The Art of Communication in Contact Centers

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The Art of Communication in Contact Centers

Updated June 2022 (Originally posted October 2018) Latency, language differences, awkward auto-corrects, improper use of emojis (no, the poop emoji is not chocolate and ‘LOL’ doesn’t mean lots of love): there are many challenges for communication in contact centers with omnichannel customer access. Upgrade your approach to communication.

Communication Between Agents and Customers


Canned Responses and Scripts

Automated responses and scripts make a customer feel talked at. There are alternatives.

Active Listening

Increase First Call Resolution by training agents on active listening. This requires paying attention to all of the information given by the customer. Getting the details on the customer issue is important. However, assessing their tone, and paying attention to what makes their situation personal gives the agent actionable information to create a positive interaction. 

The agent can repeat the customer’s verifying it is fully understood.  If the agent is unsure what the customer meant, they can ask clarifying questions. 

Manage Emotions and Judgments

Part of active listening is emotional management. Customer service is filled with stories of negative responses by both customers and agents. Businesses can’t control their customer behavior, but they can empower agents to remain cool and focused while having a management framework to step in to support them when needed. 

Train agents to monitor and manage their own emotions and to become aware of their judgments. It is harder to respond in an effective way if biases and judgments are automatic. Show agents voice, email and chat examples of excellent listening and responses. For continued training, use the agent’s own responses that show poor communication. Tools like CSAT.AI automate quality assurance scoring. Both management and agent readily see what aspects of  performance can be improved in real time.

Provide courses in active listening like this one from LinkedIn.  Developing this emotional intelligence (also referred to as EQ) is a vital skill for our next point:

Respond with Empathy

When agents use active listening they have the information to be able to respond with appropriate situational empathy. Canned empathy, like a canned script, backfires because it is transparently fake. Customers want to be acknowledged and reassured that they’ll receive the help they came for. 

For more on how to apply empathy effectively, check out our article:  “Humor Creativity And Empathy In Customer Service: Know How To Read The Room”

Personalized Response

A professional response doesn’t have to mean a cold response. Agent tone and word choices that communicate confidence in the ability to resolve the customer issue and respect for the customer position are powerful tools. Addressing the customer by name correctly and appropriately creates a more personalized experience.  

Maintaining a Personal Experience While Using Automated Tools

Technology and AI assisted self-help options reduce agent load and company cost. How can a business use these tools without creating an impersonal customer experience?

Customer Info

Retaining customer information through transfers so that the customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves improves interactions.

Self-Serve Options

If automated systems provide a swift option they improve customer sentiment. Per Zendesk:
With 73% of consumers saying they want the ability to solve issues on their own, companies can do well to provide a customer experience tailored to self-service.”

Agents

During agent-customer interactions, tools like CSAT.AI provide agents real-time metrics informing them if they have actually addressed their customer’s concerns. CSAT.AI also reminds agents to ask customers targeted questions to provide helpful options when appropriate. Client-business relations improve prior to the end of the interaction improving First Contact Resolution (FCR).

Create a company culture that values agents. That value is amplified to customers. Scores track improvement over time and provide opportunities to encourage and reward agents. They also give goals for agents to reach, show their performance level and help them provide efficient service.

Knowing when to utilize human assistance is key. Automated systems are a cost saver. Per Harvard Business Review:


The cost of a do-it-yourself transaction is measured in pennies, while the average cost of a live service interaction (phone, e-mail, or webchat) is more than $7 for a B2C company and more than $13 for a B2B company.

from Harvard Business Review “Kick Ass Customer Service”

Still, automated systems only go so far. Customers routed through multiple menus because their issues are not listed become frustrated. A clear method for customers to exit the automated menu to reach an agent is necessary.

Tracking abandoned calls, time spent in automated menus, and agent assisted contacts reveal when a human agent is needed and how menus can be updated to improve customer experience.

Cultural and Language Differences

Call center services get outsourced to countries outside a businesses’ main customer base. The communication problems that result are often parodied (check Amy Schumer’s Comedy Central skit ). 

What are the solutions for an automated system that doesn’t understand a customer’s menu choices or a human interaction that results in arduous attempts at being understood?

Recorded information

Recording policies in the language(s) of choice, or other information that needs to be clearly understood and repeated, provides consistency relieving busy agents.

Though this works for a company policy it doesn’t work for  empathy which experts say cannot be scripted, as indicated in this Fortune article.

Tools

Tools like CSAT.AI can assist agents by identifying during an interaction how well they are communicating with the customer and when language has become inappropriate or ineffective without forcing an agent to use a script.


Communication Between Supervisors and Agents


Platforms for Agents

Contact center agents have demanding jobs. How can supervisors assist?

Group forums

When agents are able to express themselves as a group it creates solidarity, amplifies their voices and provides clear guidance to inform management. Group learning situations provide the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback that both agents and supervisors can benefit from.

One-on-one Conversations

There are times when a one on one situation is beneficial. This allows the agent to speak more candidly about problems and concerns without feeling singled out or embarrassed.

Acting on Information From Agents

It is important to actively employ agent contributions. Supervisors can act by:

Value agent input

Contact center agents are the ones dealing with customer issues day in and day out. That first hand knowledge is useful for streamlining processes, decreasing costs and elevating customer experience.

Updating tools

AI has evolved. Routine tasks and basic customer service inquiries can be handled by software. This frees human agents to focus on tougher issues. AI bolsters their knowledge so that they become more valuable agents. Providing tools to reduce agent burden allows agents to grow, improving employee retention.

Communication methods have come a long way technologically. Still business is a human enterprise. Ensuring that each aspect of communication in a call center honors every human element improves the experience for all.

Can you hear me now?