Teach your agents the art of call center improvisation
Today’s business environment is a far cry from what it was some 50 years ago. The business of today is placed under closer watch and scrutiny by customers thanks to the recent dawn of the Age of Information. That’s why you might want to teach your team the tenets of call center improvisation.
For example, going on a vacation and deciding what hotel to stay in used to be a matter of consulting exclusive travel magazines or listening to the recommendations of a seasoned travel agent. Today, you can get online and check TripAdvisor for traveler reviews of that specific hotel. You can view the hotel’s website and compare it against what the people who stayed there have decided to share. As a result, a cornucopia of experience is readily available at everybody’s fingertips. A bad customer experience can resoundingly destroy a business in a viral fashion.
With the looming threat of virtual destruction based on a bad customer experience it has become an absolute necessity for a business to keep a close finger on their customers’ pulses. Creating a perfect business model free of any defects to the customers is not only impossible but attempting to get close carries a high burden of cost. Cost that can potentially alienate customers from the beginning if passed on to them. Thus, if a company cannot create a perfect product, it is essential to deliver perfect support to anticipate and handle such defects that may occur.
The importance of call center improvisation
Companies have several channels to intervene and communicate with customers to support them with their concerns. Email, correspondence, chat, social media, and phone calls remain the most popular means for such a communication channel to thrive. With the availability of all these channels, phone support still reigns as the communication line that brings the best amount of customer satisfaction. Here are some of the reasons why it’s worthwhile to teach call center improvisation:
Customer concerns and responses are given in real-time
There is a heightened sense of urgency associated with phone support. The customer gets a confirmation that his or her issue has been sent and has been heard. It gives the company the opportunity to immediately explain the situation and communicate the actions it will take to provide the customer with the necessary resolution.
Customers feel that personal touch of assurance
Having a highly-trained, live customer service representative on the other line with the customer allows them to deliver important empathy over the phone that serve as a parachute to slow down the customer’s free-fall into a bad experience. Call center improvisation makes for a personalized caller experience.
Ownership of resolution is enhanced
For a customer having the assurance that his or her concern won’t be lost in the paperwork is a matter of great assurance and a huge step in the direction of a great experience. This assurance is best represented by having someone taking ownership and accountability of the situation.
These key points coupled with the important points on customer experience as a factor for business sustainability are why the strategic importance of call centers to a business has evolved completely from decades ago. Call centers used to be viewed like that suggestion box that sat beside the bundy clock. Something nice to have but never paid attention to. Today call centers are now more engaged to the business and are treated as the communication channel with the business’ most important asset, the customers.
Call centers were once viewed as cost centers to a business, now call centers are a source of customer feedback which is looped back into the company’s core business to improve processes and operational methods. An example from experience, a major US credit card company was able to find out that customers who called in to check their balance over the phones also wanted to make a payment at that same moment to prevent late fees and to avoid issues with their credit scores. The company adapted and created a payment mechanism over the phone that made it seamless for a customer calling in for a balance inquiry to make the necessary payment. The result was a more satisfied customer who saw that doing business was easier with this company. It also resulted in better collection rates with payments being done in a simpler manner.
Given the strategic importance that call centers have to a company it is essential to keep it running as productively as possible. The call center’s output and its capacity to handle the volume of customer inquiries in a timely manner is the most basic aspect that needs to be managed before anything else. Utilizing the science behind forecasting call volumes and keeping your employees will ensure that this performance measure is being met.
Aside from the call center’s capability to handle volume another key performance indicator is the quality and effectivity of the interaction done with the customer. It’s one thing to be able to establish that conversation with the customer but it’s a whole different ballgame when it comes to being able to exercise and leverage your customer service representatives’ skills and capabilities to own up and resolve those customer issues. Much like agents should be able to follow a script, they also need to master the art of call center improvisation.
The call handling process in a call center can be likened to a manufacturing process. There is a supply of calls that are inputted, a process of handling these calls and the output which is the resolution to the customer results in the main product a call center produces which is the customer’s experience. The key differentiator is that unlike in manufacturing, the inputs we are dealing with cannot be considered as “one size” because it deals with the variability of human emotions. This means that there has to be flexibility and improvement of agent skills to ensure that the desired output, the great customer experience, happens every single time.
The Importance of Scripts in the Call Center
In a call center environment, the nature of the calls that come in cannot be predicted fully. In fact, the very reason why a call center exists is because an anomaly or a defect in the customer’s’ transaction with the business occurred and this has to be addressed by the skilled agent. What a great call center management team can do is to anticipate these unpredictable scenarios and create an appropriate response of dealing with each one of them or with a multitude that falls into similar circumstances. The way of dealing with these scenarios come in the form of customer support scripts that the agents can follow.
A script is the appropriate response that will deliver the all-important empathy statement over the phone that will convince the customer and assure them that the business is on top of the situation. The script should also contain the resolution and timelines that will set the customer’s expectations and improve the experience exponentially. Call center script best practices include that before the script is delivered it is essential that you listen to the customers. This reassures the customer that you heard their concern and when you deliver the script in the most natural way complete with empathy statements that you are doing something about that concern.
Another reason why a customer service script is a necessity is the standardization that it brings when responding to customer concerns. Nothing can erode a business’ credibility more than a plethora of different responses and different resolutions to similar concerns. Having a strong script in place to different scenarios will improve the perception of fairness and importance that customers deserve.
Flexibility in Communicating with Customers
Like we mentioned earlier, the nature of customer concerns carry a strong chance of unpredictability. While scripts need to be made for the most common issues that cause 80% of customer concerns there is still the 20% that managers wouldn’t know about. This 20% is important because this is where improvements can be fed back into the product as feedback to improve it. While that concern is being handled, however, it is important that we provide our agents with the parameters and flexibility to handle that concern and communicate appropriately with the customers.
Customers don’t want to hear uncertainty and will not accept a situation that cannot be explained properly to them. It is important to assure the agents who speak with the customers on the phone that there is a heavy support system in place to help them succeed in communicating with the customers. A clear process of escalation needs to be in place in order to placate the customer while showing the agent that their efforts to support customers are taken very seriously by management. This article goes deeper into what managers should avoid doing in supporting their agents.
Best Training Practices to Support Call Center Agents
Training is an essential component that cannot be skipped when fielding agents to support customers over the phone. Basic training needs concerning how to handle customers over the phone, delivering empathy and convincing customers that their concerns will be resolved are a given and should not be scrimped on.
The delivery of training does not end with the initial training that is afforded to agents. The continuous improvement of the call center is anchored on appropriate training that will improve agent skills. Customers respond better to improved techniques that can only be imparted by continued uptraining. One common mistake is training for the sake of training. Treating training like a task that needs to be checked off is both a waste of time and it sends the wrong message to agents as far as its importance is concerned. The generation of training design and modules need to be tailor-fit to what is seen as lacking in the call center. Call center training has the simple yet important goal of gaining improvement in the call center and it cannot do that by rehashing and delivering the same material. Hence the need for call center improvisation.
Determining the needs of the call center that can be improved by training is the single most important step in training that is often overlooked by many unsuccessful organizations. Managers need to constantly listen to calls and determine top misses in quality through analytics and continuous improvement techniques. This results in finding out what needs to be improved and what is lacking that can be cured by training.
Training Is Every Manager’s Responsibility
Training should not just be only left in the hands of the human resources or the learning department. Every manager and team leader needs to take the basic tenets of training to heart. A more customizable method of training agents through one-on-one coaching sessions need to be practiced as a strict discipline. Different agents have different focus areas and that can only be determined by a team leader who runs a tight ship in listening to their agent calls and finding out behaviors that can lead to improved call handling techniques. This kind of process ensures that agents are not fully dependent on their scripts and have the presence of mind to have spontaneity in customer support within the boundaries of the guidelines they are constantly being reinforced on.
The key to a sustained business model in today’s environment is ensuring a great customer experience on every delivery of the product. Sometimes the delivery of the product does not produce the desired results and it is essential that the voice of the customer is heard and addressed. This is where call centers come in to intervene and help customers with their issues by resolving them and turning what could have been a disastrous result into a wonderful experience. This makes the agents who man the call center an essential component of the business and so it is essential to keep their skills at a premium. This can be accomplished by arming them with the right scripts to handle a multitude of scenarios and by training them to be flexible and confident in dealing with the issues that fall out of the normal cookie cutter. Keeping call center agents engaged and motivated to improve themselves will pay off with less likelihood of losing customers and gaining a reputation as a company that takes their customers’ experiences as the most important core function of the business.