How to motivate your 'older/wiser' customer service staff


I remember my first team leader role. I was working in one of the Big 4 Banks and had accepted a promotion that required me to move not only to a new branch, but to a new town.

My new role was titled Customer Service Supervisor and I had a team of six frontline staff.   

On day one I discovered that four of my team were older than me and had a minimum of 15 years of experience each. I had a total of 6 years experience, but none at that branch. Every person in my team was wiser in relation to the customer base, the town and the day to day running of the branch and most of them were also older.

I was intimidated from day one and I clearly remember our first team meeting.

I had no clue how to manage a meeting let alone people so I waffled on about targets and goals and said many times that I was there to help. They listened quietly, but I'm sure I saw an eye roll or two and the sound of crickets was deafening. It was a bland meeting and knowing no better, I ran the same type of meeting every week until after 6 weeks, I had to address areas that needed to improve.

I felt ill. How on earth was young and inexperienced me going to inspire this 'older and wiser' team? How was I going to get them to change their well entrenched ways so we could do more, do better?

I hear from many managers today that they too feel the pressure/anxiety of managing staff who are 'older and/or wiser'. Older may be true, you can't argue with a date of birth but wiser is not always the case and regardless of years of service, every employee - particularly those in a people centered role, require guidance and support to remain at the top of their game.

Clearly in those early days I had no idea what I was doing. I was trying to wear 3 hats; manager. leader and trainer and none of them were motivating my team.

The only thing that saved me was curiosity and a deep desire to succeed.

I benched those 3 hats and put on the one that made the biggest difference to me and my team - the learner hat.

  • I watched my team in action - In the background not over their shoulders.

  • I asked what they liked and didn't like about their roles - No judgement, just questions.

  • I found a mentor - a 'been there done that' person who was happy to share his experiences.

  • I read loads of management/leadership books - It was 1994 so no Google or TED Talks to go to

  • I attended Professional Development sessions - MANY, both internal an external

  • I asked my team what motivated and de-motivated them - Simple but VERY effective.

Everything above gave me the knowledge and skills to confidently motivate my team - no matter their age or experience. 

I was accepted and respected when I acted like a learner.

Motivation increased when I became deeply and genuinely curious about the day to day experiences of my frontline team. Motivation also increased when they saw me willing to learn more, confirming that I didn't know it all and that I too was challenging myself to do things differently and aim higher. 

Older and/or wiser employees were no longer intimidating.

Today I am a dedicated, experienced (and older) frontline trainer, who specialises in customer service skill development. Today you have me to help you, help your team refresh their service skills and motivate them to go from good to great.

Contact Lightbulb Training Solutions for more information.

By Cate Schreck  - Author of "The A-Z of Service Excellence"