In the contact centre industry there is a constant drive to improve. Improve first time call resolution, improve average handling time, and improve systems through technology. But where do people fit into all of this? There has been such a strong emphasis on metrics and technology as key components for improving contact centre efficiency for so long, but what about the people? How much time are we spending focusing on the humans that are at the centre of delivering an important part of our customer experience?
At the recent Future of the Contact Centre Conference held in London, I was reminded once again of the value of connecting with people in the contact centre industry. People that are all passionate about customer service and making the industry a stimulating environment to work in. Consistently among the speakers was as theme that while digital technology has a lots to offer in terms of improving efficiency, the contact centre industry is still very much about people.
Ian Naylor from Virgin Atlantic shared how simply being available when customers wanted to talk to them, improved customer engagement and increased profits quite significantly. Jason Roberts from Dixon’s Car Phone group shared how important he felt it was that they didn’t, in getting caught up in technology, lose the one thing that’s really important, which is what people do for their company.
These are sentiments that I share and it got me thinking: What can we as managers and trainers do to focus more on the people in our contact centres? Not just customers but employees too.
How to empower and equip our contact centre people
Contact centres can teach people valuable life skills that are beneficial in any industry. Focusing on training so that agents can become accomplished in these skills will help them to feel more confident and competent in their daily tasks.
Communication – Clear communication is vital in a contact centre. Train people how to speak clearly and articulate explanations so that they can be easily understood. Knowing how to listen is as important as speaking. Active listening helps agents to identify the core problem being presented and helps them to give customers a direct and accurate answer that will satisfy them.
People skills – Knowing how to work with all types of people is a valuable skill in any industry, and few industries give you the exposure to as many different people as the contact centre industry. A key factor is training people to work with empathy as this is what can calm even the most aggressive customers. Learning how to diffuse a volatile situation or even inject humour into a conversation helps create a rapport that customers remember and appreciate and gives agents a sense of accomplishment.
Tenacity – Working in a contact centre helps to build a strong work ethic and resilience. After an agent has a challenging call, encourage them to keep at it and not let that one bad call get to them. Knowing they add value to the business and make a difference in the lives of customers, will give them a sense of purpose that builds strength and resilience needed in the business world.
Teamwork – Sharing information and expertise and encouraging collaboration helps people see the value of teamwork. It also creates a sense of belonging. Make time and funds available for teambuilding activities so that agents can get to know one another better and have some fun because this helps to encourage a happier work environment.
Bigger picture – There are few industries where you get to interact on a daily basis with people from so many different backgrounds. Help agents to see themselves as something beyond just a person answering the phone. They are representing the company and they are making a difference in customer’s lives. This exposure also helps them to gain a broader worldview and all the better if they have fun in the process.
Customers are people too
More than anything, customers are tired of being sold to. Now in interactions with companies they are looking for authenticity. They want to know that they matter as people and not just because of the money they make the company.
Companies that are leading the way in terms of customer engagement and positive customer experiences are those that are making the effort to build genuine relationships with people. And as Virgin Atlantic demonstrated, by simply being available to customers, their profits naturally increased.
There is increasing evidence that focusing on people is more profitable than focusing on efficiency and achieving bottom line profits. Despite what technology has to offer and what metrics tell us, at the end of the day its people that create and drive business. Keeping in touch with our humanness is far more valuable in terms of business success.
Carolyn Blunt is Managing Director of Ember Real Results, a Learning & Development company focused on all things customer. To find out how the performance of your contact centre could be enhanced through training contact firstname.lastname@example.org