August 27, 2020

Developing Agent EQ for Positive Customer Outcomes

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Learn how to develop emotional intelligence in your contact center agents for more positive, and personal, customer interactions. Tracey Zimmerman, President at Robots and Pencils, knows how to future-proof businesses with innovative, customer-centered digital strategies that dazzle & delight

Full Transcript 

Boris: [00:00:00] Good morning. Good afternoon, folks. Thank you for joining us today in our weekly podcast series today, we’re lucky to have Tracy Zimmerman, the president of Robots and Pencils. Hello, Tracy.

Tracey: [00:00:11] Hey, Borris, how are you?

Boris: [00:00:13] Excellent, Tracy, you and I go way back and have had many conversations in the past, but for our audience who are probably not familiar with you or your organization, would you mind introducing yourself to the folks with us?

Tracey: [00:00:25] I’m Tracy Zimmerman the President of Robots and Pencils, Robots and Pencils is a digital transformation agency. That sounds very fancy. But basically what it means is taking the fast moving world of technology and design services and figuring out how to harness that to benefit our clients.

Tracey: [00:00:43] we do everything with our clients, from helping to understand their customer journeys from a user experience and research perspective, we help people with technology solutions. We build mobile apps, we help roll out Salesforce implementations, all kinds of things like that. We have the opportunity to learn lots about different industries and different customers.

Tracey: [00:01:00] I myself have been with Robots and Pencils for five years. Prior to coming here, I was vice president of student experience and innovation at a large for-profit holding company. So , I come through this empathy for the customer journey, not only from the side of Robots and Pencils, advising our clients, but as well as owning that in my previous role.

Boris: [00:01:19] Thank you, Tracy. Cool glad to have you, thank you, for coming on the show with us today.

Tracey: [00:01:24] Thanks for inviting me.

Boris: [00:01:27] Yeah. Awesome. Tracy, you and I have had a lot of conversations around customer experience.

Boris: [00:01:33] We talked about it in the framework of entire companies, but more specifically, we were really talking about it now. Around the context of customer experience that’s being delivered within the contact center. We know a lot of contact centers are really looked upon as cost centers for a lot of organizations.

Boris [00:01:55] So I get a lot of questions. Like, why would I, why should I invest? And so, [00:02:00] as a resident expert around customer experience, I’d love your take on what people should be thinking and the real “why” around why people should invest in a great customer experience within their contact center today.

Tracey: [00:02:13] I think it’s actually crazy that people would think about any group of people that are talking directly to your customers as a cost center. Those people have the opportunity to turn any interaction with those customers into something really positive for your business and everyone who is on Twitter knows those people also have the opportunity to turn any interaction into something terrible with customers.

Tracey [00:02:33] So I think the thing that’s really interesting about the contact center. Is, you get to find out what’s really going on with your business. Right. And there are statistics that back up that having a great experience with call center teams and contact center teams is really, really important.

Tracey [00:02:50] if customers have good emotions they tend to become brand advocates, which is what we all really want. And your brand advocates are the people that, first of all, they repurchased from your [00:03:00] customer. Second of all, they send you referrals and leads for your business. , they trust your company, right?

Tracey [00:03:06] that trust drives other people you want like the prior to, but also, , here and there, people are going to be making mistakes. Companies will make mistakes in my business. I’m sure it happens in yours, but when somebody calls in, there’s an opportunity to create an awesome experience for them that can actually turn around, from a “I’m not sure about this company, I don’t even know if, I don’t know if they know what they’re doing” to like “Man, these guys are great.”

Tracey [00:03:29] They handled my problem really well. And so there’s also stats to say 86% of customers that have a positive, emotional connection with the call center agents would do business with a brand again. So these aren’t cost center people, these are customer facing people. And then of course we know that the dark side of this, which is that.

Tracey [00:03:46] Dissatisfied customers are very likely to complain. They’re likely to switch brands. You’re probably going to lose them as a customer. And you might say, Hey, they had a bad attitude. Maybe I don’t care about having them as a customer, but the problem is those people talk, right? So there’s an [00:04:00] opportunity to take those interactions and turn them around.

Tracey [00:04:02] The other thing that I think about too, is these customers tend to be the customers that, If you can make a positive connection with them and turn them into advocates, there would be the ones that will try your new products and services and those people are very, very valuable when you’re running a company and you’re trying something new, being able to reach out and see what they think.

Tracey [00:04:20] And obviously, doing a sale with an existing customer is typically a lot easier than getting a new customer. so it’s actually super important.

Boris: [00:04:28] Yeah. I mean the real question it is, why so many, so many folks really seem to under invest in this particular area?

Boris: [00:04:35] Now you’ve said it’s a critical area, but why do  people kind of continue to view it as a cost of doing business, right?

Tracey: [00:04:44] Yeah, it’s a great question, I don’t know if the answer is that people haven’t spent enough time talking to the people that talk to their customers.

Tracey: [00:04:51]I know for myself, I’ve sat on the floor with a team of people that are talking to my customers and just listening in to the calls that they have and on their [00:05:00] breaks, taking time and saying, “Hey. what opportunities you’re seeing, what patterns” and I was able to get really good information to improve the business and improve products that we were rolling out.

Tracey: [00:05:10] I think the only thing I can think of is people just don’t understand because once they do, they’ll see that treasure trove of information that can be used to improve your business. And then of course also those awesome people that are able to turn your frustrated or dissatisfied or sometimes just transactional customers into advocates.

Boris: [00:05:30] Yeah. I mean, it’s pretty interesting, some of the things that you’ve mentioned, and one of the things that you just mentioned was around turning every interaction into a positive experience. I don’t have this necessarily cited, but what we’ve seen, even in our interactions with, with lots of contact center leaders, is that actually taking negative interactions and turning it into a positive versus a consumer experiencing what I will call terminal or drama.

Boris: [00:05:56] You’re actually much better off having something go wrong and fixing it on [00:06:00] behalf of the customer versus everything being sort of very level of flat all the time. But the question I think a lot of our listeners today are thinking about is, is “Okay, great. It’s great to turn every opportunity into interaction, but how do I, how do I make sure my agent’s like, what can I tell my agents today”?

Tracey: [00:06:20] I do think it’s true with the leadership, right? You have to believe yourself as the leader of the organization, that there is value inside of these interactions. I spoke earlier in like almost an idealistic way.

Tracey: [00:06:32] But the reality is, first of all, your teams need to understand. That possibility exists, right? Your job isn’t necessarily. Yes. We need to look at call handling and efficiency and all that stuff that needs to be balanced with the potential of turning these customers into advocates. so they need to understand what’s possible, , and then we need to help to provide them the training. Like there’s tactics, these conversations can be really uncomfortable sometimes. Right. They have to learn the skills. So, what we really think about [00:07:00] inside robots and pencils is how do we help people?

Tracey: [00:07:02] Like get this emotional intelligence so that they can have these great conversations or interactions and, and do that important work of transforming these inbound requests into people that become net promoters of your business. and like the real reality is too, it’s like gonna take time, right?

Tracey: [00:07:20] So you, it’s not going to be like black and white, where one moment somebody is just trying to get people off the phone and the next time delighting customers. So I think that we need to practice as leaders of these groups that it’s going to take some time and some training and reinforcement.

Tracey: [00:07:33] But, when we look at some of the actual tactics, I think the one thing is just really practicing, active listening. And this is information you can go out on the internet. You don’t need to hire us necessarily to learn some of these things. But a lot of this is just, you’re building trust with the customer.

Tracey: [00:07:48] You’re letting in talk, you’re reflecting and you’re willing to help them. Like you’re there because people can be calling. They can be very upset. They can be frustrated. Maybe they had a long wait time. You need to really show that active listening so that people are calmed.

Tracey: [00:08:00] They know you’re with them from a tactical perspective, there’s a guy named Chris Voss who came up with some very specific things from a tactical perspective, and so those, so some of those key things are one, what is phrasing? Right? So we’re on a call. You’re basically saying hi called you 25 times.

Tracey [00:08:17] I never get an answer. My package got returned. It was something I needed. It was my mother’s present. I don’t know. Your team to really just be able to, , step back and paraphrase that, Oh, I hear this has been very frustrating for you. You’ve had a number of actions or so now, your mom’s birthday went by and you didn’t have the gift that you planned for her.

Tracey: [00:08:38] Like, that’s, that’s really, that’s really tough. And then, the next one is labeling, right? So I kind of got into that where I said, well, that must be really tough. Or, it must’ve been, you must have felt like, not a great son, you ordered this thing and you’re caring about your moms and then you didn’t even get it on time.

Tracey: [00:08:53] But the other thing is, and this is some of the ways that can help to shift this conversation is that you should also look at the [00:09:00] positive and negative things. Right? So instead of just saying like, Oh my gosh, that’s terrible. You can also look at it and say, you know what? You have actually, we’re really thinking ahead.

Tracey: [00:09:09]. So you can sort this. build like a balance, right. And, and remind them potentially like why, why they became your customer.

Tracey: [00:09:15] And then the other hot part of listening that Chris lays out is really developing a rapport.So you’re having this give and take, mirroring is a really strong, skill set for that. So I think you were doing that a little bit with me just now, but anyway, the caller again, could be saying “You know, I felt like such an idiot.”

Tracey: [00:09:35] But you can’t stay there. Right. So somebody who’s just, yeah. And then you’re just kind of sitting there and the customer is like, they’re still upset. So then the next thing is, , this thing that Chris talks about called the magic of ownership, right? So now I’m saying to them on the call, you’re going to train your call center team to say, I’m going to stay on until this is resolved.

Tracey:[00:09:54] I’m going to make sure that this gets taken care of for you. Right. And that, that also helps them to feel a sense of ownership. And then on the flip side, you’re looking for them to commit and say, I’m going to stay on the call with you until this gets done. So it’s kind of a two way thing.

Boris: [00:10:08] Yeah. I mean, like it’s such like those words that you just put just have such an amazing impact, and we actually hear them. If you think about it, , they’re sort of the. like Pavlov’s dog bell whether you’re hearing them on the side, the contact center, or whether you are hearing them at a restaurant, when you come in and somebody says, you know, hi, I’m the owner.

Boris: [00:10:29] Next time you come, come see me. We’ll take care of you. We want to make sure that you have a good experience. Whether I had a good experience now or not, just that notion that somebody is looking out for me and wants to establish some sort of a relationship , just provides an amazing feeling. So knowing that and having somebody do that consistently, I think you’re spot on with that point, really, really kind of holds codes into that, owning the problem or only a potential solution to [00:11:00] the problem.

Boris: [00:11:00] It makes me feel good, even though maybe you haven’t done anything for me yet.

Tracey: [00:11:04] Yeah. I actually even knowing that that’s kind of a technique it’s

Boris: [00:11:09] Yeah, exactly.

Tracey: [00:11:11] It’s definitely some, some human nature now. Of course we need to follow through with actions. Right? So, the next step really is turning their negative mood into a positive one.

Tracey: [00:11:21] So starting to shift that conversation, help them. And again, you have to listen. This is not all going to be out of the box. It’s going to take time for the call center leaders to train and potentially shadow and role play with their teammates so they can understand how to come up with some of these solutions.

Tracey: [00:11:35] This is how you shift, right? This is some part of the key and saying, how do we get people who are frustrated, angry, disappointed, or maybe just don’t feel like, doing outreach and. Start to transition them into an advocate, right? So it’s going to require some time, some creative solutioning. Now the nice thing is, you know, as a contact center leader, you can pre- package some of these things, right?

Tracey: [00:11:54] I mean, it can be on the spot, but you can also say, “Hey team. These are the types of things you can offer people under [00:12:00] these situations. And then that way they don’t have to put the customer on hold while they talk to a supervisor and things like that, to keep that rapport going with the customer. So it is important that you enable your teams that way as well.

Boris: [00:12:12] Yeah. I love it. I love that. It’s like, you’re, you’re commiserating with them on the problem right.

Boris: [00:12:17] But you’re pumping them up and you’re celebrating the solution, and getting them on board at the same time. So you’re sort of like getting on board in the beginning of the end of the call.

Boris: [00:12:25] I think that’s a super smart, super smart technique in order to get people emotionally invested and much closer to you in these conversations. But that’s a really great one.

Tracey: [00:12:37] Yeah. Thanks. I do want to mention, I think it’s also super important for people to understand, like, you need to be good to your team too, right?

Tracey: [00:12:45] Like you need to urge them and you know, they’ll make mistakes through this process and things like that. And they’re going to be learning new techniques, but helping our teammates to feel positive about their workplace is going to allow them to spill that over and your customers do so.

Tracey: [00:12:58] I mean, that’s not necessarily the [00:13:00] topic of this conversation, but it certainly is like a baseline thing where we can’t treat people like all that matters are the metrics and, you know, they’re just cogs in a machine and then expect them to do some of this more creative work. Right. So this is where I think lots of times technology can help, you know, technology can do some of the more road stuff.

Tracey: [00:13:16] It can help to recommend the campaign or do some auto dialing or outreach and things like that to allow, you know, the enablement of humans to do the work, that’s uniquely human, which is things like this. Right. Really making that connection to the customer and getting them together.

Boris: [00:13:30] Yeah, it’s pretty interesting that , we’re about the emotional intelligence that it takes to get through these calls and that empathy upfront, you know, the empathy on the backend, the traversing and the ownership of the journey in between the establishing rapport that you just talked about.

Boris: [00:13:47] The question becomes , how do I see? You said emotional intelligence sometimes, you know, truth be told I may miss some of those cues myself. And so, that doesn’t necessarily make me a bad person, but if somebody was good, it would make me better around teaching me emotional cues. How would they do that?

Tracey: [00:14:06] There are some ways that we can actually measure whether this more experienced stuff is working and, and some of this came from a measurement tool called Score Buddy.

Tracey: [00:14:14]. But some of those key things are like, you can just go and you can coach against with your team or coach against you, you know, as you’re learning on your own

Tracey: [00:14:22] This intentionality of thinking about it also kind of slows you down and makes sure that you’re taking the right approach. The other thing to look at is if the agent impacted the customer’s mood, which, you know, often as part of the goal, you know, what was the closing? So you can say, Hey, they started out angry and frustrated.

Tracey: [00:14:39] And they ended up sort of satisfied and happy, or they started out, you know, high energy excited, and then they ended happy and excited. So it’s just kind of like looking at some of those things and being able to baseline and see what’s working. Um, and then, you know, did the customer get the needed functionality for the interaction?

Tracey: [00:14:55] Like I mentioned earlier, you know, somebody who’s. Calling in and, you know, you kind of shadow [00:15:00] them through the situation. If they don’t get what they need, you still have to do that. Right. So this emotional stuff is not a substitute for competence and answering people’s questions. So we need to measure that as well.

Tracey: [00:15:10] And so, yeah, I think it’s, this is not, this is a little bit qualitative, right? So you’re trying to quantify what can be, you know, qualitative, but it can help you to understand it, is this something that you’re getting better at over time?

Boris: [00:15:23] Yeah, no, those are actually, those are excellent points in certainly things like going back to the beginning of this company when we were talking is, uh, it’s, it’s really discussing how humans could really review and score human or emotional interactions and empathy and those interactions and provide feedback.

Boris: [00:15:45] Uh, two agents, cause you know, there’s, you know, people discuss automation and all of those things, but like that emotional point, at least today, uh, can’t be replicated by a robot. And, you know, how do we make ourselves more intelligent human [00:16:00] beings, even in these customer interactions? I think, you know, sort of fixing them for points is sort of very, very handy for, for a lot of people that are listening today.

Boris: [00:16:10] Um, and, and of course, some of these things require some sort of technology tools versus others. But my question for you though, Tracey, is like, there’s a lot of folks that are thinking, okay. You know, I need to do a lot from a strategy standpoint, I guess I need to buy some technology, but those are longer term decisions.

Boris: [00:16:26] What do you advise people should be doing today? Like tomorrow, like Wednesday talk to their team based tomorrow. What can they do to make the contact center better tomorrow?

Tracey: [00:16:35] Yeah, no, I think that’s a great question because you know, as much as I believe in the contact center and think there’s lots of, you know, investment made there, sometimes there’s not, or it takes time to get prioritized against the needs of the business, but managers can do a lot, with what they already have.

Tracey: [00:16:51] one of the key things that I find this to be very interesting is really observing people’s workstations. Right? So. Get, you know, see where they’re working, what, where do they go? What do [00:17:00] they hang up? The little job ends up there putting a post it note on there. Yeah. You can get such interesting information, you know, from that and all, and just asking people questions like, okay, when you have a problem like that, who do you go for help?

Tracey: [00:17:15] And they’ll say, Oh, well, I always ask like barriers it’s behind me. And you’re like, well, why don’t you ask the help desk? Like all day, you know? And you’re kind of like, hold on a second, like that’s their job. Right. And so, you know, Try not to be judgmental with the information that you get.

Tracey: [00:17:28] I’ve seen lots of interesting things like people hiding their leads, like underneath their keyboard. And you’d say, why aren’t you keeping this the CRM? And they would say, well, I don’t trust the CRM with my leads. And you’re kind of interesting, you know, you can print a lot and that can actually help to really prepare when they are doing a larger scale system rollout, you know, where are your pain points we’re going to be working in there?

Tracey: [00:17:49] Another thing that you can do is just know your customer personas and journeys. So just know the type of people, lots of times, lots of companies will have a marketing team that will have already built that stuff. So ask around [00:18:00] and see what you get for yourself and for your teams. But even if you don’t have that formal documented information, there are definitely things you can do.

Tracey: [00:18:07] For example, Go through and pretend like you’re a customer, go to the website, going quiet for help, you know, and be, you know, take that opportunity to go through the customer journey yourself and understand the things that they might work through talking to your teammates and just saying, Hey, who are the types of people that we talk to?

Tracey: [00:18:23] How do they get categorized? Are we talking to a lot of, you know, younger people, older people, maybe it’s not, maybe it doesn’t fall into age. Another thing you can do is just listen to the recorded calls or even why connecting with your team sometimes is why connecting with your team can be stressful for them. but you know, it depends on the seniority of your people, but listening to those recorded calls, you can kind of do it when it fits into your schedule and start to get a feel for the types of issues that come up and how your teams are responding. Obviously you can take that information and use it for coaching your team. , another thing is finding the subject matter experts. So it goes kinda similar to the, where do people go for help, but, um, subject matter [00:19:00] experts or are, you know, again, you really make a lot of sense. You have to talk to your team to find out who these people are.

Tracey: [00:19:04] Because you can get really unfiltered information and find out what’s happening with your customers. Going back to the sort of, Hey, this is the customer empathy center, not just the contact center and then just kind of it and also looking at call reporting and stuff and see, look at those top 10 reports.

Tracey: [00:19:19] Look at the top five reports. See what issues are emerging so you can figure out how to address them. Um, and then you can train your team to anticipate issues. Like I was talking about earlier, you can do quick tips, you can just have information sharing it. Doesn’t have to look like bringing in an expert and having big sessions.

Tracey: [00:19:35] You can use your, you know, weekly staff meetings and things like that. So, walk through those scenarios.

Tracey: [00:19:40] So if you can anticipate issues and then you have team members, like these are the kinds of things. When you first do them, sometimes they can seem weird or embarrassing, but if you put it in your culture and your DNA, it just becomes normal. It becomes part of what you do. And it’s part of creating a learning culture because you know, things are going to continue to change.

Tracey: [00:19:55] The business will have different offers. Customer needs will change. So the more that we can set [00:20:00] up some of these tools that allow for continuous learning, you know, the better you’ll be prepared

Boris: [00:20:04] Yeah. I couldn’t, I couldn’t agree with you more regarding the practicing the roleplaying component. nowadays as people start to move more to a, like a work at home work from home, or more, more motivated specifically at the contact center.

Boris: [00:20:17] The question becomes, first of all, for some organization that may be, how do I create a culture within my contact center that exudes in every conversation that my team members are having, with, with our customers. And how would I make that sort of unique and how do I make that permeate? And, and I think that that tool we found out of enhancing or creating role-playing really helps to create I’ll call it like your brand.

Boris: [00:20:43] people recognize when they call in your contact center. Oh, I’m speaking with an individual individual from company ABC. They all, they’re all very friendly, energetic. They have a little bit of humor or maybe they’re very formal in nature. But it’s, it’s like the unique sort of were [00:21:00] if you will, of that.

Boris: [00:21:01] Okay. I think that’s pretty important by the way. And a very important piece of people I believe are missing.

Tracey: [00:21:07] And I think it’s so important for the contact center teams to really understand they’re the ones embodying your core values in the day to day, right?

Tracey: [00:21:15] As you come up with those creative solutions, as you reflect back with people, as you close out those calls and make commitments, you’re you are just, like you said, with your, your business owners coming to the table or a restaurant because they mess up an order or there.

Tracey: [00:21:28] Sure they’re taking care of you. You are that person, that person is extremely important in that customer relationship. And again, like you kind of can’t overinvest here because those are the places that you’re going to get your absolute best customers. 

Boris: [00:21:41] You’re right. You’re absolutely right. Well, Tracy, this has been an excellent conversation. Thank you so much for coming on the show with us today. We really, really appreciated it. Thank you everybody who came to attend today, we’ll talk to you next week. Thank you very much and talk soon.

Tracey: [00:21:59] Goodbye.

Boris: [00:22:00] Thanks, Tracy.

About LiveVox

LiveVox is a next-generation contact center platform that powers more than 14 Billion interactions a year. We seamlessly integrate omnichannel communications, CRM, and WFO capabilities to deliver an exceptional agent and customer experience, while reducing compliance risk. Our reliable, easy-to-use technology enables effective engagement strategies on communication channels of choice to drive performance in your contact center. Our battle-tested risk mitigation and security tools help clients maximize their potential in an ever-changing business environment. With 20 years of pure cloud expertise LiveVox is at the forefront of cloud contact center innovation. Our more than 450 global employees are headquartered in San Francisco; with offices in Atlanta, Denver, New York City, St. Louis, Medellin, Colombia, and Bangalore, India.

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About LiveVox

LiveVox (Nasdaq: LVOX) is a next generation contact center platform that powers more than 14 billion omnichannel interactions a year. By seamlessly unifying blended omnichannel communications, CRM, AI, and WEM capabilities, the Company’s technology delivers exceptional agent and customer experiences, while helping to mitigate compliance risk. With 20 years of cloud experience and expertise, LiveVox’s CCaaS 2.0 platform is at the forefront of cloud contact center innovation. The Company has more than 650 global employees and is headquartered in San Francisco, with offices in Atlanta; Columbus; Denver; New York City; St. Louis; Medellin, Colombia; and Bangalore, India. To stay up to date with everything LiveVox, follow us at @LiveVox or visit

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