8 Methods for Dealing With Underperforming Employees

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Clint Fontanella
Clint Fontanella



Customer service roles can be daunting. Not because of the customers, but because of the repetition. Solving the same problems, speaking with the same people, and having the same conversations wears down motivation over time. In fact, studies show that turnover rates in American call centers are 30% higher than any other industry.


Some customer service teams have come to accept that fate. They've adopted tools like chatbots and help desk software to compensate for their understaffed teams. While these options do expand your bandwidth, you'll still need employees to execute customer service functions. After all, if people don't have a way to contact a human rep, a third of your customer base is at risk of churn.

This makes your agents extremely valuable to your customer service team. However, if reps are overworked and unmotivated, it's likely they're underperforming in their role. And, if your turnover rate is high, each new departure adds more pressure on your remaining agents to pick up the pace.

The best way to avoid this is to intercept employees before they hit their breaking point. Employees who are underperforming may just need an extra kick from management to get back on track.

In this post, we'll discuss how managers can motivate underperforming employees and reduce the turnover rate for their customer service team.

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How to Motivate an Underperforming Employee

We spoke to one of our own customer support managers, Larry Rodman, to see what he would do when dealing with an underperforming employee. Below are some of the methods he explained during our interview.

1. Discuss their work-life balance.

Employees who consistently meet metrics don't suddenly forget how to do their jobs. Even if they're unhappy in their role, there's no benefit for an agent to intentionally underperform. The poorer the service, the more frustrated the customer gets. Rather than having a quick, painless call, they'll have to spend time diffusing an angry customer.

With this in mind, Larry focuses his conversations around external influences. He gives them the option to talk about their personal lives and see if there's anything outside of work that could be affecting performance. If so, then they can take the appropriate measures to work around the employee's personal issues.

2. Provide the customer's perception of their performance.

Sometimes agents don't understand how their work affects the customer experience. When you task employees with different daily metrics, agents may prioritize some benchmarks over others. They may not think it's a big deal, but meeting every metric is crucial to providing a consistent customer experience.

In these instances, you can motivate employees by explaining metrics from the customer's perception. For example, Larry will walk through the situation as if he were the customer. This helps him highlight specific points where daily metrics play a key role in the customer's experience. That way, agents know exactly why you've chosen these criteria to evaluate.

3. Use personal anecdotes.

When reps are lacking inspiration, a good story can often kickstart their workflow. Larry endorses this practice as he believes it helps reps understand their value to the company. By relating their actions to another service experience, you can isolate similar characteristics that lead to a negative outcome. Through these comparisons, reps will have a better understanding of what they need to change in order to improve their performance.

4. Tell a story using their daily metrics.

One of the most useful tools a service desk can provide is reporting analytics. By analyzing your rep's daily metrics, you can see exactly where they're underperforming. Then, you can supply tips on enhancing performance in this portion of their job.

When reviewing a rep's performance, Larry recommends telling a storying with their daily metrics. Metrics are often connected to each other and when reps fail to meet one, it's often related to their performance with another. By looking at the numbers collectively, you'll obtain a more complete picture of the agent's workflow which makes it easier to find areas to tweak their behavior and improve the customer experience.

5. Set time-based goals.

If an agent is really struggling to meet their metrics, then it may make sense to implement a time-based goal. Give the rep a benchmark to achieve within a given period, then consistently check back in to monitor their progress.

One tip that Larry recommends is narrowing the goal down to one or two key metrics. That way, the rep can focus on one task and have a better chance of completing it. If you overload them with goals, the rep will get overwhelmed and there won't be any improvement.

6. Shadow successful reps.

Another method that Larry employs with his team is shadowing sessions. Shadowing is when a rep follows a successful coworker for a day and observes their workflow. The shadow takes notes on how the rep completes their tasks and looks for ways to apply those strategies to their own performance. By seeing how someone else meets their metrics, underperforming employees can mirror their tactics as well as their success.

7. Highlight their role on the team.

Your most experienced reps should be assets to your customer service team. However, if these reps are unmotivated or underperforming, they can affect the morale of your entire department. Newer reps are influenced by their performance and if they're not trying their best, other agents will quickly follow. This makes it important to remind your reps about the value they bring to your team and business.

For example, Larry likes to remind his experienced reps that they're role models to the rest of the team. If they underperform, new hires will feel like they don't need to meet their metrics either. This makes reps feel like they play an important role in your business even if they've been in the same role for many years.

8. Loop in Human Resources.

If you can leverage it, sometimes it helps to loop in a Human Resources rep. Having a fresh set of eyes on the situation can be particularly helpful, especially when a rep is continuously underperforming. These employees will help you create short- and long-term plans that improve the rep's daily performance. At HubSpot, each department has its own designated rep dedicated to addressing cases like these.

For more tips on overseeing a customer service team, read this guide to customer service and support management.

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