One Thing All Contact Center Agents Need

Posted: 10/18/2016

Think of the ideal contact center agent.

If you’re like most members of the customer management community, you’re probably envisioning an individual who is friendly, upbeat and enthusiastic.  You’re surely thinking about someone who is knowledgeable and hard-working.

You may, however, be overlooking an absolutely essential quality: confidence.

If so, do not feel ashamed.  It is not your fault.  There may be countless articles, e-books, and presentations about contact center agent engagement, but very few focus on the importance of confident agents.

It is time for a change.

Thought leaders must start touting the importance of agent confidence.  When working to elevate agent performance, contact center leaders must focus on building confidence.

What’s Wrong with Lacking Confidence?

On her recent single, Demi Lovato rhetorically asked “what’s wrong with being confident?”

I don’t have a great answer.  I can, however, share an anecdote that reveals what is wrong with lacking confidence.

I was recently completing some important financial reports using a popular computer program.  The application is famously intuitive, and I had no trouble breezing through the majority of my work.

Suddenly, I hit a snag.  The program was inserting inaccurate data into one of my forms, and I had no idea how to fix the issue.  A lengthy inquiry into the “Help” file offered no clarity.  A web search proved similarly unsuccessful.

My response, naturally, was to contact support using live chat.  Much to my surprise (it’s 2016, and we’re in an omnichannel world), live chat was unavailable on weekends.  My only option was to call the customer service line.

Since I was taking the time to call, I figured I would get my money’s worth – so to speak.  In addition to getting support for the form issue, I also planned to ask for some advice regarding one of the financial documents.

Upon first connecting to the live agent, I was impressed with his demeanor.  Even though it was a weekend, he seemed personable, courteous, and eager to help.

My positive impression soon grew negative.

As we dove into my first issue – the form problem – it became abundantly clear that the agent did not know the answer.  He did not seem particularly well-versed in the software itself, let alone cognizant of the particular challenge I was facing.  On multiple occasions, he paused the conversation to consult the program documentation – the same help file I had already explored (and already deemed worthless).

This was not a product expert to whom I was speaking; this was a random, general customer service employee.  He had the people skills we expect of contact center agents, but he offered no indication that he was capable of supporting the actual product.  He projected no confidence.

Even if he had found a relevant answer within the documentation (he did not), I am not entirely sure I would have believed him.  His uncertain approach made it obvious he was not drawing from any familiarity or experience with the issue.  If I’m going to trust someone to fix an important financial document, I need to believe he is an expert.  I absolutely need to believe he is more knowledgeable about the topic than I am.

It would have been one thing if he presented himself as a “receptionist” who routed calls to the appropriate specialists.  That was not the case.  From all indications, this individual was tasked with resolving specific product issues.  His lack of confidence, however, suggested he was not a great fit for the role.

Naturally, I was skeptical of his ability to answer my other question.  This agent could not even remedy a problem with his own company’s software.  Was he really going to have worthwhile advice about the financial document itself?

Still, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.  I asked the question.  He, again, projected no sense of expertise or authority.  He admitted his lack of definitive knowledge, before letting me know what he’d “probably” do in my case.

This agent lacked confidence.  Suffice it to say, I did not leave the call confident in the “resolution” I had received.  I was in no hurry to heed his “advice.”

I did, however, gain some insight into why an agent’s confidence is so important.

It establishes trust:  Whether dealing with a high-stakes financial matter or a routine product repair, the customer’s satisfaction hinges on his ability to trust the agent.  Without that trust, the customer has no way to know (and no reason to believe) the information or resolution he received is acceptable, let alone optimal.

It improves efficiency: The more the agent struggled to provide decisive guidance, the more inclined I was to keep asking questions.  The meandering exchange stole time, resources and energy from both of us.  He was unable to quickly move onto the next call.  I, meanwhile, was unable to achieve a resolution without undue effort.

It shows respect and appreciation: When I call a customer support line, I do not simply expect the business to solve my problem.  I also expect the business to understand the importance of solving my problem.  Businesses that recognize that importance ensure the right agents are answering my calls.  The right agent projects confidence when navigating the issue.

In this case, the agent’s lack of confidence confirmed that he was unqualified for the role.  By putting him in this role anyway, the business sent the message that it did not take the situation seriously.  It did not appreciate the stakes of the matter, and it did not understand the importance of delivering a quick, accurate, definitive resolution.

Don’t Fake It – Earn It

Confidence is admittedly more of a quality than a skill.  It is entirely possible that an extremely knowledgeable agent will lack confidence.

It is just as possible that an unqualified agent will be full of confidence.

The latter obviously represents a huge concern.  While an unconfident agent may send a weak message to customers, imagine the harm associated with an agent confidently providing a customer with inaccurate or incomplete information!

When I urge leaders to recognize the importance of confidence, I am not asking them to blindly hire slick, smooth-talking agents.  I am asking them to foster confidence within their contact centers.

I am asking them to train and coach their agents so well that they know everything there is to know about the business, its products, and its customers.  I am asking them to provide agents with the tools, data and knowledge they need to quickly identify customers, assess their issues, and provide resolutions.  I am asking them to ensure agents are placed in positions best-suited to their personalities, skillets, and knowledge.  I am asking them to encourage agents to personally familiarize themselves with the key products and issues so that they can relate to the customers with whom they are interacting.  I am asking them to challenge agents to work outside a script to prove that they really know the products rather than simply know what they are supposed to say.  I am asking them to use of “trust” as a key performance indicator.

I am asking them to give agents a reason to be confident!

One should obviously not ignore the importance of natural confidence.  An organization can give all the information in the world, but if he cannot present it confidently, he will not successfully connect with customers.  Consider my anecdote.  The agent did have access to the knowledgebase.  He was simply unfamiliar with the knowledge he was exploring.  And it showed.

Knowledge management and training often rank as top investment priorities – with good reason.  They are integral to strong performance.  They put agents in position to succeed.

Whether the agents actually succeed depends on how well they can internalize the information and how confidently they can leverage the information to engage customers.

I probably shouldn’t trust all confident agents.  I definitely won’t trust those who lack confidence.

Posted: 10/18/2016

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