From Cost Center to Revenue Generator: A Customer Support Leader’s Guide

Customer service support leaders understand the perennial challenge of proving the value of the department beyond just resolving complaints and handling inquiries. Customer service professionals often find themselves viewed as a necessary expense rather than a strategic asset. But what if we told you that customer service could be transformed from a cost center into a revenue generator? Let’s explore how we can shift this perception and unlock the true potential of our team.

Begin with the End in Mind

As Stephen Covey famously said, "Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important. Start with the end in mind." It's essential to envision where you want your customer service department to be by the end of 2024 and strategize accordingly. Anticipate potential challenges such as customer attrition and agent turnover, and proactively address them to stay ahead of the game.

Customer Retention: The Key to Sustainable Growth

One of the most significant impacts customer service has on the bottom line is through customer retention. It's widely known that acquiring a new customer can cost up to 5-25 times more than retaining an existing one. Our customer service teams serve as the face of the brand, making every interaction an opportunity to nurture relationships and encourage repeat purchases.

To transform from a cost center to a revenue generator, you must focus on the psychology behind customer care. Do your customers feel valued and important? Are you exceeding their expectations at every touchpoint? Do you have an effective way to measure this?

Here are some key action items to help you improve and prove your team’s impact on retention: 

  • Measure the customer experience. Using accurate metrics like initial response time and CSAT/NPS scores, you can put a concrete value on customer satisfaction. Present these metrics (alongside retention/attrition rate improvements) to quantify the work your team is producing in a way that might have a more meaningful impact to your revenue team.
  • Encourage feedback. Whether it’s survey results or public-facing reviews, ask customers to share insights about their service experience. Bonus points if they can mention customer service agents or teams by name!
  • Add a personal touch. You have the power to create a customer service experience that feels personal, customized, and seamless. How? By ensuring your agents have access to crucial customer information that might help inform their service decisions. A staggering statistic from the Salesforce State of Service: 33% of agents often lack context about customer situations when they begin to work to resolve the customer’s issue. An agent should know a customer’s situation before diving into a new case: what products they’re using, any issues they’ve encountered in the past and how they were resolved, etc.
  • Give your customers options. Forcing customers to use the channel you prefer to submit service requests creates friction in the customer experience. However, if you are able to process their request in a timely manner on whichever submission channel they prefer, you’ll reduce frustration and foster warm and fuzzy feelings towards your brand. Automation can help with this, if your team is slim.
  • Get your customer service team aligned with your customer success and sales teams. Your customer service agents are likely having more interactions with customers than anyone else within your organization, which means they have a deeper understanding of customer needs. Consider this scenario: off the cuff, a customer of Product X is complaining to your customer service rep about an issue they’re having. The customer may not be aware, but your rep knows that Product Y solves this issue. Your rep then takes this information to your sales team, which leads to an upsell. Hallelujah — revenue has now been generated that has a direct correlation to the relationships fostered by your team.

By prioritizing customer satisfaction and loyalty, you can significantly impact renewal rates and long-term revenue.

Agent Retention: The Foundation of Success

Agent turnover can be just as detrimental to the bottom line as customer churn, and service professionals reported an average turnover rate of 19% in 2022. High attrition rates not only disrupt operations but also incur hidden costs associated with hiring and training new agents. It's imperative to invest in your support team by arming them with the tools they need to thrive in their day-to-day, fostering a positive work environment, and aligning key performance indicators (KPIs) with employee satisfaction.

Here are some tips to start improving your support agent turnover:

  • Automate low value tasks. Dive into your service process by shadowing an agent to see firsthand how a case is handled from start to finish. Where are the bottlenecks? What low value tasks are dragging down your response times and frustrating your agents? Common culprits of this: dealing with duplicate cases, using multiple screens and clicks to simply respond to a customer, sorting through lists of case files looking for what they need, etc.
  • Measure performance using accurate and fair KPIs. A colleague recently told me of a corporation whose call center agents were being measured only on case handle time. To try and trick the system, agents who were struggling with higher case handle times were answering support calls and immediately hanging up on customers. This would record a “case handle time” of under 1 second, which would bring down their overall average. This illustrates the importance of relying only on accurate and fair metrics when measuring agents. Additionally, if one of your most knowledgeable agents is consistently given the most complex cases, their average case handle time will not be an accurate reflection of the quality of work they do. 78% of service agents say it’s difficult to balance speed and quality — and the amount who place a higher value on speed has more than doubled since the onset of the pandemic. So, how should you measure your agents? We recommend initial response time and adherence to SLAs as the two best metrics to focus on.
  • Keep an eye on caseloads. We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: stop overloading your top performers. It’s how you lose them! You need a clear way to view the full workload of your team, and don’t be afraid to rebalance work when and where it’s needed. Happier support agents create happier customer experiences. Stressed out and overworked agents will either leave, or project their frustrations directly onto your customers.
  • Don’t wait for the exit interview to get employee feedback. Too often, support leaders are receiving feedback from their agents while sitting in the exit interview. This is too little, too late. Check in with your agents often about workload, process inefficiencies, team dynamics, and overall mental health. 

Retaining experienced agents is crucial for maintaining service quality. New hires may lack the knowledge and expertise of seasoned team members, potentially compromising the customer experience. By implementing strategies to support and retain our top performers, you can ensure consistency and excellence in customer service delivery.

Budget Retention: Saving Service Costs Without Compromising Quality

While reducing service costs is essential, it should not come at the expense of quality. There’s no better time than now to identify inefficiencies and optimize processes in a way that doesn’t sacrifice customer satisfaction. By streamlining workflows and maximizing agent productivity, you can achieve cost savings while maintaining service excellence. And, cost savings paired with higher customer and agent retention, means you’re closer to being perceived more as a revenue generator than a cost center.

By focusing on delivering exceptional experiences, optimizing operational efficiency, and aligning with overarching business goals, we can elevate the role of customer service within the organization and drive sustainable growth.

As leaders in the customer service space, let's remember that every interaction is an opportunity to make a lasting impression and turn satisfied customers into loyal advocates. Together, we can redefine the value of customer service and unlock its full potential as a driver of revenue and success.


How can customer service departments effectively measure and quantify the impact of personalized customer interactions on revenue generation beyond traditional metrics like CSAT/NPS scores?

Customer service departments often struggle to measure the direct impact of personalized interactions on revenue generation. While metrics like CSAT/NPS scores offer insights into customer satisfaction, they may not fully capture the monetary value of each interaction. To effectively measure this impact, organizations could explore more sophisticated analytics that track customer behavior post-interaction, such as repeat purchases, upsells, or referrals directly attributed to positive service experiences. Additionally, implementing customer relationship management (CRM) systems that integrate with sales data can provide a more comprehensive view of the revenue generated from each customer interaction.

What specific strategies can be implemented to reduce agent turnover beyond providing tools and fostering a positive work environment, especially considering the challenges associated with maintaining a balanced workload?

Beyond providing tools and fostering a positive work environment, organizations can implement specific strategies to reduce agent turnover. For example, they could conduct regular workload assessments to ensure agents are not overwhelmed with tasks, redistributing work as needed to prevent burnout. Moreover, fair and accurate performance metrics, such as initial response time and adherence to SLAs, can help alleviate the pressure on agents to prioritize speed over quality. Additionally, maintaining open lines of communication with agents through regular check-ins allows leaders to address any concerns or challenges before they escalate, fostering a supportive work environment conducive to retention.

In what ways can organizations streamline workflows and optimize processes to achieve cost savings in customer service without compromising quality, and how do these strategies align with broader business goals?

Organizations can achieve cost savings in customer service without compromising quality by streamlining workflows and optimizing processes. This involves identifying and eliminating inefficiencies in service delivery, such as automating low-value tasks and reducing unnecessary steps in case handling processes. By investing in technology solutions that improve agent productivity, such as AI-powered chatbots or unified communication platforms, organizations can achieve operational efficiencies while maintaining service excellence. These cost-saving measures should align with broader business goals, such as enhancing customer experience and driving long-term growth, to ensure sustainability and success.

February 21, 2024