How to infuse contact center operations with empathy to improve interactions, customer satisfaction and CX
Empathy is critical in customer service, especially amidst COVID-19. Many customers are feeling frustrated, distracted and otherwise in need of some extra support. And new challenges—such as job loss affecting the ability to pay a bill or confusion about the technical demands of a child’s remote schooling—mean they’re contacting companies with a wide variety of pressing needs.
Companies that succeed now in delivering top-notch, responsive customer service will be remembered long after the current crisis fades. It’s a unique opportunity to instill customer loyalty by going above and beyond.
But how can you help agents build the necessary empathy, particularly right now when they, too, may be reeling from change? It’s no easy task, but there are ways to tap workforce engagement strategies to promote personal connection.
If empathy is a goal, it needs to appear in the quality assurance process. Call monitoring personnel need to know what they’re looking for, such as mirroring techniques, and accurately rate each contact based on how well the agent meets expectations.
That way, a company can track performance over time, determine the effectiveness of new initiatives and keep agents focused on empathy by making it part of their QA scores, one-on-one review sessions and so on.
This is an area where workforce engagement tools, and particularly quality management software, can come in handy. Flexible, integrated scorecards and robust analytics make it easier to determine where empathy may be failing. Perhaps the topic didn’t register with a new recruitment class or a particular manager isn’t modeling good skills.
Once such problems are identified, solutions can be targeted.
A critical foundation in agent training is defining empathy, which is about inhabiting another person’s point of view. It’s vital to distinguish that shift in perspective from sympathy, which also involves someone else’s emotions, but from the outside.
This distinction can help agents determine why some efforts to be “sensitive” go wrong. For example, a naturally emotive person may express sympathy with a customer’s distress, only to be rudely rebuffed. The empathetic response, on the other hand, might be to relieve that distress by calmly presenting a solution, such as a refund.
With the right definition of empathy, agents will come to realize the importance of probing—asking good questions to help reveal the customer’s perspective and needs, as well as actively listening to the answers. Fortunately, these are two skills that can be trained in any number of ways.
Role-playing exercises, for example, can allow agents to “try on” a customer’s point of view and interact with a manager playing an empathetic, or a not-so-empathetic, customer service rep.
Analyzing recorded calls is a great way to have agents share their thoughts on the customer’s underlying feelings driving their statements and demands.
Even fun assignments, like watching a popular show and trying to empathize with a least favorite character, can open up interesting conversations about how conflicts might have been resolved.
Sometimes the problem isn’t agents’ skill—it’s the restrictions they face. The most empathetic agent cannot do much to improve customer experience if they’re only permitted to read off a script.
Once agents are well trained in listening and questioning, empowering them to express themselves naturally will typically result in better interactions. A flexible greeting, for instance, can set the right tone.
And there are even ways to handle unavoidably scripted language. Agents might say, “I’m going to run through this required legalese, but let me know if you have questions.” With this tactic, a robotic delivery is explained and customers are invited to rejoin a real conversation once the necessary disclosures are through.
The best way to build empathy is to commit to it enterprise-wide. If an understanding of others is imbued in the organization’s culture, agents will see empathy on display in their managers, trainers and others they interact with. Plus, they’ll be practicing empathy with colleagues and getting better at it as well.
This approach is essential right now. If contact centers want agents to be understanding of customers dealing with COVID-19, the same courtesy needs to be extended to them.
This doesn’t mean lowering standards or allowing any excuse to fly, but call center leaders may benefit from taking on an agent’s point of view. Does the workforce seem out of touch after a recent switch to work from home? Is a particular manager not explaining an updated process clearly, leaving the team feeling tentative? Is a usually top-performing individual experiencing a drop in confidence?
What you see through an agent’s eyes might surprise you. If you can then draw on empathy to help resolve the issues through workforce engagement strategies, the contact center will be well on its way to better internal morale and improved customer satisfaction.
Need more information about how workforce engagement transforms customer experience? Join our upcoming webinar "3 Fundamental Cloud Tools to Maximize Customer Interactions" on Tuesday, September 15th at 1:00 pm ET.
Thank you to everyone who made Verint Virtual such a success—and so much fun!
While the event may be over, all content is now available on-demand until May 21, 2021. That’s right! Whether you were able to join us for the event last week or had to miss it, the free, on-demand content is still at your fingertips for a full year.
You can learn how Verint customers are succeeding in these rapidly changing and unpredictable times—and find some new ways to adapt. You can explore new ways to help maximize workforce productivity, empower your workforce, listen to customers and employees, move to the cloud and prepare for recovery leveraging your customer engagement solutions.
Take advantage of this content and take away some tips and innovations from your peers and Verint experts that you can apply immediately in your organization’s contact center, customer experience, back-office and compliance areas.
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How probing questions can shape workforce engagement and where technology fits in
“Know thyself” is a Greek aphorism, which turns up throughout literary history from Plato to Emerson to self-help blogs. It’s also great advice for call center leaders seeking to enhance employee engagement.
Early on, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) often have a leg up in this regard, enjoying a tight-knit community of hand-selected, committed individuals. But as contact centers grow, it can be difficult to bring new people into the fold and, over time, a once cohesive, highly engaged group can fall prey to the “blahs.”
That’s why it’s important to keep probing the contact center’s identity—what makes it special and why should employees care? Who are we today and who do we want to become?
We’ve talked before about the importance of a shared mission, the authentic purpose behind the call center, but knowing thyself is also critical.
It’s rather common for contact center leaders to hoist the “employee engagement project” on a manager or group of supervisors. And those tasked with delivering better survey results will usually turn to the internet in search of tips and tricks.
This research can get the ideas flowing but rapidly adopting #5 from some call center management post may not achieve much. After all, how do you know whether to use gamification tools or overhaul the hiring process if you haven’t first identified your barriers to workforce buy-in?
Unfortunately for all of us who love quick fixes (and why not, when they work?!), employee engagement is exceedingly resistant to “hacks.” And technology itself isn’t innovation.
It would be wonderful if purchasing a curated selection of products translated into greater workforce engagement, because then we could just budget for it! But it’s rarely so easy. Sometimes, a volunteer activity might do more to bring employees together than a slick new messaging system on their workstations.
High-tech and high-touch together are typically what it takes to get the innovative employee engagement.
Remember working with a ruler and scissors in elementary school and being given the pearl of wisdom to “measure twice, cut once”? Not bad advice for the contact center.
Measuring employee engagement is the necessary starting place, and it should happen long before considering how to “cut and paste” other call centers’ techniques into your operations. A comprehensive examination of workforce engagement can help target initiatives and provide benchmarks against which to judge progress.
Here’s where technology can be an immediate asset. Some technology solutions can enable an entire workforce to share perceptions and feedback via their preferred communications channels. And it’s so easy to implement, contact center leaders can check in more than once per year!
Moreover, reporting features built into high-quality workforce management software can drive insights into the variables affecting employee performance. Contact center leaders might, for instance, identify a top-performing team whose manager stumbled onto an innovative employee engagement approach that should be shared company-wide.
When working to know thyself better, it’s vital to ensure decision-makers are really listening, too. Asking for input and ignoring it can destroy any existing engagement. So be open to the opinions offered, even if it means abandoning some entrenched ideas or promoting difficult change.
Employee engagement demands a customized approach, measured to fit and cut to suit. For instance, some call center environments lack camaraderie. The fun activities typically recommended for workforce engagement can pay immediate dividends there, adding rewarding personal interactions into the average workweek.
Other teams are collegial but not particularly driven and unfortunately, creative event planning won’t solve that problem. Instead, contact center leaders will have to figure out how best to promote a sense of forward movement with career pathing, competitions and other approaches.
Applying the right solutions begins with asking the right questions. Do employees need a stronger voice? Then exciting digital tools to gauge attitude and energy level at varying intervals could make a difference. Would they like more skills-building? Then a training solution that empowers them to learn—and get paid—while providing continual feedback could be transformative.
Innovative employee engagement initiatives are created for an organization based on extensive self-examination. Designing a strategy is a complicated undertaking, but we’ve broken down the most important elements in our whitepaper, The Complete Contact Center Guide to Employee Engagement for SMBs.
Download it now for a walk-through of workforce engagement concepts, from beginning the data collection process to developing a feedback loop to evolve over time. Along the way, you’ll get to know your organization a little better so you can implement the right combination of tactics to drive engagement to new heights.
In the race to build a highly engaged workforce to deliver exceptional customer experiences, contact center leaders are asking some deep questions. That’s because employee engagement isn’t just that age-old survey topic: employee satisfaction.
Turns out, being okay with the cafeteria menu, while tangentially linked to overall engagement, is not equivalent to being emotionally committed to a job. And it’s the latter that truly drives excellence.
Employee engagement taps into a sense of purpose—and that’s why executives and managers are probing their organizations’ underlying missions. And no, we’re not talking about those once-popular mission statements, which all read alike.
For some campaigns, defining the mission is easy. When employees are doing charitable fundraising, for example, agents naturally grasp the importance.
Most of the time, however, contact center employees are tasked with selling consumer products, booking vacation stays or handling customer complaints. In these situations, agents may not immediately see how their contributions matter within the bigger picture of their own lives, beliefs and interests.
This disconnect is where employee engagement often stutters, and it may be why only one-third of U.S. workers reported being engaged with jobs in a recent study. Although it’s not possible to artificially engineer meaning, a meaningful call center mission isn’t as elusive as it may sound.
A shared call center mission is really about motivation. Managers might begin by asking themselves why they show up each day. Sure, there’s the paycheck. But what drew you to overseeing customer contacts rather than working in retail, accounting or any other specialty?
The picture will be similar for agents. A good hourly rate is nice, but alone it’s not enough to generate engagement. The “extra something” employees see in the job is what elicits loyalty and involvement.
Still stumped? How many times has a prospective agent said they’re interested in the position because they’re a “people person”? Start there. Many individuals entering this industry value communication and are looking to help others—and that’s what most contact center jobs are about!
How can the contact center tap into that helping instinct? Here are some ideas.
Beginning as early as the interview process, reference the customer. What is the purpose of the company’s products or services? Why do customers buy in the first place?
Managers can help paint a picture to evoke employees’ empathy. Something as simple as a collection of markers might be a customer’s ticket to self-expression. A mobile phone plan might be the tool that ensures the photos they capture of their children are safely stored in the cloud.
Seen through this lens, answering a customer’s questions or even resolving a complaint takes on larger meaning.
Employees have a vast trove of experience. Have them think about when a positive customer experience stood out.
For example, an employee may remember buying a faulty product and being concerned about losing their money, only to have a customer service representative handle the return with no fuss. Another might recall an agent making them laugh, adding a nice touch to their day.
These can be their models. Why not try to deliver the same positive impact?
The focus on others needn’t be solely external. Agents’ colleagues count, too. When employees feel like “we’re all in this together,” the sense of belonging can boost engagement. From traditional team-building activities to breaks scheduled strategically to give employees downtime for interaction, there are many ways call center leaders can help create a sense of community.
No matter how empathetic an employee, a difficult call or a gray Wednesday can sap enthusiasm. Coaching can help counter the effects.
There is inspiration everywhere. For instance, career coaches will sometimes use the analogy of stage plays to help inspire workers. Actors say the same lines, sing the same songs and follow the same choreography night after night during a play’s run. The actors have to find a way for the audience to experience each line, song and dance as though it’s the first time the play has ever been performed. Because for the audience, it is the first time they’re seeing the show even if the actors are on their two hundred and twelfth performance. Agents can be encouraged to make each contact fresh for their audience.
The foundation of employee engagement is a shared mission, the purpose of the call center that will bring employees together. But there are numerous other elements.
Fortunately, we’ve delved deeply into this topic in our white paper The Complete Contact Center Guide to Employee Engagement for SMBs. From the basics to the environment to skills progression and beyond, we’ve got you covered. So grab your copy here.
If you are ready to improve the customer experience and efficiency of the operations in your contact center, the smartest place to begin making improvements is with those who are performing the work– your call center agents. With proper training, easy access to relevant resources, and a full picture of the customer’s history, your agents will be empowered to provide your customers with a positive experience.
When considering employee performance, it is important to train your employees in both hard skills and soft skills. Your employees need to know more than how to use the computer, what products or services you provide, and general company policy. They also need to know how to think with a problem-solving mindset and how to show empathy to the customer. Your employees need more than tutorial videos and how-to guides. While those are valuable, they need to be able to have discussions with colleagues who can share real experiences and insight. And they need regularly scheduled training beyond what they receive upon being hired.
Yes, training new call center agents is overwhelming. Finding time for continued education and providing training in broader skill sets probably feels impossible. What you should do is create an atmosphere where your agents can learn from each other. There are two ways you can implement this initiative:
If you want to improve the accuracy and pace at which your call center agents can resolve customer issues, it is imperative that you provide them with a knowledge hub. This hub should be filled with:
Slim down scripts to key bullet points rather than lengthy monologues. You want your call center agents to feel confident by having the right answers in front of them, but you also want them to feel empowered and comfortable in their conversation with the customer. Customers want to speak to a human, not a robot reciting lines.
It is important to log answers to common problems to save time by avoiding unnecessary and repetitive problem-solving. Something you want to remember when organizing these FAQs is to make the answers as short and direct as possible. Information that is organized into easily digestible snippets will make it easier for your call center agents to answer customer questions quickly.
If you want to take it up a notch, consider making these same FAQs available to the public so customers have the potential to solve their problems before they even pick up the phone.
There are many types of documents you can include in your knowledge hub that are specific to your industry. While this requires your expertise in the industry itself, you might consider the following as you begin to fill the hub:
Most importantly, the information within this knowledge hub should be organized in a way that is intuitive and easily searchable. The goal here is to enable the first call center agent that the customer comes in contact with to have quick access to the resources they need to solve the issue. This prevents unnecessary hold time or a need to be transferred to a new agent.
One of the greatest resources you can give your agents is a thorough record of a customer’s past conversations. The greatest thing your agents can do for each other is take notes that will prove useful in the customer’s record. When a customer calls your contact center, your agents should give them ample opportunity to explain their issue while the agent listens closely and takes notes.
Thorough record-keeping can be easily managed through a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. This allows all points of contact the customer has with your call center to build upon each other rather than start from scratch. This includes emails, chats, calls, and past product or service purchases. By giving your agents access to such a database, the likelihood of your customers having to repeat themselves will decrease, and your customer satisfaction scores will rise.
Properly training and providing your agents with adequate resources is an investment worth your time and money. Employee performance is incredibly important. In fact, your employees are one of the three key pillars of your call center that need to remain in equilibrium if you want to see maximum success. You can choose to continue to struggle with your workforce management systems, or you can choose to implement appropriate technology solutions that will improve employee performance, increase your bottom line, and decrease turnover in your call center.
If you need help finding the right place to start, download our whitepaper discussing the five most important metrics you should be tracking in your call center. These metrics will help you identify where your contact center is falling short so you can prioritize your operational improvements and move your contact center towards maximum success.
If improving agent productivity is one of your goals this year, the most important step you can take toward its achievement is the addition of a workforce optimization (WFO) solution. WFO provides insight into customer interactions and service levels, delivering the data necessary to make important decisions about optimal management of personnel.
However, as with any other solution, it works best if you use it correctly.
Workforce Optimization is great. Unified workforce optimization is even better.
What’s the difference? In a word: togetherness. When everyone at the contact center works together, customer service improves. But in some businesses you may have one team focused on scheduling and staffing, another team dedicated to call recording and quality management. But there should also be an effort to analyze how both of these groups are functioning, and establish goals that may require changes in procedures from each of them.
However, as much as we may want these team members to cooperate, at too many call centers they are forced to make isolated decisions and act independently because they do not have access to information outside of their area or function. They need immediate access to information traditionally found in other areas and they need information automatically passed to them to eliminate slow, error-ridden manual processes.
A unified WFO solution delivers business integrations that let your contact center make faster, more informed decisions with a new level of visibility into workforce performance, customer service processes and customer intelligence across the enterprise. You can quickly get to the right information to drive a new level of performance improvement.
In our workforce management software demo videos, you’ll find out how a unified workforce optimization framework brings diverse functions together with features like a single graphical user interface and central administration.