The call center is one of the most integral components that contribute to customer success. According to a survey by Salesforce, 80% of customers “now consider their experience with a company to be as important as its products”.
71% of call center agents approach their jobs more strategically because they know this – customers now need to be treated more individually to keep their business. No matter the situation, customers want to know that if they get through to the call center, they will find a tangible solution to their problem.
Despite this, social media is often buzzing with allegations of rudeness and unfair treatment by call center agents. Granted, working at a call center is emotionally and mentally draining.
However, if you see customer service (remote or on site) as key to improving customer success and acquire certain skills, it becomes easier to carry out your assignment and achieve higher levels of customer satisfaction.
First, here’s a list of things you shouldn’t say to customers
“There’s nothing I can do to help”
Don’t say this, even if it’s true. Instead, find another way to let the customer know that the situation is beyond your control, but you are doing all you possibly can to help. Offer an explanation if there’s one. E.g. “I’m sorry about this delay, our logistics department is currently overwhelmed by a backlog due to the current crisis. If you will just hold on for a few minutes, I will escalate this and you should get an email with your delivery details within 24hrs.”
“I don’t know”
Say it’s hard to tell or that you’re not able to speak to the situation, anything but this phrase that offers no relief whatsoever to the customer. Remember that customers have high expectations of your position and believe you have access to the solutions they seek.
“We’re working on it, please wait”
While this might be the case, it isn’t sufficient to simply say so. It’s likely to come across as a generic answer that is lacking in empathy and specificity. Therefore, you should add extra information that shows that something is really happening, such as: “I’ve escalated the issue to our finance department, someone will contact you between today and tomorrow.” This is more specific and reassuring.
True, it is sometimes difficult to avoid these answers, especially if you are going through personal challenges or the work environment is hostile. So, this article will share six soft skills you can acquire to help you to be at your best.
If you’re starting a new call center and need to know what kind of agents you should be hiring, you’ll find this article particularly useful. Investing in customer experience can deliver huge returns on investment, but not only do you need to get good communication tools, you need to find agents with the right customer service skills.
Before I go into these six soft skills however, let me stress once more how integral the call center is to customer success.
Six soft skills you need to have as a call center agent
#1 Good listening
I know it’s hard, especially when you have already listened to the same thing countless times. But here’s the thing about listening, if you’re doing it well, you’ll get to the root of the matter faster than if you were just reciting the company policy.
As the caller speaks, try to understand what the base emotion is. It can be one of these:
When you identify what the emotion is, speak to it. Say the emotion is frustration, tell the caller that you understand their frustration and let them know what you’re doing to mitigate it. What this does is that it assures the caller that you are treating them as a human, and not as a statistic.
According to the survey by Salesforce, 84% of customers say that being treated this way is vital to winning their business. So listen, really listen to the caller.
How do you become a better listener?
- Practice by listening to others!
- Don’t listen to speak, listen to understand.
- Have an open mind, try not to be defensive, especially when you’re tired.
#2 Problem solving
Customers often call with tricky questions, such as when you think their situation will be resolved or what they can do concerning a situation you have no control over. Your response cannot be silence, so here are your options: read out something from the company policy, tell them something absolutely unhelpful, tell them something thoughtful that will help them feel better in that moment (even if it does nothing to change the status quo).
It’s important to be able to think on your feet to give a suitable response. It’s a crisis management skill that can save you and the company from embarrassment. Remember, some callers will take to social media to tell the world what your response was.
If you’re not given to problem solving and unable to give a suitable response within a quick time frame, it might become a problem in the future.
Here are a couple of ways to improve this skill or acquire it if you don’t have it:
- Anticipate this position by imagining several dicey scenarios.
- Come up with solutions/answers to these scenarios/questions.
- Evaluate them to confirm that they are in line with the company’s policy.
- Practice proffering solutions to everyday problems to hone your skill.
As you continue to prepare your mind to produce solutions spontaneously, you’ll find that you are more able to think on your feet and callers will feel much better after interacting with you.
#3 Time management
When customers call the call center, they want to talk, and rightly so, they’re aggrieved about something. In a lot of cases, even though they know why they have called the center, people end up recounting the history of the issue at hand. They do this because they want you to understand the situation and get a broad perspective of it. But you don’t have all the time in the world; there are more callers on queue and you need to deliver your job to as many people as possible.
Therefore, it’s important to be conscious of time, even when you’re listening to customers. Although you want to achieve customer satisfaction, you don’t want to do this at the expense of other callers.
A good way to manage time effectively, is to narrow down the reason for the call as early as possible. After you have taken the necessary identifying information, review the situation as promptly as you can and then ask the customer what assistance they would like you to render. If they make a claim, confirm it and identify the solution as soon as you can.
Here are a couple of ways to manage your time effectively as a call center agent:
- Be sure to confirm the status of the customer first – if they can provide the suitable identifying information.
- Identify the problem as soon as you possibly can. Sometimes you don’t have to listen for too long to know, especially when it’s related to a commonly identified problem.
- Don’t argue. If the caller is ranting, allow them to, except they are being abusive. Maintain the focus of the call: to solve a product usage or service problem.
#4 Effective communication
Whatever you do, you want to communicate two things: the company’s policy on the situation and your own empathy regarding it. If you leave either one out, your communication will be ineffective. This usually results in misinformation and misunderstanding.
At no point in the conversation should the caller feel dismissed, unheard, or insulted. Here are ways to ensure that you communicate effectively:
- Always keep the company’s policy on the front burner, don’t get carried away and make promises you can’t keep.
- While aligning your responses to the company’s policy, give room for empathy and let the caller feel heard. Remember, identify the base emotion and speak to it. Use words like: “I can only imagine your disappointment, but please rest assured that you will get a response soon.” “You have nothing to worry about, the product works well, you only need to do xyz.”
- Offer a palliative – remember that it must be in line with the company policy. E.g. “I can only imagine your frustration, ma’am. I have just escalated this to the frauds department, you should get an email from them shortly.”
- Adjust your tone to reflect your empathy. If the caller is particularly distressed, your tone should show you care and are not just waiting for them to end the call.
#5 Conflict resolution
You will get customers who defy your every move to ensure that the conversation does not go south – no matter how hard you try. Here’s where conflict resolution comes in. At every point in the conversation, it is your job to deescalate the rising tension and ensure that you remain professional.
Some customers won’t be reasoned with, they’re either too frustrated by the situation or are just straight-out nasty. If the former is the case, then it’s best to let them vent their frustration, after which you can offer a calm response – if they haven’t hung up on you. If the latter is the case, you have to take a more decisive approach.
Here are a few ways to manage conflict:
- Calm down, don’t take it personal, because it isn’t. At that moment, you’re the face of the company.
- Listen to see if there’s anything you can do to make the situation better.
- Keep your voice low, it doesn’t help to get into an argument with the caller. It will only aggravate them.
- If the situation persists, ask if they would like to be transferred to a supervisor.
- If abuse is involved, give at least two clear warnings before you disconnect the call.
- Grow your emotional intelligence
At no point should you let your emotions get the best of you. It is better to take your headphones off for a few seconds and breathe, than to give a response that may cost you your job or embarrass the company.
#6 Stress management
After a long day full of irate, bored, or frustrated callers, it’s important that you know how to alleviate stress. Working as a call center agent can take its toll on your emotions and mental health, especially if you work in a toxic environment.
What stress relief techniques do you have in place? Drinks with friends? Karaoke? Netflix? Food? Talking with a friend? Swimming? Taking walks? Time with family?
Whatever it is, you need one. Make it something you look forward to, it’ll make your day easier knowing that there’s something that will ease your burden.
Here are some things to remember in your work as a call center agent:
- Don’t take insults personally, you’re not those things, they are only the rantings of a frustrated individual.
- You’ll get the hang of the job, don’t let your newness to it make you feel incompetent. These skills take some time to hone.
- You are doing your best; some callers can’t be reasoned with.
- Get some good sleep, your body needs time to sleep off the stress.
- Make deliberate efforts to be happy. Every time you’re not at work, make it a point of duty to be happy. You can’t be unhappy at work and be unhappy off work. That’ll put your mental health at risk.