The Power of Conversation: We May Be Looking at Productivity All Wrong



By Holger Reisinger

When was the last time you heard someone rave about his or her experience with a customer service representative? If you can’t recall, it’s not surprising. According to my company’s research, 80 percent of customer service workers say they deliver “superior” service. Yet only 8 percent of customers agree. Where’s the disconnect? It’s centered on the productivity of the worker.

The performance of traders, advisors, call-center employees, and customer service representatives is typically measured by tracking volume of calls, time between calls, and number of breaks. Instead, the emphasis should be on improving employee concentration and efficiency through discovering the power of conversation. At most companies this could close the gap between the most and least productive employees by 47 percent. 

The Importance of People: To supplement live operators, more and more companies are automating customer service functions, but I would argue that this is not the answer. Interacting with an automated recording often inconveniences and angers customers. Anyone who has ever walked through the multistep automated customer service menu only to finally be redirected to a person can probably agree that the experience is frustrating at best. While there is a time and a place for automated calls, such as allowing customers to check bank balances or make payments, we gain much with human communication.

Only a human being can actively listen, understand nuances, and seek information that directly correlates to a customer service problem. This means that customer service representatives have the potential to transform the customer experience. Humans can empathize, solve problems, and help make decisions, unlike a prerecorded machine.

Humans can have a dialogue. Through the power of conversation, employees can encourage brand loyalty and promote a positive brand reputation.

Statistics to Consider: While conversations are an important business tool, organizations put themselves at risk of losing business when they use customer service representatives who lack training in the power of conversation. A few stats to consider:

  • Eighty-nine percent of customers will leave a brand for a competitor after a negative customer experience.
  • Poor service entices up to 91 percent of customers to rescind their business, and that’s not limited to poor service from automated systems.
  • Customers angered by poor service not only leave a brand, they also share their negative experiences with up to fifteen other people.
  • Conversely 73 percent of consumers say they will love a brand if they receive friendly and helpful service on the phone.

Data like this reinforces how critical it is for organizations to put the time and effort into training employees to deliver a positive, memorable experience. With this in mind, it’s shocking to find that only 12 percent of marketing budgets address servicing existing customers.

Deal with Distractions: In addition to small budgets, the changing office landscape also contributes to call center worker challenges. In the move to create open and collaborative office spaces, employers are introducing new and bigger distractions. In fact, a quarter of call center employees count interruptions from colleagues and a loud workplace as their biggest distractions. Trailing not far behind, the number of calls and emails each day are also cited as a major distraction and stressor.

As if a noisy environment isn’t challenging enough for delivering quality customer service, 73 percent of decision-makers in call center environments say there’s an increase in the complexity of customer interactions. Today’s customers are well educated on their problem before contacting the brand. Through an increase in technology, customer service is expected to be available online via chat, email, over the phone, or via text. Increased complexity means there is an even bigger need for concentration on the task at hand.

Some Simple Suggestions: Calls have an important place in the organization, and they aren’t going away any time soon. In fact the length of calls is expected to increase by 40 percent in the next five years. The open and collaborative office space isn’t likely to go away any time soon either. So what can an organization do to help their employees battle distractions and stay focused?Employees can encourage brand loyalty and promote a positive brand reputation. Click To Tweet

A few tricks that we uncovered include:

  • Stay hydrated: Our research found the most productive call center agents were 22 percent more likely to say “bottoms up” to a glass of water than the least productive. A recent study in the U.K. found that one in five office spaces has about 25 percent relative humidity—nearly that of the Sahara Desert. It’s no surprise that productive agents are more likely to stay hydrated when you consider how difficult it would be to concentrate on a conversation with a parched mouth and itchy throat from nearly four hours of talking (in the desert) each day.
  • Control noise: The most productive call center employees have the right supporting tools to help them stay on task, including noise-canceling technology to drown out the open office buzz and hone in on what the customer is saying.  
  • Improve posture: Shifting posture throughout the day was another key factor that separated the most and least productive call center employees. Encourage employees to be mindful of their posture and move as needed instead of focusing on the number of calls they can zip through in an hour. You just might find that actual productivity and the number of happy customers increases.

Boosting customer satisfaction doesn’t require an overhaul of the way your organization operates. Call center employees and their human touch have and will remain vital in creating value for customers and delivering high-quality service. Instead, smart companies are providing working conditions that enable concentration and help service representatives overcome top challenges to productive calls. With the right tools and support in place, organizations can finally realize the full power of conversation.

Holger Reisinger is SVP of Business Solutions at Jabra.