Although the core concept is decades old, autonomous teams have become considerably more popular among large businesses in recent years. Whilst they can potentially create a much better customer experience — since autonomy can allow employees to work more effectively and help them resolve problems faster — this team structure also has its disadvantages.

In this article, we’ll provide a thorough definition of autonomous teams (which you might also know as self-managed teams, pods, or bubbles). We’ll also explain the advantages and disadvantages of autonomous teams, because understanding these points is crucial if a company wants to transform their team structure. Read on to learn more.

What are autonomous teams?

Autonomous teams are a group of employees who self-organise to accomplish tasks. These teams are given complete autonomy or independence over the work they do in the organisation, including the decision-making regarding projects the team works on and the processes they adhere to during work. They also have the freedom to assign their members different tasks or positions of authority within the team.

Within a customer service scenario, an autonomous team supports customers through their entire journey with the company. The team deals with onboarding, general assistance, complaints, and any other interactions that might occur between the customer and company.

How autonomous teams can improve the customer experience

1. More consistent care

Having a single team to take care of the entire customer journey means the customers are provided with a standardised level of service during every interaction, regardless of the customer’s motivations for getting in touch.

Consistent care also ensures team members will be more familiar with individual customers’ enquiries and will have more knowledge than a traditional customer service team might. For instance, an autonomous team that’s dealt with a customer consistently since their onboarding will have:

  • A better understanding of the customer’s needs
  • A better understanding of previous interactions with the customer
  • More opportunities to reinforce brand identity and values

The whole team being aware of each ticket that comes in removes the burden of explaining themselves multiple times to the customer. The team is familiar with each customer and more in tune with their needs, allowing for a stronger relationship between the customer and employee and therefore improving the customer experience. 

2. Increased engagement

In an autonomous or self-managed team, employees are able to create roles and workflows to suit the specific needs of the situation, rather than adhere to a rigid process. This freedom, along with the fact that autonomous teams are entirely responsible for the quality of their own work, can significantly increase employee engagement and motivation.
In a customer service environment, engaged employees can provide a significantly better customer experience as they’ll truly care about solving a customer’s issue. Having genuinely interested customer service agents helps significantly when dealing with sensitive situations or vulnerable customers.

3. Increased productivity

Autonomous workers are proven to be 5% more productive on average than those working within a rigid hierarchy. In large organisations, even this small increase can be a substantial benefit.

Autonomous teams are a great way to increase productivity without having to rely on digital solutions. Although digital solutions certainly have a place in customer service, there are situations where human interaction is a better option.

In a customer service scenario, increased productivity means that employees are able to deal with customers’ problems more quickly and efficiently, reducing call times and improving the customer experience.

How autonomous teams may harm the customer experience

1. Conformity

The idea of management being the responsibility of the group rather than a single leader is designed to encourage creativity, but it can actually have the opposite effect. 

Unfortunately, people’s innate desire to conform to a group can lead to irrational decision-making. Suppose a team member dislikes a specific process or task — and convinces other individuals within the group to agree with them — it may lead to the process or task becoming unpopular regardless of its importance. 

If enough people share the same opinion, eventually the entire group will avoid completing the task due to its unpopularity. Manager oversight exists to prevent such issues.

Conformity becomes an issue in customer service when a call is escalated or transferred. If the customer is transferred to different members of the autonomous team, but repeatedly given the same advice, they will likely become frustrated. 

Similarly, if the advisors repeatedly avoid performing a vital task for the customer that’s become unpopular, it will harm the customer experience and prevent problems from being resolved.

2. Lack of oversight

Manager oversight is important if a team is to achieve goals like monthly sales targets or call handling times. A manager’s responsibility is to intervene if there’s a problem preventing success.

In an autonomous team without a manager, reaching goals is a shared responsibility, but it means there is no single individual ensuring that every advisor is following procedure and doing their best. Everyone has to complete the tasks of an average employee as well as the additional management duties.

In customer service, a lack of oversight could potentially lead to a poor standard of care. A manager in a traditional team would have the level of experience necessary for oversight and strategic thinking, but autonomous teams lack this kind of authority figure. As a result, an autonomous team may provide inconsistent or low-quality assistance to customers, resulting in a poor customer experience.

3. Difficulty in escalating customers’ issues

A customer service team needs an authority figure available so that the team can escalate difficult issues. Although customers dislike having to explain themselves to multiple representatives — one third say it’s the most frustrating aspect of customer service — they generally feel more confident that their problem will be resolved if they can speak to a manager.

In an autonomous team, there may not be an individual with the authority and clearance to make the same decisions that a traditional manager would. As a result, advisors may not be able to provide a suitable resolution to a customer’s problem, harming their experience.

Deliver better customer experiences with Sigma Connected

Sigma Connected is at the forefront of customer service, and can adapt our operations model to suit the needs of our clients and their customers.  

Autonomous teams are just one option amongst many: Sigma can provide teams of various different structures depending on your specific needs. We can provide access to highly-trained customer service staff in a fraction of the time hiring a similar team might require.