Co-author: Anne Nickerson, author of Not by the Seat of My Pants, is the president and founder of Partners in Development, LLC, and Call Center Coach, LLC.
When agents are hired, we set them up in a room with other new agents, some computer equipment and a trainer. The typical curriculum lacks the true Voice of the Customer (VOC), a voice that is not truly heard until the agent hits the floor and starts answering calls. Not surprisingly, what agents hear in training and what they hear from actual customers can be very different. The way to change this is by using insights from customers and turning them into practice for your agents.
Leveraging the Voice of the Customer
Here are some actual customer comments taken from the thousands Metrics collect every month:
They’ve made commitments. They don’t seem to understand issues such as service. I was very surprised, because that’s not the image that this company has in the marketplace.
I would have liked to have more assurance that this problem will be satisfied in an equitable manner.
You need to have people there who understand what’s being done and who can provide some sort of better response.
There’s no purpose having customer satisfaction personnel working in customer service. They have no authority to make any decisions or assist a customer having problems. It’s really laughable and disheartening.
Callers are describing quite clearly how they’ve scored your service, and the information is priceless: They have very little confidence in the agents’ answers. How you do you train the agents to provide answers in which the callers are confident?
Confidence has many facets. A customer’s level of confidence is influenced by the agent’s tone of voice. Every customer service training class should include a voice tone exercise and individual grading. Is the tone of voice strong, self-assured, assertive and evenly paced? And are the words easy to understand? Have individuals repeat a sentence out loud, placing the emphasis on different words each time. For example, the sentence, “I can help you resolve your issue” means something different to the customer than the sentence, “I can help you resolve your issue.”
Does the agent have the authority to offer a solution to resolve the caller’s issue? In the eyes of the customer, the agent is the company. While the agents may not have an immediate solution, they need to let the customer know they will work on the customer’s behalf. There’s a difference between saying, “I’ll try to see what I can do,” and, “Rest assured, I will research this for you right now.”
How to say no
In many situations, agents are the messengers of bad news, and customers may not like the answer. But agents can help the customer understand and accept the explanation. The secret is in telling the customer what can be done with sincerity and conviction. Knowing which alternatives are available—and practicing them during training—helps an agent learn to present information in a favorable manner. During training, provide agents a worksheet of negative, “I can’t” statements that could come up during customer calls and challenge the group to turn them all into positive statements. In this way, the agents learn to avoid words and phrases like, “unfortunately,” “but,” “our policy says” and “I can’t.”
A positive spin on “policy”
Enforcing corporate policy can affect satisfaction:
Your customer service offered no help. I realize it’s your policy, but it wasn’t very good.
Train agents to constructively “read policy” in a way consumers accept as fair to both parties. Agents need to understand the intent behind the policy and not use the policy as a crutch. Compare these two statements:
- “Our policy is that you cannot get your payment for at least a month.”
- “I understand you were expecting a different outcome. I am forwarding your request to our specialists, who will review your situation. You can expect an answer within the month.”
A customer’s psychological response to the first is defensive, but that’s not the case with the second statement.
How important is consistency to your training programs? Just listen to what your customers might say:
I receive misinformation from the operators when I call in. One operator will tell me one thing, and another operator will tell me something else
On two consecutive phone calls to your reservationists, I was quoted two totally different prices. The second person’s price was $20 higher in each category, and he indicated he had no idea where the first price came from. He made no effort to find out.
Inconsistency arises out of constantly changing information; the lack of a communication process or protocol; and/or the agent’s failure to check back. There are three ways to ensure consistency:
- Post changes and information in an online knowledge base for agents who have missed an email or a meeting. And have a designated person responsible for updates.
- Calibrate calls with coaches and agents to ensure everyone interprets information as intended.
- Have a clear process to communicate change. One organization in the midst of frequent changes named a person on every team to be responsible to communicate changes and ensure understanding.
An important part of your training is discussing with agents what to do when they don’t know or are unsure of the answer. Have them practice this type of statement: “I would like to ensure I give you accurate information. I’d like to research this with a specialist. Would you like to hold while I do that, or may I call you back?” Most customers will be glad to wait if they know they are getting accurate information.
Customers will tell you what drives their satisfaction—if you listen. These insights must be the foundation for your training curriculum.