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4 Ways To Empower Agents To Connect With Customers

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Brian Cantor

The following is an excerpt from CCW Digital’s Special Report on the Future of CX Employees.  Issued every other week, CCW Digital’s special reports provide an in-depth look at very specific, timely customer contact topics.  Each report includes insights from leading executives, exclusive CCW Digital research data, detailed analysis and a series of action steps or best practices.

An organization cannot deliver a great experience if its agents cannot meaningfully connect with customers.

Agents cannot meaningfully connect with customers, however, if the organization does not empower them to perform.

Without proper support from the organization, even the most intelligent, personable, empathetic agents will be powerless to connect with customers.

Indeed, the quest for a better customer experience is not merely an order for agents to “get better” at their jobs.

It is a call for the organization to systemically make them better.

Recruit for the new normal: Agents mean more to the customer experience than ever, which means businesses must value recruiting to a greater degree than ever.

When searching for new talent, organizations must prioritize the “human” factors.  They should not be looking for reasonably intelligent bodies to fill seats; they should be looking for personable, empathetic, savvy individuals capable of making real connections.

To the extent that they will focus on “hard skills,” they must recruit agents fluent in multiple contact channels and capable of translating “knowledgebase material” into language that resonates with a diverse array of customers.

Recent CCW Digital research reveals that only 17% of organizations view promoting from within as a strategy for boosting performance.  Organizations know the best talent exists outside their walls; it is time to find it!

Hire the smile, train the smile: Because training process is easier than training personality, many contact center leaders embrace the phrase “hire the smile, train the skill.”

It is a valuable message, but it is not entirely accurate.  It ignores the fact that organizations should also be training the smile.

Coaching and training should go beyond the hard facts associated with interactions.  They should focus on the connection.

Which kinds of issues, customer personality types and emotional demeanors seem to cause agents the most trouble?  How can they more adeptly handle those issues moving forward?  How can the agent determine whether a customer is “satisfied” with the resolution or simply sick of arguing?

Training that answers those questions is what separates a customer-centric brand ambassador from a receptionist.

Coaching on the why: “Old world training” is about standards, procedures and systemic skills.  It, essentially, ensures agents know what they are supposed to say in typical situations.

But what happens in atypical situations?  And how should agents tailor their language and demeanor based on the specific individuals with whom they are speaking?

These are the more pressing questions in today’s era of customer centricity.  Organizations that train with these questions in mind will develop agents prepared for the new normal.

Agents obviously need a primer on key, systemic skills.  They need to know what the company does, and they need to know how to use the company’s systems.

They are not in the clear once those skills are developed; the next phase of training is about instilling a sense of “why” in each employee.  The agent should understand the connection between customer experience practices and core business objectives.

By developing that understanding, they will be able to make informed, productive decisions on the fly.  They will not need a manager’s approval to offer a make-good to an upset customer or “fire” a particularly rude one; they will have the insight needed to independently make great decisions.

Present robust, integrated data: Since agents’ truest value comes from their ability to make connections with customers, “soft skills” are naturally taking center stage. Factors like affability, trust and empathy are particularly important.

Efficiency and productivity are not, however, out the window.  Agents are very much expected to pair those “soft skills” with a commitment to quick, frictionless, resolute experiences.  85% of customers, in fact, say “speed of resolution” is a key demand when engaging with a live voice agent.

An organization must, therefore, ensure its agents are able to immediately apply their soft skills.  They should have clear, vivid insight into who the customer is, what the customer has been enduring, and how the customer likely feels.  This jointly allows the agent to make a quick connection while also taking immediate action to resolve the problem.  Feeling valued and heard, the customer will feel confident that the brand is about to provide the best resolution possible.

This capability hinges on an integrated approach to data.  Relevant, actionable insights should be culled from across all touch points and communicated via real-time, simple dashboards.