Shopper Experience: A Roadmap for Success: Improving Agent Soft Skills
Author: Dick Bourke
Source: Shopper Experience
Customer service is not a new concept. Every business knows that making sure your customers are happy is the best way to keep them coming back. It’s what the customer experience (CX) is all about.
However, what companies are finally realizing is that positive customer experiences have far less to do with hard skill knowledge—education, background, abilities, etc. Instead, they have far more to do with soft skills.
Soft skills—such as the ability to communicate, problem solve, and be flexible—are directly responsible for impacting your customer’s emotions, which are, in turn, responsible for customer satisfaction. Satisfied customers are more loyal, spend more money, and remain a customer for longer.
Over a few blog posts, we will go in-depth into the importance of call center agent soft skills, how those soft skills relate to emotional intelligence, how you can hire and train for these skills, and how you can measure the impact of soft skills on your overall call center experience.
Identifying and Defining Agent Soft Skills
First, we need to talk about what exactly agent soft skills are. Whether you’re looking to hire new call center agents or better train your current agents, you need to know what soft skills make your agents’ successful.
Soft skills cover everything from empathy to active listening, good communication, leadership ability, and more. They are the character traits and interpersonal skills of your employees that allow them to effectively do their job. They define a person’s relationship with others, and have more to do with who a person is rather than what they know or have been taught.
There’s a reason why Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report reveals that 92% of executives rate soft skills a priority. Soft skills are critical to fostering employee retention, improving leadership, and building a meaningful culture.
7 Call Center Soft Skills Your Agents Need
So, what call center soft skills are valuable to your company’s success? That depends on your call center agent duties—they need to line up.
There are many characteristics that can lead to engaged employees and low call center turnover. Everything from great communication skills for call center agents to flexibility and problem solving are helpful. They all ensure that your call center agents can do their job, greatly improve the customer experience, and ensure your agents feel comfortable with their role.
Specifically, here are the seven call center agent soft skills that are needed most.
Communication Skills: Agents spend the majority of their time talking to people. This is the heart of their job. Communication skills for call center agents can make a huge difference between a successful call center that’s performing well and one that’s on the brink of failure.
The Ability to Learn: A call center employee is constantly challenged to learn new scripts, products, and systems.
The Ability to Meet Goals Set by Others: Call centers are numbers driven, so you need employees who can meet those goals.
The Ability to Work in a Structured Environment: A typical call center has scripts, data, and desks that fall into a routine.
The Ability to Find Answers: The script doesn’t always work, and there are times your call center agents need to help customers outside the known.
Flexibility: Your agents need the ability to react appropriately in any situation.
Problem Solving Skills: Call center agents who can think critically are invaluable.
These agent soft skills are vital to a successful call center experience, but they don’t cover every aspect of your call center’s performance. In fact, one might argue that we’re missing the key ingredient in the call center customer experience: emotional intelligence (emotional IQ).
What Is Emotional IQ?
The meaning of emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage emotions—your own and others. When broken down to the basics, emotional intelligence includes three specific soft skills:
Emotional Awareness: The ability to identify and name emotions.
Harnessing Emotions: The ability to apply emotions to thinking and problem-solving situations.
Managing Emotions: The ability to regulate emotions when necessary, your own and others.
While a common term (especially in terms of academic research), emotional intelligence is not often used in the call center. More often than not, it’s referred to as empathy or encompassed in the idea of soft skills because it’s all about the call center employee’s ability to keep a customer satisfied and to handle their job. However, it should be considered separately.
The Importance of Emotional Intelligence and Customer Service
The relationship between emotional intelligence and customer service is well known. Customers respond best when they have strong emotional connections with call center agents.
86 percent of customers claim that a positive emotional connection with a call center agent would make them more likely to do business with that brand again.
And, in a study of more than 900 customers, researchers found that dissatisfied customers are more likely to complain, switch brands, and talk about their unhappiness.
You can’t get away from the fact that emotions impact the customer experience in many ways—positive and negative. The reality is that 95% of purchasing decisions are made subconsciously (due to emotions), which means your call center agents need a high degree of emotional intelligence.
Building Emotional Intelligence Into the Call Center Customer Experience
One bad customer experience can be the difference between a long-term customer and that same customer heading toward the nearest exit. That’s why it’s vital to deliver both functional and emotional outcomes if you want your customers to feel brand loyalty. However, this isn’t always straightforward.
To bridge the gap between your call center agent’s emotional intelligence and customer service, it’s all about making emotional IQ essential.
There are six key behaviors associated with high emotional intelligence in the call center. Each of these behaviors can help your agents provide a better quality customer experience and can arm them with what they need to exceed customer expectations.
Anticipate customer requests: Customers feel connected to agents who can recognize their needs and shorten the time to resolution.
Deliver explanations and justifications: Providing facts, explanations, and justification helps a customer understand what’s happening and feel better about the situation and challenges-at-hand.
Educate customers: Customers appreciate leaving a customer service call with more knowledge than when they started.
Provide emotional support: A little empathy can go a long way in developing a relationship with the customer.
Offer personal information: Call center agents who include personal anecdotes where appropriate create an emotional connection.
Be authentic and get off script: Call scripts work well, but they can hamper an agent’s ability to have a real conversation.
The key is for your agents to ask direct questions during every customer interaction. They should ask:
“How are you?” This simple but powerful question provides verbal cues for the agent to improve the customer experience.
Clarifying questions: These types of questions ensure that your agent actually understands the customer’s challenges.
Elevating questions: At the end of a call, it’s important to take a step back and assess how the call went.