey:

“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers. You can buy a person’s hand, but you can’t buy his heart; his heart is where his enthusiasm is. You can buy his back, but you can’t buy his brain…Treat employees as volunteers just as you treat customers as volunteers, because that’s what they are. They volunteer the best parts – their hearts and minds.”

Your call center employees are like therapists. They have to handle raw human emotions day in and day out. It can be a stressful job to carry out every day. Just like you offer your customers deals and discounts to buy from your brand, you’ve to provide some excellent perks to your employees to keep them motivated.

Here’s a real-world example from Wegmans, an American supermarket chain, on how you can do that.

Business magazines like Forbes and Fortune consistently rank Wegmans in their list of best places to work. The family-run Wegmans’ employee turnover rate is half than the industry average because they invest generously on their staff. They pay their staff to upskill themselves, spend more than $50 million a year on workforce training and development, and award college scholarships without any catch.

And look at what happens when a business takes this kind of employee-first approach. A stellar employee experience eventually leads to equally superior customer experience. The chain store was awarded the title of America’s #1 supermarket in 2016 by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Customers love Wegmans as much as their employees do. For instance, Wegmans collected an average annual sales of $9.7 billion in 2019.

#2 – Give praise & recognition for good work

It’s important to recognize good customer-centric habits in your call center employees. When you praise an outstanding performance, it sets the right kind of standards among your call center employees. It also motivates others in your support team to follow suit.

Conversely, you should tread carefully when you want to reprimand poor performance. Criticizing someone in public often leads to a feeling of shame and antagonism. Legendary investor Warren Buffets put it best when he said, “praise by name, criticize by category.”

When you want to highlight good behavior, call out the person and give them a deserving grandstanding

Long-time former CEO of Home Depot Frank Blake did this; he spent most of his Sundays’ hand-signing hundreds of thank you cards for staff who went out of their ways to delight customers. On top of the personalized appreciation cards, the employees were interviewed as part of an excellent customer service story video series and made to retell the story of what they did for deserving the recognition. The videos aired in break rooms across all the Home Depot franchises for everyone to celebrate the small wins.

Public praise is the best incentive to motivate people to do what they are supposed to do. Therefore, call out good behaviors in public to establish a norm of great customer service.

#3 – Set them up face-to-face with customers

Your call center agents are hardwired to perceive customers in abstract, stereotypical ways, such as—a support ticket, the refund guy, the can-I-talk-to-your-manager lady, and so on.

The best way to break this mold and inspire empathy in your customer service teams is to make them meet your customers in flesh and blood. A handful of companies that we work with do this already, and they rave about how powerful this exercise is.

For instance, one of our B2B client companies organize a quarterly customer open house day and invite a random set of customers to join them over a couple of rounds of beer and pizza. But the food is just an alibi. The company’s primary aim is to interact with the customers, understand their pain points, and collect direct feedback on critical issues.

This ritual of meeting and greeting customers in an interpersonal setting has also led their support staff to develop genuine care towards the customers. When a customer shakes the hand of a customer support agent who helped them get through a technical problem, for example, it means a world to that agent. That kind of appreciation helps your staff understand the magnitude of their everyday job and inspires them to care personally about their customers.

Find ways to make your customer service teams mingle personally with your customers. It breaks down the fourth wall that stands between them and the customers and crushes the cognitive biases they might have about their customers.

#4 – Encourage them to do charity work

Inspiration can come from any direction. In the case of honing the empathy skills of your customer service teams, you can take an unlikely inspiration from Dr. Rick Goodman, an American motivational speaker, and author.

Dr. Goodman has a very simple—and somewhat unconventional—idea to create empathy in your employees. In his book, The Solutions Oriented Leader, Dr. Goodman writes:

“Align your company with a cause. Allow your employees to feel like they are adding value to the world; that they—and your company—are part of something bigger, and something good.”

There are many ways you can go about organizing charity work for your employees to take part in. Give them the necessary support to distribute food and clothes to homeless people in the downtown, sponsor your team to run for a 10K marathon to raise funds for the hurricane victims in Costa Rica, and give them the freedom to come up with their philanthropy ideas as part of your company’s CSR activities.

Charity instills a sense of giving and empathy in everyone, and it’s more effective when a team is brought together for the same mission. It’s hard to directly measure the impact social philanthropy has on your employees’ empathy, but there’s no doubt that such collective missions lead them to become more caring about the customers and makes them happier.

And that’s it, folks! Which of the above points makes the most sense to you? What do you do differently to motivate your call center teams to care about your customers?