Words, Actions and Acknowledgements: The Tools of the Trade for Contact Center Agents
In the old Captain Marvel comic books, young hero Billy Batson was able to “summon awesome forces at the utterance of a single word.”
Few words have that kind of power – but the words your contact center agents use when speaking with customers certainly can have a powerful impact, for better or worse.
For this reason it’s never a bad idea to review the scripted statements used by your agents and look for ways that they might be improved. Also, in those situations where going off-script is necessary, agents must be constantly coached to use the right words to deal with volatile situations, and to communicate with customers in a way that expresses regret for their problem and encouragement that a solution is possible.
We’ve discussed empathy in previous blogs. For most of us it’s an easy emotion to conjure when we’ve actually done something we regret, or when a friend tells us about something that has gone wrong in their life. But since contact center agents were not directly responsible for the customer’s problem, an attempt to generate empathy from nothing may not be successful.
I Feel your Pain
Empathy is expressing feeling – does that come through in your script? “I understand how you feel, that must be very frustrating…” “Many of our customers felt better after trying…” etc.
One coaching method that has worked in the past is to ask agents about a time when they received poor service, or bought a product that didn’t work. Encourage them to remember how that experience made them feel, then channel those feelings into their responses.
The Name Game
It’s easier to establish a rapport between agent and customer when both are addressed by name. Using “sir” or “ma’am” is more formal and used to be a means to convey respect, but at this point there is no distinguishing the ‘sir’ you get at an executive board meeting from the ‘sir’ you get at the Burger King drive-thru window.
Better to opt for “Thank you, Mr. Walker, let me take care of that for you.” And the agent should also introduce him- or herself at the beginning of each call. “Thank you for calling ABC Industries, my name is Robert, how can I assist you today?”
The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.
–Jean Giraudoux ‘’
Sincerity is important – but it must be authentic. That involves not only the words used but also the tone of voice in which they are expressed. Customers are too smart now not to recognize over-scripted expressions of support delivered in a monotone voice for what it is – someone just doing their job:
“Thank you for calling ABC Industries. This is Jennifer – how can I brighten your day today?”
“How can I provide you with excellent service today?”
“How can I make you feel valued and be of help for you today?”
These lines were taken from actual contact center scripts. It takes the right type of agent to deliver them and make it work.
Next to empathy, reassurance may be the most important message an agent can communicate. It lets the caller know that they are on their way to having their issue resolved.
Reassurance + Empathy? That is the key to success:
“I am sorry to hear that this happened to you. I will be more than happy to assist you today and get this issue fixed.”
“I am sorry you had to deal with this inconvenience. Let’s get this taken care of.”
“I understand why this is upsetting – I would feel the same way. Here’s what we are going to do to get this resolved.”
Note the use of “Let’s (let us) and “we” – that puts the caller and the agent on the same side of the issue, rather than the agent coming across only as a representative of the company that disappointed the caller. It’s a subtle change but it does make a difference.
The Dreaded ‘Hold’ Button
Sometimes putting a call on hold is unavoidable. And if that caller has already had to wait once to speak with an agent, the request to put them back on hold may not be greeted enthusiastically.
When it must be done, some call centers use the “ACT” Method.
A – ask permission
C – create a timeline
T – thank the customer
Don’t tell them you’re going to put them on hold, ask them, “Do you mind waiting for a moment while I get that answer for you?” Very few will say ‘no’ because they want to get this over with as well.
Create a Timeline
Let them know how long you’ll be away. “This should only take a minute or two.”
Thank the Customer
When the agent picks up the call again, his or her first words should be “Thank you for holding. I appreciate your patience.”
Once the crisis is passed, do not close the call without two essential elements: first, a suggestion on what to do should the problem return – preferably one that will not force the caller to repeat the same process they just experienced. Then, close on a note of appreciation for their business: “Thank you for choosing ABC Industries,” etc.
Finding the Right Matches
While all of these tips can be helpful to any agent, a contact center increases the likelihood of their success by matching certain types of calls (or callers) with the agent best suited to handle them. A workforce optimization solution is essential for such call routing, particularly if it is equipped with a speech analytics solution capable of providing the data that will determine the optimal agent for each call.
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