By Dwayne King
Many call centers measure success by how fast they can close tickets and get off the phone. In contrast, customers seek deeper connections with the brands they love, and often their only direct human interaction with that brand is through the call center. Even if your company doesn’t push for and track metrics on closure rates and resolution time, call center personnel are trained to treat conversations as transactions. Their goal is to resolve the issue at hand and move on to the next customer. These approaches ignore an opportunity to connect with customers, build stronger relationships, and increase loyalty.
In one study, 87 percent of respondents said they were more likely to recommend a brand based on a great experience, 80 percent were more likely to consider a brand if they knew they would have a great experience, and nearly six in ten organizations were prepared to pay more for a brand that offered a great experience. A transactional interaction, focused on closing the ticket quickly, squanders the chance to build a lasting customer relationship and positive brand appeal. It also misses an opportunity to reinforce the culture and values that build customer loyalty.
In this crowded and noisy world, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract and maintain attention all while building a loyal customer base. So how do you ensure that your customer service team is looking beyond merely answering the phone and taking orders? How do you help them empathize with each caller and offer the deep human connection customers crave?
We often see linear customer life cycles that start with identifying the customer and end with support. This reinforces the idea of support as a cost-center. However, with the right culture, training, and mind-set, support centers can become brand ambassadors that provide a human connection to illustrate and reinforce culture and values.
Yet while customers are trying to connect with a company, call centers are often geographically distanced from the main operations of a company. Without intentional effort to include them, they can develop their own culture and values that separate them from the company’s brand promise. Understanding the values and culture of an organization is pivotal to creating and delivering the experience companies want to give their customers and the experience customers want to have. Here are the ways we encourage call centers to promote a strong and successful culture to drive loyalty, sales, and a higher customer-lifetime value.
Solidify Your Brand: Ensure your brand promise by defining how you’re going to treat your customers. Then make sure it is consistent through every channel, especially for your support team. To create this consistency with agents, we recommend training that includes developing their empathy, deep listening, and reframing skills.
Build Empathy: Conduct an empathy-mapping exercise with your team. Begin by having them list the types of customers they encounter, letting them explore different attitudes, complaints and situations. Now have them create empathy maps for each type of customer. What might the customer be thinking, feeling, doing, or wanting? What are their pain points? Lastly, have the team discuss and document how they could best serve each customer, solving pain points and creating delight.
Understand Deep Listening and Reframing: Train your team on interview techniques that identify a root cause versus a symptom of the customer’s issue. Help them focus on the problem they’re trying to solve and not what customers are necessarily asking for. What is not enough; coach them to ask why.
Henry Ford famously said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” Instead of raising thoroughbreds, though, Ford considered why. Americans actually wanted mobility and speed—an affordable and quick way to move from home to work. Ford’s ability to reframe a request enabled a massive shift in class and quality of life, first in the United States and eventually around the world. To be more like Ford, teach your team that, in order to identify the root cause of a problem, they need to reframe the client’s request to deliver the best experience for the customer and the most value for the company.
Implement Training: Create training sessions where an employee role-plays as one of the customers identified during the empathy mapping exercise. Have him or her call in with a request or issue. Then take turns practicing various scenarios to exercise your employees’ deep listening skills.
Questioning strategies include the following:
- Use open-ended questions: Avoid questions that lead the caller to a specific answer, and be careful not to introduce a biased opinion.
- Watch your language: Use simple words and short, single purpose questions. Also, be mindful of internal company jargon that may confuse the caller.
- Utilize your tools: Understanding a conversation or request may require an agent to combine insights gleaned from the empathy-mapping process with the root cause behind a call. Using these two strategies, call center staff can reframe an order or issue into a more expansive opportunity.
Influence your brand narrative by creating a positive, productive experience that leads to a memorable interaction. Not only will it increase customer lifetime value, but it can transform your contact center from an operating cost to a valuable brand advocate.
Dwayne King is the chief strategy officer at Pinpoint, a design strategy agency in Portland, Oregon. He has led creative teams for over fifteen years. Dwayne believes in digging into business and customer needs first, and he transforms himself in every project from a questioning student to a confident strategist.