While the economy, the political environment, and uncertainty loom in our faces, when we focus on this situation or set of circumstances, usually what comes up is fear. However, if you focus on the fear, the fear expands.
At the same time, we are encouraged to invest. We’re told that this is a good time; that there are bargains out there, that it is a buyer’s market; that this is an opportune time to invest.
Well I say invest too, but not in what you may think. This is the time to focus on and invest in your people.
With continued focus on customer service, customer retention, and the lifetime value of the customer, it’s no surprise that contact center operations continue to increase in importance as the primary hub of the customer’s experience. Customer service is actually the cornerstone of the customer’s experience.
In today’s world, you need to keep your current customers and obtain potential, new ones. How do you do that? With your people. Is the strategy three-fold? Yes, people, process and technology. Are process and technology a necessity? Absolutely, but they’re there to support and enable your people, not to replace or disable them.
Now is the time to invest in your people. When you take great care of your people, they take great care of your customers. Today’s customer profile is very different than say 3-5 years ago. Calls coming into a company today are escalated, more complicated and complex and approximately 80% of them are infused with emotion. Why? Because if customers could have handled their issue themselves online, they would have.
So now there are two touch points when they call in, having first gone to your site. Perhaps they think it might be their fault when they couldn’t find what they needed, so they are defended before the person even answers the phone. Or they are frustrated having spent quite some time and then something happened and they couldn’t complete their transaction.
These make your front line’s jobs harder. People aren’t calling in to say what a great job you’re doing, and I just wanted to call and tell you. Does that happen? Sometimes, but that’s not the norm. Usually people are calling in because they have a problem they need solved, or a complaint they want resolved. If it were simple, they could (hopefully) have handled it themselves online.
As a result, front lines need more tools and techniques than ever before. The truth is when someone starts yelling or raises their voice, one’s ability to respond diminishes. And no one likes being yelled at, nor do I believe it’s part of anyone’s job description.
So what is needed? I believe ongoing training in areas such as (just to mention a few):
Empathetic responsiveness – how do I put myself in the customer’s shoes, see it from their point of view and at the same time not make them right and my company wrong?
Anger diffusion – how do I diffuse upset, frustration, confusion, all the way up to anger, so that the customer feels taken care of and I can move them to productive interaction as quickly as possible?
Options – how do I offer options to a customer when the answer might be ‘no’ to what they’re requesting?
Rapport building – how do I establish relationship with a customer such that in that space I can take great care of them? What are the representational systems they are using so I can respond in kind?
Proactive listening – how do I listen to what is being said, acknowledge what I heard, respond appropriately and close the call in a timely fashion? Compared to listening for the pause to take the customer where I think they want to go which may not be the case at all.
Communication – what is the distinction between communication and talk? What are the causes of breakdown in communication and what are the breakthroughs?
Respect – how do I treat the customer with respect, give them the space to say what they need to say, and not rush them because there are so many customers in queue, or because of metric pressure?
Attitude – how do I remain positive with my internal (peers and direct reports) and external customers? It’s simply ABC – Attitude impacts Behavior and Behavior has Consequences. If you put ‘positive’ in front it all is positive; if you put ‘negative’ in front, there’s a different outcome.
Notes to the file – how do I made notes after the call so that whoever reads them can support what can before; that they are clear, concise, and detailed—not ambiguous, vague, or general?
The bottom line is focus on and invest, invest, invest in your people–train, train, train.