Are You a Customer Service Hero, Villain or Problem Solver?

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Ah, the life of a call center agent. A cushy job, right? You do nothing more than talk to customers on the phone and punch some information into a keypad. Sounds cool, sign me up!

You get to sit in a cramped cubicle wearing a scratchy headset and stare at a screen for 8 hours a day. After a few weeks, you start looking for an ergonomic pad to cushion the small of your back – which has started to ache (maybe it’s because you’re sitting down for too long?).

That great new haircut you spent $75 on (and takes forever to style) gets ruined each day by that headset and you wonder why you bothered in the first place. Might as well just put your hair in a ponytail and forget it.

Next comes the shoulder pain, the neck pain and the feeling you’re trapped in a never-ending cycle of discomfort and overbearing management. And we haven’t even discussed the complaining customers!

Whatever happened to that cushy job? Well, it’s still there, just hidden behind the failed mindset of complacency.

When the challenges of any job seem greater than the benefits received it’s easy to become downtrodden and accept the negatives of a position. But that’s when the call center star agents rise above the fray.

I’ve been in the customer service industry in one form or another for most of my career and learned a sure-fire way to deal with the different interactions we face each day – be an actor!

We’re all actors each day without knowing it. Example:

When a pretty girl walks past a single guy, he immediately sucks in his stomach and stands tall. It’s like magic. Why does he do this? Because he wants to look his best. He’s acting.

When someone goes to a job interview she must focus on not only her skill set but the value she brings to the company and how she is best suited to solve the businesses challenges. That may not be 100% accurate but it is an important focus to take if you want that position. She’s acting.

Call center agents must take a similar role when faced with difficult interactions with customers.

An actor assumes the role as needed – the villain, the hero, or in this case, the problem solver.

When training agents many times we focus too much on policy, procedures and to follow the script provided. But we should follow the basic rule of service – to put yourself in the customer’s shoes.

A successfully trained agent doesn’t shy away from a difficult customer. He/she relishes the opportunity to solve their problem – confident they can provide a satisfactory (the bare minimum needed) resolution and maintain the customer for years to come.

Most employees, especially call center agents, are already trained on the most common service skills needed such as empathy, active listening, speaking concisely and follow through (among many others). But we must be proactive in our approach to service with the understanding that many of our customer interactions will be with difficult customers.

Here are 3 unique skill sets we must train for to deal with these situations.

Train for Confidence

Whether they believe it or not, every agent will already possess skills well versed in customer service. When speaking with friends or family agents show empathy, honesty, and flexibility. They will also have a “backbone” and not allow themselves to be taken advantage of.

Training must reinforce these skills. Successful agents understand they must take a position of authority during the phone call while realizing the outcome must still be beneficial to the customer. That’s the ultimate goal – a satisfied customer. But we are the “experts” and possess the ability to make things “right”.

Confident agents know this and practice it each day on each call.

Train-away the Robot

We’ve all had phone conversations with a salesperson or agent and quickly realized they’re reading from a script. Doesn’t that get you angry? I want to jump through the phone, grab the person by the shoulders, give them a strong shake and yell “Speak like a person already!”

But many can’t help it. After weeks, months or years reading from a prepared service script, and speaking with an untold number of customers, they fall into this trap. Training must focus on:

  • Vocal Variety – the ability to vary your voice pitch, speed, and intensity to match the words used and their meaning. We do this normally each day in our personal conversations but for some reason, we forget this skill when in the call center.
  • Pauses – many dislike the natural pauses of conversation or become uncomfortable during them. But by understanding their power when used correctly we can place extra emphasis on the resolution we provide.

Train for the Solution

The agent is the solution provider, not merely the troubleshooter. She doesn’t just identify the problem and recommend the resolution, she fixes it!

Here’s what has helped me during my years as a trainer and speaker – knowing I was there to help those in attendance. I had the solution. I had the knowledge. I had the experience. And I will get it done.

I knew they didn’t have the exact background I had and that there was at least one piece of information, no matter how small, that could help them in their quest for improved service, morale and increased profits.

There is no magic bullet when training customer service agents to handle difficult situations – I wish there was. But realizing the agent is the front line of service we must provide them with the training that works and allows them to turn the customer’s frown upside down.

Especially if they’re NOT an actor!

This article is adapted from my post as a featured contributor to ICMI.

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