CX Chronicles: The Ultimate Key to Great Customer Experience

Great CX demands a culture of empowerment, which means giving customer service agents the right tools and support to go the extra mile for customers.

By Megan Porter, Ubiquity

I work on making training better and more effective for customer service teams around the world every day. Some agents are working in-center; some are working at home. There are challenges and opportunities in both environments, but the one thing you have to get right no matter where you are is culture.

Without an empowering culture that reflects and reinforces your brand promise, you can expect your customers to have disjointed experiences at best. At worst, you’ll be dealing with repeat calls, dissatisfied customers and possibly fewer customers altogether.

At Ubiquity, we focus on creating a culture of empowerment that transforms agents from someone simply answering the phone into a true problem-solver and brand ambassador for our clients.

What does that look like in practice? I’ve compiled several strategies to help you create and maintain a consistently strong, high-performing culture.

Promote, hire and cultivate effective leaders

The people you put in place as team leaders and supervisors play a pivotal role in the overall success of individual agents. Agents need to feel comfortable going to their managers for help. They need to understand that their managers are there to help them succeed, not just correct their mistakes or point out errors. That may not seem like a big distinction, but it is.

Consistent, constructive support makes a significant difference in performance results. I’ll get into more of the nitty-gritty around coaching in a minute. But first, I wanted to mention a Leadership Essentials curriculum we developed to make sure our team leaders are equipped to support their teams effectively. Everyone who is going to be a team leader at Ubiquity takes this course, and it’s made a tremendous impact on our results.

We promote a lot from within; however, just because someone is a great agent doesn’t mean they have all the right skills to be a team leader. In our onboarding certification process for leaders, we spend a lot of time on communication strategies and how to effectively coach different types of learners. Once in a leadership role, team leads continue to be evaluated and coached on their coaching. We also conduct monthly coaching calibrations, which we limit to three TLs each, to give leaders a chance to learn from one another and continue to improve.

We are committed to ongoing learning and development for all our employees. Beyond Leadership Essentials, we conduct a number of courses through Ubiquity Academy to help employees hone their skills and develop new ones. These growth opportunities consistently score high with employees in our annual survey and reinforce our goal of helping employees flourish and build careers at Ubiquity, not just punch a time clock.

Throw out the script

This recommendation makes some clients nervous. Many customer service experts hold fast to their scripts because they’ve worked in the past. We understand that reflex, especially for new agents just learning a program because you don’t want to risk a misstep. Scripts can work well in the right circumstances. However, scripts all too often become a crutch rather than a tool for success. Scripts lock agents into a linear way of thinking that doesn’t always line up with what they encounter on calls. Customers can also tell when agents are working from a script, and it can cause customer frustration if they feel agents aren’t really listening to them.

By telling an agent exactly what to say in a situation when customers want empathy, the response sounds canned rather than authentic.

 

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.

58%

of employees who quit a job due to workplace culture say their managers were the main reason they left

$233 billion

cost of employee attrition over the past five years

Coach consistently

Whatever performance metrics you’re using, what you do with that data is paramount. Just as competitiveness can go to an unproductive extreme, the way in which you provide and accept feedback from your agents plays a significant role in success. Our customizable inTouch platform delivers real-time data to team leads, which means that coaching can happen almost immediately. The app-based platform enables supervisors to spend more time with their agents than at their desks looking at spreadsheets. The tool also has a call-recording feature built in, so agents and managers can listen to calls together for learning purposes.

Quality scores and coaching logs are also easily accessible for team leaders, agents and clients to review. As I mentioned earlier, we audit team leads on the quality of their coaching and hold regular coaching calibrations. These critical steps ensure that agents aren’t the only ones improving their skills. Some of the things we look for are: Consistency and clarity. How does the coaching build off of previous sessions, is it clear how the agent can take action to improve, and is the messaging consistent with the client mission and goals?

Actively listen to your agents

Feedback sessions must be a two-way street to be productive. Just like the customers they serve, agents want to feel that their concerns are taken seriously. When agents bring up an issue that’s causing frustration for them and/or for customers, they want to know that it’s being addressed or at least acknowledged and investigated. The relationship that managers cultivate with their teams is a key contributor to performance and retention—all of which directly affects CX. A recent study on workplace culture found that 58% of employees who quit a job due to workplace culture say their managers were the main reason they left. That turnover not only hurts CX, but it’s also expensive, representing approximately $223 billion over the past five years.

As the leader of our Learning Services division, I’m a firm believer in the power of proper onboarding and training. However, even the best possible training curriculum can only go so far. It’s everything you do to reinforce your collaborative and empowering culture after agents graduate into production that ultimately determines whether they will succeed in delivering truly great CX.

Megan Porter is vice president of Learning Services at Ubiquity and oversees five departments that reinforce our commitment to lifelong learning: Leadership Development, Ubiquity Academy, Quality Assurance, Training and Implementation.