Celebrate Customer Service Week on a Budget

Customer Service Week, which occurs the first full week of October every year, is a fantastic way to reward front line customer service reps and to raise awareness throughout the rest of the company about the important role that customer service plays in the corporation's success.

Many of us have been fortunate enough to take part in past fabulous CS Week celebrations - lavish decorations, dinners, games, gifts, contests, award banquets, theme days, and all sorts of over the top reinforcement of the importance of our jobs.

We all recognize the importance of celebrating our successes in providing excellent service to our customers but how do we recognize employees in these difficult economic times when there may be no budget for these types of celebrations. With employees taking on more work to support their companies through this time it becomes even more important to thank them for their efforts.

Here is just a short list of low cost ideas that have been successful for other budget conscious customer service departments - but the possibilities are endless.

o Hype is free! Send emails - print posters - hand make banners - have senior executives make speeches. The more the better - create excitement.

o It's amazing what you can buy at a dollar store. Buy up a box full of silly items, useful items, coffee mugs, stuffed animals, candy - wrap each item and give them out as prizes. My first customer service department did this every year as a part of a contest. Each CSR was asked a company related question (some were silly like managers' middle names). Those who answered correctly won a prize. Every year this contest turned into a fun and rowdy challenge amongst teammates.

o CS departments love to eat. Have a pot luck and invite other managers and executives to participate. Conduct it in a meeting room where everyone can mingle and chat.

o Host an open house! Invite the rest of the company to come by CS and see what they do. Let them listen in to calls. Post photos and a biography of each CSR. Have some nibblies and drinks and create a power point presentation to play continuously that outlines facts about the department (calls per day, call per person... throw in fun things like the average age in the department or the most common birth sign in the department).

o Have a theme day! Declare it beach day and let people go crazy bringing decorations and appropriate clothing and games from home.

o Talk about stress relief. Have your HR department do a seminar on stress relief and work life balance. I've known companies that have found a local massage therapist that was willing to come in and do discounted chair massages as a way to drum up new business. Your employees will LOVE you.

o No money can buy what recognition and thanks can provide. Have your president or beloved senior manager write a personal heartfelt thank you message in a card or a certificate and give it out to each employee personally.

o Serve martinis! One company I know collected small amounts of money from managers and supervisors from their own pockets and bought the fixings for virgin cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. The managers dressed up in aprons and silly outfits and served the food and beverages to the CSR's at their desks.

o Small gifts can mean a lot. Buy everyone a dollar store mug and put it on their desk with a thank you note inside. Bigger spenders can also include a coffee gift card.

o Make a mess. A former workplace of mine raised donations of canned goods and supplies for a local food bank by offering employees the chance to throw a pie filled with whipped cream in the face of their manager. Five cans of food bought them one pie. Giving to those less fortunate makes everyone feel good.

o Be creative. A long, long time ago when I managed my first small customer service team I wrote a poem every Christmas in the form of T'was The Night Before Christmas including each CSR's name and something funny or notable about them. They looked forward to this every year and it remained on the bulletin board until the next holiday season. Try writing your own lyrics to a popular song. Be brave and have the managers sing it!

o Pass on praise. One by one have everyone in the team write one thing they like about someone on a piece of paper. This works best if everyone is in the room together and says what they like before writing it down. Better yet, have each person take turns standing in the front of the room while the rest each take turns saying what they like about them. Initially everyone will be embarrassed but some of the things they hear will remain with them a lifetime.