If an agent is waiting for the customer to respond only to move to the next line in their script, chances are they’re not actively listening to the customer. And the customer feels it. This creates an unnecessary and potentially damaging disconnect between the agent and the customer. Active listening is a critical quality measure we use across our programs. Yes, agents should be armed with the answers they need to help customers, and they need to be prepared for multiple scenarios. However, they also need to be able to think critically and to determine what the real problem is, so they can solve it.
For example, an opening script might instruct an agent to respond to an upset customer with: “I’m sorry to hear that; let me look into what’s going on.”
By telling an agent exactly what to say in a situation when customers want empathy, the response sounds canned rather than authentic. By contrast, when agents are free to respond more naturally, they tend to feel more connected to the customer and vice versa.
The goal should be to make sure the customer knows we truly are sorry and will do everything we can to solve their problem. Scripts also can create negative feelings in customers who have to call back. When you have an unresolved problem, hearing the same refrain gets old fast. This is a minor example, but it demonstrates the potential frustration customers can feel if we’re being so prescriptive with language that agents aren’t able to express authentic empathy.
At Ubiquity, our training modules are designed to present calls with different scenarios and different customer personalities. We hire agents with the right social skills to navigate these variable situations, and we prepare them to be self-assured because of their comprehensive product knowledge. By focusing on product knowledge and providing tools including the resolutions for the most common call types and a robust knowledgebase, agents are going into a call with confidence. When you know the product backward and forward, sincere responses will flow. You put an agent in a position to be engaged with the customer rather than worrying about following a script and receiving a mark down on their quality audits for going off-script.
Invest in team-building
There’s a bit of a balancing act that has to happen to build strong teams. On the one hand, friendly competition can be a boon to everyone’s performance. Recognition and rewards are a major motivator, but a cutthroat environment is counterproductive. Competition might spur some agents to work harder, but if taken too far, it can lower morale and lead to attrition. The best customer service teams are focused on collective as well as individual success. They cheer each other on and learn from one another. This can seem easier to accomplish in an on-site scenario, but engagement is just as critical for off-site teams. This is where technology tools, such as Ubiquity’s inTouch performance-management platform, can come into play. Our gamification module includes performance dashboards tracking progress across the team. Seeing results rise and rewarding individual achievements can help drive better performance across the board. In fact, 89% of employees say gamification improves their productivity.
Meeting regularly to share best practices, discuss new call types or trends, and troubleshoot technical or operational issues can also boost performance and morale. But you also need to find ways for agents to get to know one another on a more personal level through in-person or virtual events. After all, engaged agents are more than three times more likely to feel empowered to solve customer problems compared to those who aren’t engaged.
Don’t make AHT your primary focus
Metrics matter. You can’t improve what you don’t measure, and you can’t measure your success without looking at data. But, if your primary focus is average handle time (AHT), agents could be wrapping up calls too quickly. If they do so without really solving the customer’s problem, that could lead to additional calls and customer dissatisfaction. Customers also could feel like they’re being rushed rather than truly being helped.
If you give agents the information and tools they need to succeed—effective training and nesting, a robust knowledgebase, a supportive supervisor and quality assurance team, and the confidence to problem-solve—then AHT will fall into place. A caveat on the knowledgebase. Like scripts, a knowledgebase can become a crutch that actually increases holds and call times as agents go hunting for answers. The best remedy for reducing AHT and increasing customer satisfaction or Net Promoter Scores is by creating a culture in which agents can thrive and feel empowered to solve customer problems rather than just answering the phone.
The process of turning customers calling about a problem into brand promoters is about more than excellent service. It demands an effective feedback loop strategy. Data including voice of customer surveys, call driver and call disposition analysis, as well as quality audits are essential but so is taking action on that data.