How to set individual customer service goals

Providing great customer service depends on your business’ ability to translate high-level strategic objectives into achievable individual goals.

Today’s consumers have high expectations for the customer service they get from their favorite brands. Customers seek out businesses that understand and respond to their needs, which makes how to set individual customer service goals a crucial topic. 

It’s likely that you’re already familiar with the standard customer service outcomes that businesses focus on. Customer satisfaction survey ratings, online reviews and customer sentiment, net promoter scores and more all provide a general sense of how your customers are reacting to your brand.

Any business that understands the importance of a good customer experience will have targets they want to hit on those customer service metrics (or others like them). But high-level customer service goals alone don’t get the job done. Businesses are made up of people, and business objectives are missed or met at the level of the individuals who work towards them.

That’s why it’s important to break down those business-level goals into individual ones. It’s a process that can help you, as a leader, figure out what’s achievable for your customer service team and set a concrete roadmap to get you where you want to be.

Here’s how to set individual goals for your customer service agents that will benefit your whole company.

SMART goals: a framework for attainability.

SMART framework for individual goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound

There are numerous different models out there for goal-setting, but perhaps the most common is SMART. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound:

  • Specific: the goal is narrow in scope, and targets a particular behavior or metric.
  • Measurable: the goal has clear and concrete standards for what constitutes a miss, progress, or success.
  • Achievable: the goal is possible to accomplish in the current context and doesn’t depend on many factors outside your control.
  • Relevant: the goal supports broader strategic business objectives and doesn’t conflict with other company goals.
  • Time-bound: the goal has an end date or deadline when success or failure can be measured.

Breaking high-level goals down into a concrete roadmap isn’t easy. Using SMART goals can help you stay focused on the incremental successes that lead to big progress.

However, SMART is far from the only system available for goal-setting. The MIT Sloan Management Review recommends the FAST framework: Frequently discussed, Ambitious, Specific, and Transparent. What’s most important is keeping your goals unambiguous, measurable, and top of mind.

Work backwards from high-level customer service goals.

To develop the individual-level objectives that will get you to your strategic goals, start at the general level and work toward the specific.

As an example, your goal might be to improve your business’ customer satisfaction scores by 10%. CSAT improvement is a goal for many businesses, and is a sensible metric to focus on. But without actionable intermediate steps, you’ll have trouble getting from here to there.

Identify what your customers respond to.

Businesses develop their best strategies when they use customer insights to shape them. Goal-setting for customer service teams is no different. The first step to changing your CSAT scores is understanding which aspects of the customer service experience matter most to your customers.

Customer priorities depend on a variety of factors. They vary between industries, across customer segments, and between individual brands. But if you’ve taken the time to develop customer personas, conduct a customer needs assessment, and do other in-depth market research, you should already have a good idea of what will move the needle for your audience.

For some businesses, customers may respond most to speed. If your product is something customers use every day, like their cell phone, then they might value a quick first response time (FTR). Hearing back from a representative quickly validates a customer’s sense of urgency, and helps them feel like they’ll be back to their normal activities sooner.

But if the reliability of your product is its chief selling point, or if providing service is logistically difficult, customers may instead prefer making sure the issue is solved on the first try. If a customer’s car has broken down, and they’ve gone to the trouble to rent a replacement, they actually want to know that they won’t have to bring the car in again later.

If you’ve done your research, you already know what priorities your customers respond to the most. This information will provide the foundation for your next steps. In our example, let’s say our customers respond well to a low FTR.

Translate those values to individual actions.

If our example customers are happier when their concerns are acknowledged more quickly, then we need to examine the process and technology changes that will enable it.

Customer service workflows will differ based on the channel of the request. To find out which factors influence an agent’s time to respond, we should audit the process for each channel and pinpoint any limitations.

These could come in the form of busy peak hours, where requests overwhelm capacity, or shortages of agents with a particular expertise. Agents might also be more focused on solving a user’s issue during their first contact than with moving on to the next request.

Identifying the steps that influence our key metric of FTR allows us to set individual goals that will have the greatest impact on our customer service experience. The information we collect also gives us a starting point to build from.

Let’s say we discover that our agents are responding to emails in an average of 20 minutes. In response, we can set an explicit goal that 90% of customer service requests should receive a response in 10 minutes or fewer.

Set your team up to succeed at their goals.

We’ve identified concrete workflow elements that we can change to influence our customer service outcomes. Now, we need to ensure that we’re supporting our agents’ ability to make those changes.

In our example, it may help to retrain our customer service agents to focus on rapid initial responses, instead of complete resolutions. We may need to develop new scripts or response templates to reflect those new priorities and help agents move on to the next issue faster.

Alternatively, the limiting factor may be outside our individual agents’ control—like staffing. In that case, we can set a goal for management to hire X new representatives with a particular expertise. A deadline for hiring will ensure that our goal is time-bound.

Track individual metrics and assess regularly.

Three people discuss charts and graphs showing customer service metrics and goals.

By this point, it’s probably clear that data is crucial to setting and achieving individual goals. Gathering the right kinds of data, and getting it in real time, will depend on having the right tools for the job.

Most customer service platforms include the ability to track common key performance indicators (KPIs) like FTR, average handle and resolution time, abandonment rate, and more. Leveraging this data ensures that your SMART goals are Measurable. It also gives you the information you need to make them both Specific and Achievable.

But making data-driven decisions isn’t a one-time action. Set a schedule to regularly check customer service agents’ performance against their individual goals. That way, you can make sure your team’s goals are still aligned with your larger business objectives. And if you notice that progress has stalled, or that another metric is more useful for measuring it, you can adjust as needed.

Stretch goals for individual development.

Setting individual goals is a balancing act. The SMART framework highlights Actionability as a guiding principle: goals should be realistic and possible to accomplish. Otherwise, individuals have no motivation to pursue them.

But on the other hand, goals that stay firmly within your team’s comfort zone don’t create growth. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with your team’s current performance and how they respond to new goals, you can adjust future goals based on what’s realistic… and what’s truly ambitious.

Stretch goals acknowledge your agents’ potential and give them motivation to develop new and different skills. Pair them with more achievable goals to continue acknowledging strong performance, while also driving for more.

As above, though, it’s crucial to support your agents’ development if you make it part of their goals. Expecting individuals to learn new skills or train on new technologies doesn’t benefit anyone if they aren’t given the time and space to accomplish it.

Individual development and recognition for achievement are also both important factors in employee satisfaction. Happy customer service representatives bring a good mood and a willingness to help to their customer interactions.

In addition, less churn means longer-tenured employees with institutional knowledge. When they’re empowered to use their skills on the customer’s behalf, these employees can create a transformative experience for your consumers.

Set individual customer service goals that help your whole business.

A company’s response to service requests is a highly visible, and highly influential, aspect of overall customer satisfaction. Your business’s customer service team might be the most in-depth relationship a customer has with your business.

As a leader, you act as a translator between customer priorities, strategic business objectives, and customer service objectives. Setting the right kinds of goals for your customer service agents helps them to be the best representatives they can for your brand.

The best thing you can do for your service representatives is to make expectations clear. The SMART framework, or another goal-setting rubric, can provide useful guidelines for keeping your objectives concrete. If you’re able to set the right kinds of individual customer service goals, happy customers will follow.

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Megan Wells
Megan Wells
Megan is a content writer and strategist who loves to dig into the ways technology is changing consumers' relationships with brands.

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