Nearshore Americas

Have Your Agents Been Trained to Listen?

Soft skill training – especially in the fundamental art of listening to the customer – is overlooked far too often by contact center organizations.

The CSR’s proficiency to convey product information or provide service is invaluable. Content training is pretty much standard: classroom courses, e-courses, testing and monitoring, leading to certification. It is supported by the call center Skills Based Routing application, managing queues by CSR proficiencies.

A soft skill training curriculum includes lessons in: listening, tone, conversation, dialect, research, documentation. Measuring performance becomes reminiscent of the methodology used by Henry Higgins. Combined, content and soft skills training encompass the full arsenal of knowledge to resolve client issues. For purposes of this discussion, the focus will be soft skills training.
Focus on Customer Experience

When establishing the goals of soft skills training, it becomes essential to view customer experience strategy. With each call center channel release (web, correspondence, social networks), variables have expanded in the quest toward First Call Resolution (FCR) and client satisfaction. Call center databases have gone from tracking call reason and resolution to include demographic profiling, contact channel preferences, time of day interaction. We are obliged to tie the interaction with the transaction if we are to maintain loyalty. Today, CRM platforms have the capability to integrate data from multiple contact channels, provide client data and present current company reports to CSRs.

In addition to content knowledge, specific soft skills prove to be worthwhile tools toward problem resolution. The highlights of soft skill training include: listening, decision making, and documenting.

Call center databases have gone from tracking call reason and resolution to include demographic profiling, contact channel preferences, time of day interaction. We are obliged to tie the interaction with the transaction if we are to maintain loyalty.

Listening: We’ve all encountered the perky CSR, rapidly reading a script. Supporting the CSR as knowledge worker is a wealth of information on the initial client data screen (usually housed in a CRM application). Preliminary pre-recorded introductions provide the CSR with a moment to scan this and learn some basic information about the caller: demographic profile, language preference and transaction history. This information provides clues as to how to converse with the caller. Providing demographic, geographic and cultural specific training, as well as information access, acknowledges the importance of client satisfaction.

It is the CSR’s charter to listen to the caller in order to understand the request. The reason for contact is an important cue in setting the tone of the encounter. With basic questions in hand, the CSR is given a roadmap toward resolution. Training the CSR to edit a script to illicit information toward understanding the issue, cushions the caller with a sense of advocacy, rather than someone trying to achieve specific call center metrics such as, Average Handle Time (AHT) or Service Level (SVL).

Decision Making: Soft Skills training may also encourage CSRs in the decision making process. As a knowledge worker, the CSR is expected to provide product information or service. After acknowledging the steps taken toward resolution by the client, it becomes evident that further research is necessary. Rather than transfer the caller from one CSR to another, it becomes advantageous to allow the primary CSR to partner with the client. In this scenario, the CSR is encouraged to go off-script and research the issue at hand. This allows the CSR to establish a relationship with the client – the basic precept of CRM.

The CSR-client partnership not only reduces AHT and increases client confidence, it also deflects potential abandonment rates (there is probably another company that provides the same product or service you offer). Client proprietorship provides the CSR with a calling: researching answers by contacting other lines of business thus enhancing their skills based routing resume and ultimately enhance performance.

Along with decision making comes responsibility. Here, corporate policy comes into play: establishing call back and follow-up schedules, defining escalation resources, and selecting appropriate correspondence templates.

Documentation: How often have we called a company with a technical problem, been given a Tracking Number, only to hear from the Help Desk CSR that there is no record of the call? While the problem was resolved during the first call, it has unfortunately resurfaced. Frustration ensues. Our elation from the FCR experience has now been eradicated. Starting at ground zero, repeating all the steps taken prior to this call, AHT skyrockets. Company value added skydives.

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Lesson Learned: Providing CSRs with a minimum of task or procedure boxes and/or codes to check off during the call provides invaluable historical data. Basic CSR documentation includes: call reason, steps taken toward resolution, actual resolution and any required follow-up tasks. Added value: information about a call provides a data base that can be recycled by various lines of business (marketing, training and operations) to further product and campaign strategies.

Today, CSRs are expected to be knowledge workers as well as facile communicators. Attention to soft skills training contributes to company goals, client retention, revenue, and positive branding.

Sara-Ann Bermont, Ph.D. has over 20 years experience in the multi-channel call center and CRM sector as a consultant, trainer and program manager. Her experience reflects extensive experience in strategic evaluations, needs assessments and proposals in variety of industries. She has worked for major global telecommunication and services organizations. Her charters included working within diverse service center environments having critical customer service goals.

Kirk Laughlin

Kirk Laughlin is an award-winning editor and subject expert in information technology and offshore BPO/ contact center strategies.

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