It goes without saying that communication skills are essential in the contact center. In person communication involves nonverbal cues like eye contact, posture, and facial expressions. But, the nature of the contact center cuts out vital parts of communication. An agent cannot gain any insight from body language over the phone or via messaging.So it’s essential for agents to learn customer service skills that can supplement what is lost over the airwaves.
Active listening is a practice that keeps you engaged with your conversation partner in a positive way. A few key features of active listening are:
- Neutral and non-judgemental
- Feedback to show you are listening
Active listening makes customers feel acknowledged, promotes cooperation and reduces misunderstandings. Active listeners approach each conversation with the goal of learning something. They maintain focus on the speaker and ask clarifying questions. This practice not only helps agents better understand issues and resolve problems efficiently, it also encourages trust and promotes a sense of being valued. Two very important aspects to a positive customer experience.
Paying attention to details your customers give you is important to effectively meet your customer’s needs and, if that weren’t enough, demonstrates you value them. In a Thoughtline episode, Tracey Zimmeran of Robots and Pencils encourages agents to paraphrase once a customer has finished speaking and to use phatic expressions (mmhms and go ons) during. Being attentive shows customers you know their time is valuable and allows agents to take care of their actual needs.
Julian Treasure offers an acronym to be a more attentive listener “RASA.”
R- Receive the information
A – Appreciate with phatic expressions
S – Summarize
A – Ask questions after
You can use active listening to better personal conversation just as you would professional. This is good news. Practicing active listening is the best way to acquire and improve this skill.
Countless books have been written on the importance of communicating clearly. Time and time again author’s point to being able to say more with less.
Communicating clearly in the contact center is
- understanding what customers are trying to say
- responding in a way that makes sense
- being direct.
Be upfront about hold times, options, and what you will be doing while you put them on hold.
When customers ask questions, answers should be clear, concise and in your natural tone of voice. The same applies when posing questions to your customers. They don’t always need all the details about the answers to their questions.This can be difficult when answers are technical. An agent able to communicate clearly can bridge even the biggest jargon gap.
Like active listening, communicating clearly takes practice. Training that involves roleplay is highly effective. Activities like this draw attention to the importance of clear communication as well as give support team members a chance to practice.
Empathy happens when two parts of your brain work together. The emotional part of your brain perceives the feelings of another person while the cognitive part tries to understand why. Being around diverse groups of people helps develop empathy. Someone who is not like you begs the question, why? The parts of your brain that empathy involves are constantly being activated when you are in diverse groups.
Agents with empathy understand what your customers feel and are compassionate towards them. Empathy helps agents provide an experience in which customers feel respected, understood, and supported.
Support teams can use language to demonstrate empathy. When customers hear their own feelings reflected back it gives them confidence that you see the problem as being just as important as they do.
What it looks like
- Insisting on seeing a problem all the way through
- Accurately labeling a customer’s experience
Many people think that empathy is an innate ability. And, it is. But, the good news is that empathy can be learned. Going out and meeting new people encourages empathy. In the workplace that can be replicated by implementing something like “coffee pen pals” in which employees are paired randomly to meet once per week. This small social shake is enough to encourage the growth of empathy.
Words have power. Consciously or not, the language you use shapes each conversation you have by influencing how others feel during a conversation. Think of language choice as the light you are using to illuminate the point you are trying to make. Positive language is like golden hour while negative language is more akin to fluorescent light bulbs.
Make a conscious decision to frame each conversation with positive language. Since there are no body language cues, support teams must rely on language as a substitute.
|Positive Language||Negative Language|
|Tells what can be done
Sounds like: “I can finish setting up your account just as soon as I get authorization.”
|Tells what can’t be done
Sounds like: “I won’t be able to finish setting up your account until I get authorization.”
|Is helpful and encouraging
Sounds like: “It’s good that you called in when you did, otherwise this could turn into a real problem.”
|Subtly places blame
Sounds like: “If you would have called in earlier we would have been able to fix this without issue.”
|Emphasises alternatives and choice
Sounds like: “If you decide to cancel after that date you will get one more month of service.”
|Emphasises negative actions or consequences
Sounds like: “If you cancel after that date we will charge you for another month.”
Crafting a sentence, let alone an entire conversation, around positive language takes practice. Support teams can use training and games to shift toward a positive language approach in customer experience crafting.
Customers contact the customer service center for every kind of reason, in every kind of mood, and with past experiences specific to them. Creative customer service skills enable agents to roll with the punches and do it with style. Being confronted by an irritated customer with a tricky problem to solve is a tough nut to crack. But, agents with creative customer service skills can tackle even the stickiest of situations.
In fact, it is almost better for customers to approach agents with a negative. That way, agents have the opportunity to wow customers by turning their yuck to a yum. Imagine going into a conversation with perplexing problems and feelings of frustration. However, by the end of it your issues have been magically resolved and you have a feeling of accomplishment. But, the only magic involved is the creative turning of conversation customer service agents do in the course of the conversation.
You can encourage creative customer service skills by empowering agents through training and technology.
- Provide lists of pre approved compensations for disgruntled customs
- Learn to admit mistakes
- Look for common ground
- Encourage out of the box thinking
Education is key to sharpening creative customer service skills. With knowledge you are able to see the full range of options to use to solve any given problem. The more your support team knows about your products and services, the better and more creative they can be when answering customer questions and solving problems.
Pinpoint areas of improvement
Customer feedback is incredibly important when honing agents’ customer service skills. Many of these skills are soft skills and require molding. CSAT surveys can be tailored to focus on specific skill sets. Findings from CSAT surveys helps you pinpoint where to focus training efforts. Provide training and opportunities to practice active listening, empathy, positive language and creative problem solving skills. Investing in improving these customer service skills among agents will improve customers’ experience as well as your agents’.