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Michiel Gaasterland
Michiel Gaasterland
Chief Brand Officer
Oct 17, 2018

Five management styles that build high performing customer service teams

customer-service-teams-meeting

We’ve identified five distinct management styles that help build high-performing customer service teams—but the most successful managers are adaptive ninjas who can switch between styles!

An eCommerce brand’s investments into the soft skills of their customer service managers and team leaders typically depends on how senior leadership views service in the company as a whole.

Those who see it as a ‘necessary evil’ won’t invest. Those who see customer service as a differentiator will—but often still consider it a longer-term, lower priority thing.

This may well be underestimating the impacts of management style on both the short-term results of a team, and the type of customer service operation a company builds.

Customer service and customer experience (CX)

Nowadays, senior leadership tends to look at service through the lens of customer experience. It makes sense. The CX business case is strong, and growing eCommerce shopper needs and expectations are becoming impossible to ignore.

In this light, we should maybe view web-store service conversations as the culmination of all a shopper’s interactions online. That’s because:

  • For customers, service conversations are almost always ‘make or break’ decision-moments about your brand, and your products;
  • For service managers, they are the most direct opportunity to impact sales, satisfaction and loyalty they will ever have. 
  • From a CX perspective, these conversations offer unique opportunities to identify and fix any number of customer journey-related issues.

This is why we believe:

“Service conversations are critical touch-points to the entire customer experience”

— Michiel Gaasterland, Chief Brand Officer, ROBIN

We’re not alone.

McKinsey & Company wrote recently, ‘No function handles a broader range of customer touch-points than customer care. Executives would be wise to make it the centrepiece of any effort to transform the customer experience.’

That’s nice in theory, but practically, there’s a huge amount of internal alignment on the role and ambition of customer service to tackle first.

At ROBIN, we typically start by establishing a ‘Commander’s Intent' for customer service: a clear description of what success will look like. We use the 8 KPIs of customer service to assess and manage that ambition.

Once an eCommerce company is aligned around a Commanders Intent it becomes easier to define operational priorities, and then plan what you need to do to get there.

That’s the point to start thinking about the management styles you need, and want to encourage, in your company.

Five management styles to build a high-performing service team

customer-service-team

There is no ‘silver bullet’ to management styles. There are strengths and weaknesses in every style. And while people have preferences (which you should explore) people can also be coached and developed to adapt their styles—and adopt new ones. 

It is the role of senior leadership to be aware of different management styles, and understand how they impact short-term results, and the building of a sustainable operation.

More on this when we wrap up. Now, let’s take a look. See if you can spot your own preferences and those of your customer service managers, too. 

1. The Collaborator: “Go, Team!”

Collaborative managers believe in the power of people. These managers use a strongly participatory leadership approach rather than a traditional top-down authoritative approach.

They quickly gain the trust and support of their teams. And as they work with their ‘ear to the ground’ they identify customer service problem areas earlier than some other types.

They proactively develop and implement solutions across service areas, often by walking issues through a company until they are solved once and for all. By tackling root causes rather than firefighting, they most often build better standards overall, and hence; a sustainable operation.

They openly share information, offer continual and immediate team feedback, and argue the toss with senior leadership about what a team thinks, believes or should do. They are deeply committed to their teams!

The downside of working so collaboratively can be a lack of strategic oversight. Managing so many details can make it difficult to see the wood from the trees.

2. The Tech Connector: “Show Me the Data!”

Tech connectors believe numbers are power! They leverage platforms that unify all customer data from multiple channels and seek out data from across integrations in eCommerce, ERP and CRM systems, analytics, and more.

Data and tech-savvy managers look to integrate technologies and data resources to draw actionable conclusions about customer relationships, critical operational areas, and a company’s overall progress that can put others’ insights into the shade.

Continually on the lookout for a data-driven argument on what’s driving desirable business outcomes across customer touch-points, they can act upon those insights, direct the efforts of their team to exploit them, and provide a company’s business leaders with the right data to support commercial strategy.

The downside of Tech connectors is that they have to be highly skilled to keep the emotions and behaviours of both their team and customers in focus—and that’s not always the case.

3. The Builder: “Make it Last!”

Builders believe that business continuity is everything! Service managers who focus on delivering a truly end-to-end customer experience are able to integrate front- and back-end processes through multiple business channels —and make the value of this approach understood within the broader organisation and across all disciplines.

These types of managers focus on people, processes and technology: the three elements for a successful organisation. They typically encounter more opportunities to improve operations using back-end company resources. They are more likely to secure budgets than others—and work more efficiently than others, too. 

These types typically speak the languages of IT, digital, ROI, finance, metrics and KPIs. This level of integrated thinking is not common in customer service teams, but more common in mature companies.

The downside of this management style is that short-term customer needs and opportunities may sometimes get lost in longer-term thinking and planning of a sustainable operation.

4. The Communicator: “Customer First!”

Communicators believe that the customer is king! Managers who prioritize improving the overall cadence and seamlessness of customer interactions are highly empathic. They put the customer first—before anything. They typically get great short-term results and are a joy to work with internally for marketers and UX folks as they are so responsive, and knowledgeable about customers.

Unsurprisingly, these managers train their teams in empathy. They often standardise approaches to manage types of conflict. They are on the lookout for forward resolution opportunities. And they help teams identify the emotional drivers behind customer service requests. 

Based on their experiences in customer interactions, they optimise service channels to provide seamless experiences for shoppers, and this strong focus on customer interactions often becomes the central driver for all team problem solving and decision-making.

The downside of this management style is that managers employing this style may lag behind in building a sustainable operation.

5. The Ninja: “Look, Think, Adapt!”

Ninjas believe that context is everything! If there was one style that is a ‘Holy Grail’ it would be this. Managers who take an adaptive approach are performance-motivated, self-aware and generally have high levels of emotional intelligence.

While they do take decisive action, they rarely react without considering all possible outcomes. This allows them to assign the right tasks to the right people—and provide resources for their team’s development so that they are equipped to handle the next challenge.

They empower teams with a great degree of freedom, encouraging them to share their results and experiences openly and continually. This gives team members a great sense of value. It fosters creativity and innovation, and often creates service superheroes.

Adaptive leaders tend to get better results overall, because they build dynamic teams that embrace change and are fully equipped to problem- solve for themselves.

The downside is that they can seem a little hard to pin down for more traditional types of managers and leaders across the organisation.

Management style is not who you are, it’s what you learn

Gut instinct tells us that the way a person manages is ‘just the way they are’. It’s not true. Management styles are learned. And it’s the role of senior leadership to invest and build the right ways of thinking and managing the suit a company’s ambition.

To finish, the happiest, most productive customer service teams we have ever seen are managed by those leads who:

  • Know that management styles are a thing;
  • Know their preferred style, its strengths and weaknesses. And;
  • Successfully lobby senior leadership to keep on developing their soft skills for the good of the company. 

We hope you enjoyed our five management styles! 

Five management styles that build high-performing customer service teams

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Customer support, Customer care, Business strategy, Managing, Customer service team

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