call center agent training

Call center agent empowerment leads to customer satisfaction and customer retention

How many of you remember getting a gold star from your teacher for good work or good behavior?  I remember thinking that the tiny little symbol filled me with a sense of pride for a job well done.  What we find over and over again in our External Quality Monitoring programs is that call center agents want to feel empowered and they thrive on performance recognition.  Just like those gold stars from our younger years, when call center agents are held accountable for resolving customer complaints quickly and efficiently, and they are provided the tools to improve their performance, it’s not hard to see the link between satisfied agents and quality customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. Continue reading

Is your sales team selling out your agents?

If you ask a call center agent how many times a day they get yelled at by customers, the answer is too often – “all day long.” Agents bear the brunt of unrealistic customer expectations when the sales and marketing staff are overselling, overpromising or omitting information about the product at the point of sale.

While seemingly obvious, we constantly have to remind clients that when they mislead customers just to close the deal, the agents will ultimately feel the negativity (and so does the brand). And it’s a vicious cycle – the customers are unhappy and complain to the agents, and the agents don’t feel supported by their organization leading to churn in the call center. What should you do to better manage expectations at the point of sale so that your agents can do their jobs better? Are you quantitatively determining the impact of the point of sale? When should you say “yes” to saying “no”? Continue reading

Deal with the RED flag before it’s a WHITE flag

Open-ended survey questions give customers the opportunity to give the reasons why they scored your company or your service they way they did.  The beauty of the Survey Calibration process is the opportunity to find Knuggets of wisdom that deliver Business Intelligence from the Voice of the Customer (VoC).   In many cases, real-time customer comments like these give insight into problems with the call center agent and customer interaction.  Capturing the VoC in this manner has become vital to engineering the perception of an elite level of customer service experiences.

As numerous studies have revealed, unhappy agents = unhappy customers.  In many cases, post call surveys can reveal the sentiment behind the score indicating that it’s time to re-engage an agent.  Perhaps it’s time for coaching or additional training, or even time to evaluate performance as a whole.

The point here is, the sooner you address the underlying issues that cause unhappy customers, the sooner you can correct the causes of unhappy call center agents:

“Calling your service representative is worse than being in a cave with a lion or a tiger, and a bear.  They ask too many questions.  They are robotic.  If they are not robotic, then they act like they are puppets. They are ‘I’m just doing my job’.  They are insensitive and the experience is terrible.  I hate calling your place.  I hate it.”

“The sales representative was busier talking to himself than he was talking to me.  He definitely didn’t seem to know anything about what I was after.”

“I’m dissatisfied with your company generally.  I was quite dismayed with the offhanded manner with which your representative handled me by saying ‘thank you for your two cents’.  I realize you are in California and professionalism may be a little alien to you, but ‘thank you for your two cents’ is pretty shoddy and tacky.  It was just like your policies.”

“The representative seemed to be almost incoherent, as if she was watching TV while she was trying to answer my questions.  She wasn’t clear.  She just seemed distracted with something else.  She had problems.  When I asked a question, a couple of times this would happen, she would not answer the specific question.  She would restate something else that was unrelated.  I was very troubled by my call.” 

Happy Monday!

Communicating the Results – Part 3 of a 4 Part Series: Supervisors and Agents

Over the last two weeks, I’ve covered how to communicate the results of your call center to both the Executive Management and to the Operations Team. Today we will turn our focus to the Supervisors and Agents in your call center.  Again, it’s important that each group gets the proper information to perform to the best of its ability.

Reports for Supervisors and Agents

Managing a team of contact center agents requires a combination of quantitative and qualitative customer feedback to measure, track, compare and motivate. And the shorter the lag time between a call and the availability of the customer’s feedback, the better!  

The availability of real-time data expedites a supervisor’s ability to identify trends in performance, provide feedback to agents and conduct service recoveries for defective service experiences. 

Customer Comment Report

Customers are in a unique position to motivate agents through their positive comments. The knowledge that a customer was impacted by a service experience to the point where he/she would take the time to make it known, is often more effective than any praise given by a peer or supervisor. Conversely, a customer’s comment could also shed light on sub-par scores. It is the complement of this qualitative feedback to the quantitative data that allows for a holistic approach to the customer experience.

Since customers are not able to see and have never met the agents they interact with, they create a mental image of what this person must be like using expectations and prior experience as a guide. Consumers categorize others because it makes their lives simpler and provides a feeling of control. Callers, therefore, will know (or think they know) how to approach a situation in which they are dealing with people they don’t know because they have already categorized it. They begin with a prototype in mind of what the agent should be like and how the interaction should go. When an agent fits the prototype, and even goes beyond the customer’s expectations, then Wow Factor feedback is collected: 

  • “The young man who helped me was courteous and quite knowledgeable of the ways of the company. In fact, if I ever needed anything in the future I would be tempted to call back and repeatedly call back until I received him. I would even like to have him over for dinner. Maybe even some beer and watch some baseball.”
  • “I found him to be intelligent, quick on the uptake, very pleasant, agreeable and had a sense of humor. That’s rare among bankers.”
  • “Sharon was outstanding. She deserves some additional compensation. This is not one of her relatives. Thank you.”
  • “I was very impressed with the service that I got today over the phone. There is no way we will ever leave you unless somebody really, really screws something up bad.”

This also takes a negative direction when the agent does not fit into the prototype.

  • “Your customer service needs to do customer service. When they can’t help you or refuse to help you, they follow up with the question: What more can they do to help? Well they haven’t done anything to begin with. A bunch of Cretins.”
  • “This rep treated me like I was stupid. I didn’t appreciate it. You should never treat a customer like they are stupid, even if they are.”
  • “Your reps are the least informed, ill-equipped and most ignorant people I’ve ever run into. This bank is the perfect advertisement for any other bank.”

We have all suspected that satisfaction and/or dissatisfaction in one’s life role may be transferred into other life roles, like an agent taking a bad day out on a customer and vice versa. Frustration or dissatisfaction with a product/service may actually be the result of the consumer feeling frustrated in life roles other than the consumer role. Agents must not only manage the delivery, they must also detect and manage the issue for the caller — all with the company’s best interest at the forefront.

  • “Thank you for making my depressing life a little bit better with the service that you have given me.”
  • “The representative was very courteous and kind. I appreciate her. The only problem I’ve ever had is that our former banker had an affair with my husband. We divorced and now they’re married. So, in that area I’m not satisfied with the services the bank has provided.”

Customers also expect to be treated in a manner consistent with their role as the customer in the interaction. Research shows that consumers evaluate service institutions and personnel positively when the personnel treat them as individuals who have specific needs to be met by the service interaction. If agents do not, customers will let you know.

  • “The representative was very efficient and this is true to your company’s form.  Every time that I have called customer service I have gotten excellent service and today was no different.”
  • “It took four phone calls to get a pink slip. I’ve paid the car off. I deserve the pink slip. The first call I made said I would get it in 10 days; it’s now been 6 weeks.  This phone call said it was mailed yesterday. Somehow I doubt that, but we’ll see.  If I don’t get it, I’ll call you back. I don’t mind. I’m retired. I’ve got nothing to do but call you folks until I get what I want.”
  • “You can return my calls, which you don’t do. I’ve asked to talk to a supervisor a few times. I haven’t gotten a supervisor to give me a call so why should you ask me to waste my time on this survey when you won’t have a supervisor call me. I think that’s pretty rude. You can call me at XXX-XXX-XXXX. I doubt I’ll hear from you but it would be really nice if I did and it would make my day and might change my perception on how I’ve been treated.”

Why be concerned with the research behind customer comments? Well, it’s a component of increasing customer satisfaction, loyalty and creating a positive word of mouth. If you can better understand your customers, you can create a better environment for the service interaction. You can also educate your agents and use this information as a training opportunity for them to garner a better understanding of consumer comments. After all, customers do say the darnest things.

Real-Time Performance Dashboards

By viewing the real-time dashboard below, a supervisor could quickly surmise that today’s call resolution and call satisfaction statistics are trending below the month’s average. The supervisor now has a goal for the day, as well as a minute-by-minute indicator of his/her success in impacting these key metrics.

Real-Time Alerts

The availability of real-time data also allows supervisors the opportunity to recover customers who have had a dissatisfying service experience. Although the caller may not have been satisfied with the service experience in general, satisfaction with the service recovery experience is significantly related to their intention to repurchase [1].  If there is no process for service recovery, the relationships of 15 percent of your customers are at risk (if not 15 percent, insert the percentage of your callers who would rate the experience as poor). Customers who have had a service failure that was resolved quickly and properly are more loyal to a company than are customers who have never had a service failure — significantly more loyal [2, 3]. The key to success is a quick resolution. How quickly do you initiate a recovery plan after the dissatisfying experience? Is there a service recovery plan in operation?

Many call centers have inadequate processes in place to capture, nevermind address, a failure in customer experiences. The process, and its timeliness, leaves too many customer relationships exposed. Service recovery should protect the exposed asset during the call experience (whether that exposure was a direct result of Agent behavior or caused by the organization’s process). Is recovery of the relationship even possible? It is unlikely if you do not know about it, as only about 5 percent to 10 percent of customers choose to complain to the company [4]. More likely, it results in negative word of mouth (market damage) and the discontinued use of your products and services. A lost customer is an easy, low-cost-to-acquire new customer for a competitor AND is customer value lost to your organization.

Components that facilitate timely notification of dissatisfaction enhance service recovery. By instituting a real-time survey, the amount of saved customer relationships will increase not only customer satisfaction, but have a direct link to an increase in customer loyalty. An immediate alert of a failed experience tells an important story. Is there a common issue with a particular agent? Ineffective behavior can be quickly addressed, minimizing the ongoing negative impact for the agent and the organization. Is there a common process issue? Caller dissatisfaction may be rooted in a new policy or procedure. Identify and change the procedure or identify and provide an effective Agent response to common aspects of customer dissatisfaction. Extrapolate the findings from the service recovery group and leverage this within your organization. 

A real-time alert feature delivers significant value by proactively responding to callers who experienced difficulty with an interaction and are leaving the interaction dissatisfied. The EQM program contains a systematic approach to capture the reason for the customer-defined failure (people, process, or technology classifications) to highlight patterns for the organization. Without a framework, proving the effect of a process issue, for example, is more difficult.

We included the dashboard with this post because it communicates to center management the critical elements that must be chronically monitored and managed. 

To wrap up this series next week, we’ll recap these three groups and introduce some interesting powers of persuasion to help you when communicating the results.

 

This post is part of the book, “Survey Pain Relief.”  Why do some survey programs thrive while others die? And how do we improve the chances of success? In “Survey Pain Relief,” renowned research scientists Dr. Jodie Monger and Dr. Debra Perkins, tackle numerous plaguing questions.  Inside, the doctors reveal the science and art of customer surveying and explain proven methods for creating successful customer satisfaction research programs. 

“Survey Pain Relief” was written to remedy the $billions spent each year on survey programs that can be best described as survey malpractice.  These programs are all too often accepted as valid by the unskilled and unknowing.  Inside is your chance to gain knowledge and not be a victim of being lead by the blind.  For more information http://www.surveypainrelief.com/

 

References

1.  Boshoff (1999). Journal of Service Research, 1, (1), p 236-249

2.  Blodgett, Wakefield and Barnes (1995). Journal of Services Marketing, 9, (4), p 31-42

3.  Smith and Bolton (1998). Journal of Service Research, 1, (1),  p 65-81

4.  Tax and Brown (1998). Sloan Management Review, 40, (1), p 75-88

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