Personal Connection: Your Most Valuable Call Center Tool


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.

Rate It to Make It

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.

Define It Accurately

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.

Loosen the Script

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.

Make Empathy a Cornerstone

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.

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