5 Things Agents Should Never Have to Say

Brian Cantor

Countless articles detail things an agent never should say to customers. Predicated on the notion that the contact center’s paramount objective is to satisfy customers, these articles stress the importance of creating efficient, warm and resolute interactions.

Correct in terms of the phrases they seek to abolish, such articles often oversimplify the issue. By discussing things an agent should never say, they imply that the agent possesses enough autonomy to say different things.

It is an optimistic notion, but we within the contact center community know it is not necessarily an accurate one. Agents who say the wrong things to customers often do so because they are doing right by their superiors. They do not necessarily hate customers, but they absolutely hate the notion of getting fired. The value of breaking with script or policy to appease customers does not, unfortunately, compensate for the harm of losing one’s job.

Some agents might be individually terrible. They might go rogue on a call.

But if they are not, the reason they are saying things they never should is because they feel as if they have to do so. That misguided pressure stems from the business.

The below five examples are all things an agent should never say to customers. But they, sadly, are things an agent may feel obligated to say within the specific context of his contact center.

My system will not let me do that: Dreaded by all customers, this speaks to two fundamentally—and very commonly—flawed elements of the contact center:

1) Systems that lack the flexibility and agility needed to create an optimized experience for each customer that calls.

2) The expectation that agents must run potential resolutions through a "system."

Contact center technology is meant to empower rather than to limit. If its framework is so constraining that it prevents an agent from doing right by the customer, it is certainly not offering empowerment.

Valuable contact center solutions create a framework through which an agent can adapt an unorthodox idea to the system involved in executing it.

The most valuable ones go one step further. Instead of creating the legitimate and implicit constraints of a system, they let the agent function as the system. Once the agent devises the best possible outcome for the customer, the system’s job is to adapt to that solution.

If agents feel like they are imprisoned, it should be by the will of the customer. Not by the constraints of a system.

Let me transfer you to a supervisor: Presented as value for the customer (they’re letting me speak to a manager? I must mean something to this business! The manager is the one handling my issue? I will definitely get the best possible service and resolution!), the supervisor transfer rarely lives up to the billing. Instead of functioning as a ticket to a resounding "yes," such a transfer often serves to sugarcoat a "no."

It is problematic for numerous reasons.

1) It speaks to a lack of agent empowerment. Suppose the "supervisor transfer" is an act of necessity rather than a tactic. If so, it reveals that the agent himself is not authorized to resolve the issue. The customer, therefore, is being asked to endure more delay and exert more effort because the business fails to empower its agents.

2) It speaks to a "no" culture. While customers are led to believe the supervisor will give them what they want, those with contact center experience know the opposite is often true. Whether due to lack of actual authority (a supervisor is not an executive), lack of interest or loyalty to his agents over his customers, the supervisor will doubtfully just give the customer what he wants. He’ll often give the same "no." And since he’s "the supervisor," the customer cannot argue.

3) It indicates a tolerance for call deflection. No matter how difficult or rude, a customer is supposed to represent the agent’s biggest priority. Allowing an agent to pass the call off when things get tough send the message that customer centricity has limits

4) It indicates misapplied metrics and operations. Such a transfer could speak to a reliance on "call time" when evaluating agent performance. In reality, a quick call that ends without resolution indicates worse performance than a long one that ends properly.

We’re not responsible (aka "this isn’t our fault," "we don’t control that"): Yes, some customers contact the support team for the sole purpose of ranting. Most, however, call in pursuit of a resolution.

A resolution is a forward-thinking process rather than a backward one. Blame and responsibility do not matter. Accountability and the associated action do.

Many agents, sadly, are conditioned to focus on the former. Forgetting that they are accountable to their customers even if they are not responsible for a problem, they invoke policies and "evidence" to absolve themselves and their business of blame.

They, instead, need to be conditioned to pursue the best possible outcome for their customer regardless of what initially caused the problem. They need to know that the goal of the interaction is not being right. It is making it right.

Can you verify your ___: Perhaps some agents cannot read or hear. Most, however, are capable of internalizing and presenting the information that is presented before them.

Frustrating requests for verification exist because that information has not been presented before the agent.

The product of systems that are not robust, not integrated and not conducive to intra-office communication, the information gap serves to greatly mar the customer experience. Personalization -- and the idea of making the customer feel like more than a number – is the key to developing customer relationships, and an inability to even identify the customer and his issue as he crosses between channels and agents belies the existence of that notion.

No: To the extent that customer satisfaction is a contact center’s number one priority, an agent should never feel as if it is possible – let alone advisable – to end a call without providing a satisfactory resolution.

An agent that offers a definitive "no" has been led to believe otherwise. The agent, therefore, has been hung out to dry.

Opposition to a definitive no is not tantamount to saying the business must always say yes. It, instead, sends the message that the agent must remain fixated on delivering a satisfactory outcome no matter the difficulty of the customer and his situation.

Agents cognizant of that message recognize customer satisfaction as the only appropriate ending point for call. They develop that cognizance when the business adheres to some basic tenets.

1) Customer satisfaction (at the bare minimum; some focus on loyalty, advocacy and new revenue opportunities) is the objective of the interaction..

2) Understand that the customer is not looking for an answer but action.

3) Always strive to give the customer the specific resolution he is seeking

4) When you absolutely cannot, find a way to give the customer the core outcome for which he is looking.

5) If a system or policy is getting in the way of a realistic resolution, say no to that barrier rather than to the customer.

6) Let the customer—not policy—dictate the call’s end point.