A well-developed contact center agent training program
is essential for delivering exceptional customer experience.
“Your call is important to us.”
This phrase is one of the mainstays of automated contact center phone messaging, meant to assure callers that they are valued customers. Author Laura Penny calls it a prime example of “corporate bafflegab” — a statement that isn’t strictly truthful but is simply meant to placate the person on the other end of the line.
In truth, this type of jargon frequently has the opposite effect. Customers who typically are already upset or unhappy before ever contacting customer service often just become more frustrated by their experience with the contact center. According to one recent study, more than half of all calls end up with the customer feeling angry, frustrated or disappointed.
Part of the problem is that organizations may be relying too heavily on technology to shape the customer experience. While technology can certainly improve contact center operations, many organizations are failing to make a human connection with their customers.
There is a growing consensus that organizations must devote more time, energy and resources toward effectively training contact center agents to be authentic, understanding and respectful when dealing with customers. An often-cited study from Cornell University suggests that newly hired agents should receive a minimum of two weeks’ training, although ongoing training for up to 16 weeks may be needed to reach proficiency.
Following are a few training tips and best practices that can help ensure agents deliver exceptional customer service:
Educate agents about the business. Agents should have a solid understanding of the organization’s product lines and services so they can answer many customer questions without having to place the caller on hold or transfer them to another agent. Hold time and transfers are among the most often-cited sources of customer irritation.
Teach them organizational skills.Agents should be able to track customer requests, issues and complaints and where to find the resources to address them. Agents should be taught a method for taking clear, concise notes about customer interactions, as well as how to access and modify records in the CRM database while on the phone.
Provide a knowledge base.Create a database or an intranet with FAQs and case studies that illustrate how to address common issues and complaints. This could also be a repository for technical support documents as well as contact information for technical support resources who can be conferenced in to assist the customer.
Practice clear, concise communications. Customer service scripts are important tools, but agents should be trained to treat them as guidelines and talking points rather than rigid speeches that must be followed word for word. With guidance and training on overarching corporate policies and expectations, agents can communicate with empathy and authority.
Teach proper phone etiquette. Agents must be respectful, courteous and patient in all conversations. Through workshops and critiques of recorded calls, make agents understand the importance of answering phones promptly and politely, speaking clearly and maintaining a positive attitude. They should understand how to empathize with callers without introducing their own opinions or biases.
Provide ongoing, real-time training. Many of today’s advanced contact center platforms enable real-time agent training. For example, instant messaging integrated into the system allows agents to message a manager or a high-performing colleague for immediate guidance while on a call. Coaching features enable supervisors to silently monitor calls and prompt the agent to deliver appropriate responses — all without the customer being aware.
As the focal point for customer interactions, the contact center is essential for shaping the customer experience. Since many callers are already frustrated or angry when they call in, scripted “bafflegab” isn’t going to be particularly helpful. Thoughtful, ongoing training programs can help ensure the best possible experience by giving agents the skills they need to defuse any tension, resolve issues and win customer loyalty.