Customer service is the cornerstone of any business. But what is the cornerstone of good customer service itself? What should leaders do to create a positive workplace culture for customer service teams? In this guest post, Rana Bano of Omniscient Digital dives into managing and preventing conflicts in remote customer support teams.
More companies than ever have remote employees working with little to no in-person interaction. We’ve experienced a shift in the cultural workplace — partly due to events like the COVID-19 pandemic — and now, any department can work from anywhere. Customer support teams are certainly no exception.
In fact, 60% of support teams have some form of remote work, according to a 2021 customer service benchmark report. Plus, there are more remote entry-level customer support jobs today than ever. Customer support jobs are one of the most active job sectors in the remote world. Companies have support teams working from anywhere around the globe for many reasons:
- Agents are available on standby to attend to customers with little or no wait time
- People need tech support 24/7 to assist them in times of crisis
- Companies need people to manage multiple social media platforms, and chat channels around the clock
These needs have led to an increase in remote tech support jobs and even overnight remote jobs. A remote customer support team needs to communicate and collaborate smoothly to avoid delivering poor services. After all, bad customer support is expensive. Statistics show that up to $75 billion is lost annually due to bad customer service, and 96% of consumers would end a relationship due to bad customer service.
One leading cause of that is conflicts within remote customer support teams. So why do conflicts happen, and how do you handle them to ensure everyone stays productive while working remotely? Let’s dive in.
Why Do Conflicts Happen in Remote Teams?
Conflicts are bound to arise when you work with others. But conflict is especially challenging in remote teams because it’s hard to detect. Since your team works from anywhere in their respective time zones, you can’t easily sense friction or observe discord through their body language and facial expressions.
Organizational behavior expert Kindred Greer outlined two reasons why conflicts are more common in remote teams and are bound to escalate quickly.
- Colleagues take disagreements more personally when delivered from a distance.
- Written communication tends to be the norm for remote teams, and brief and straightforward messages often come across as rude and demeaning.
How to Prevent Workplace Conflicts
The results of a conflict are far-reaching, and it affects performance engagement of your team as well as individual members. Team members in conflict may disengage and show a lack of enthusiasm for the job.
Before a conflict arises, take the following steps to prevent it:
- Set up ground rules in advance
- Give your team clear procedures and protocols to work by
- Have clear and timely communications
- Build a healthy and interactive work environment to prevent toxicity
- Host virtual team-building activities to build rapport and improve communication
- Teach your team how to navigate conflict themselves
5 Tips to Manage Conflicts as a Manager
Sometimes conflict happens even if you have taken steps to prevent it. When conflicts in remote customer support teams arise, they should be resolved as quickly as possible. These tips can help you manage them:
1. Lead From the Front
Leadership does not only apply to work tasks. As a manager, your approach to sorting out disagreements is essential. It’s up to you to ensure your team is not operating in a toxic work environment and that they can see you’re professionally managing conflicts. When managing a remote team, try not to create conflicts yourself. Be mindful of making snarky remarks to people in your group about other team members. Resolve disputes amicably as they arrive. Take the lead in fixing things and set up a positive reputation so your team can follow.
2. Gather the Facts First
In a remote setting or hybrid work arrangement, diving in to resolve a matter quickly is tempting without looking at the root of the conflict from all angles. When resolving a conflict, hold a one-on-one video session with each person to hear different sides of the story before holding a group meeting. Do your best to track down what happened and what didn’t. This way, you have time to investigate, get input from everyone, determine what’s relevant to the discussion, and decide how to resolve the issue.
3. Hold Regular Team Meetings
Since your remote support team can’t meet physically, hold regular online meetings to get everyone on the same page. Staff members may have difficulties juggling their home and work responsibilities. This may lead to slacking off on work duties or reluctance to cooperate, leading to conflicts with those who aren’t facing difficult circumstances.
Constant communication prevents such disagreements and misunderstandings, aids in information sharing, and pulls everyone in the same direction. As with customers, it’s important to understand the context of team member relationships. Meetings, especially video conferencing, aid in bonding among team members by letting them observe non-verbal cues (facial expressions, body language) and know each other better.
4. Handle Issues Immediately
A remote team already feels distant. The longer you wait to resolve an issue, the more aggressive and impatient parties become. A conflict may be minor, but leaving it to linger causes bigger problems for you, affecting the workflow of your support team or leading to someone’s exit from the company. Get ahead of conflicts with urgency and address the individuals involved. Do not delay or postpone communication, so it doesn’t affect the general performance of your team.
5. Have an Open Door Policy
There could be something bothering a team member, but you may never know unless you encourage them to come forward. Let your team know they can always come to you if any problems arise. Set aside regular one-on-one catch-ups to encourage open communication. If team members come forward, listen to them and take the necessary measures based on what you’ve heard. Feuding team members tend to avoid each other, which makes disagreements bigger than they need to be.
4 Tips to Deal with Conflicts With Colleagues in Customer Support
Now, there are instances when conflicts are between colleagues rather than the entire team. Here’s how to deal with it:
1. Encourage Them to Work It Out on Their Own
Getting involved whenever there’s a conflict between coworkers can be tempting, but there are cases where you should let them resolve the issues themselves. In fact, stepping in too early may cause a minor issue to escalate. Instead, encourage them to get on a call to talk through the problem and plan how to work harmoniously together.
2. Know When to Step In
If the conflict lingers or starts to affect the team’s productivity, it’s time to step in and take action. Of course, you should always consider complaints brought to your attention, regardless of the severity.
3. Meet With the Conflicting Parties Individually and Together
To understand each person’s interpretation of the situation, talk with each person separately first. This way, you get the nature of the conflict, which is vital for resolution. Once you hear from both parties, schedule a virtual joint meeting. Video conferencing is best as it allows the parties to face each other and simulate an in-person meeting.
4. Encourage Professionalism
As you meet with the conflicting employees, point out how important it is that the team continues to function. Motivate them to put their disagreements aside and focus on each person’s positive qualities to the team. Then, they see one another’s value, which leads to the restoration of goodwill.
3 Tips to Deal with Conflicts With Your Customer Support Manager
What if the conflict is with your customer support manager, not the team? How do you deal with it?
1. Get to the Heart of the Issue
It’s normal to feel upset when you don’t feel valued or respected. Acknowledge and respect one another’s positions to understand and empathize with the other point of view. Listen actively and ask open-ended questions until you both understand each other.
2. Remain Calm and Objective
There’s no point in getting angry or being disrespectful when there’s a conflict or you feel like you’re in a toxic work environment. While listening to the other party, put your feelings aside and see things from their perspective. Focus on resolving the conflict and keep the disagreement from spiraling out of control.
3. Focus on the Common Goal
Find common ground that makes sense for you and your customer support manager. After all, you’re both in the same boat and working towards the same goals. Focus on a mutually beneficial outcome.
Though conflicts in remote teams may be unavoidable, they can be managed so that they don’t affect work performance or customers. Implement the tips above and work out conflicts with consistent, strong leadership. A conflict management strategy guides your team through troubled times and steers your organization to lasting success.
Rana Bano is a one-part B2B content writer and one-part content strategist. She writes for Omniscient Digital, as well as other top brands like Hotjar, Klientboost, CrazyEgg, and Scribe.
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