Despite a rise in digital interactions, the phone call still holds a special place in consumer hearts. Graeme Meikle, Senior WFM Consultant and Project Manager at Calabrio, highlights three areas to make sure agents are speaking your customers’ language.
Recently, Calabrio surveyed 250 consumers around the world and the results were impressive. While the majority (53%) are having more first-time digital interactions with their favourite brands than a year ago, voice still reigns supreme. An astonishing 78% of consumers say the phone remains their preferred channel and 57% say voice is the most important channel in influencing customer perceptions. Research from the UK Call Centre Management Association (CCMA) also indicates the telephone continues to be many people’s preference for the most sensitive and challenging types of support needs: reporting fraud (48%), warranty/repair queries (30%) and refunds (28%). At the same time, the proportion of British consumers happy to self-serve complaints has dropped to 28% in 2022, down from 34% in 2021.
Interestingly—and perhaps alarmingly—contact centre managers themselves have a mismatched perception of how important voice channels are. They rank social media and apps ahead of the phone in influencing brand perception. It is critical for customer satisfaction and long-term loyalty that agents feel confident in delivering the most relevant service experience at any given moment. One of the most efficient ways to improve the customer experience is to empower contact centre agents as brand guardians. But what can organisations do to ensure their agents are speaking the same language as their customers?
3 ways to master the art of good telephone conversations
1. Close the gap – perceptions are everything but there currently exists a giant chasm between what customers want and how their favourite brands actually measure up to the task. For example, only 45% of consumers feel contact centres are meeting their need to be heard and understood. When it comes to conversing with customers over the telephone, sincerity is imperative. Understanding how your agents come across to customers and then training them to give customers the empathetic experience they crave is essential.
First, look at and listen to conversations from your customer’s perspective. For example, many agents repeatedly use the word ‘sorry’ as a way to pause a conversation, rather than sincerely apologise to customers. Think about what a meaningful apology really is then consider running ‘sorry’ phrases through a speech analytics solution to understand the strength and sincerity of your agent apologies. One of Calabrio’s customers conducted this experiment with amazing results. The number of insincere agent apologies shrank by 40% while customer complaints decreased by 43%.
2. Focus on soft skills – today’s brand guardians require a broader skillset. Therefore, make sure agent training programmes blend traditional hard skills such as speedy resolution of customer problems and product knowledge with softer skills. From hiring new agents to training new joiners and developing existing team members, prioritise the top five behaviours that are the hallmarks of good customer conversations: empathy, helpfulness, adaptability, active listening, and patience.
Why not offer individual or group coaching sessions where you together review telephone interactions of frustrated customers with agents? Discuss with agents what they did well and isolate best practices. Typically, these include showing acknowledgement and empathy. Acknowledgement is not just saying, “I’m sorry for the inconvenience.” Instead, the agent should take time and refer back to the issue. As an example, perhaps the problem is a late delivery. In this case, the agent could reply, “Late deliveries are not acceptable.” Follow this up with empathy. Tailoring a statement, such as, “It sounds very frustrating,” to the situation often works well, allowing agents to clarify they were listening closely and make a human connection too. Then, focus on the positive and the resolution. The phrase: “Let’s see how we can put this right,” may do the trick.
3. Upskilling is upselling for agents – the art of a good conversation begins before the customer call itself, but with ongoing, open communication between management and the agents. Why lose your best talent which costs time and is expensive to replace when you can keep them engaged with well thought-out personal development plans? Start by encouraging an open-ended self-assessment where agents say what they think they’re doing well, where they are struggling and where they need extra support. Let agents do the talking and give them permission to develop their own self-improvement plans.
Strengthen this approach with the right technology. Blend traditional 1-2-1s with automated performance coaching solutions to give agents the skills they need to deliver effective telephone conversations, achieve high levels of brand guardianship, and improve their career prospects. Thanks to automation, contact centres can now help frontline staff deliver the fast, empathetic, and authentic experience their customers crave. Automated performance coaching products allow supervisors to monitor agent interactions for potential skill and behaviour gaps while agents benefit from training that is automatically scheduled and based on their individual metrics or skill gaps to empower better customer conversations, whatever the channel.
It’s good to talk! UK consumers have spoken, now British businesses must listen. For more tips and hints, download our latest report: State of the Contact Centre 2022: Empowering the Contact Centre as Brand Guardian.