Soft skills are the social abilities that allow agents to communicate and learn effectively. Here are our top soft skills training exercises.
1. Enhance writing styles by reading emails out loud
Everyone at your business will have a different skill level with written communications. In an increasingly multichannel operation, staff need to know whether their abilities are meeting expectations.
A common issue with people who do not write very often is that they can adopt an overly formal manner. To help them understand how they come across in emails and chat, print off some examples to read out loud.
By reading out their email correspondence in the style of a face-to-face conversation, they will be able to compare the way they write with they way speak.
They can then model their writing on their speech – something they will already be expert in.
2. Challenge unhelpful ‘below the line’ thinking
‘Above the line’ and ‘below the line’ refer to attitudes that are either helpful, accountable, and proactive, or unhelpful, blaming, and reactionary. It can be very easy to fall into bad habits and ‘below the line’ thinking, which spreads negativity.
To counter this, write up some scenarios and responses.
For example: “You speak with a customer who hasn’t received their monthly statement. It’s only a few days late, so you advise them to call back later if they still haven’t received it.”
The learner must now decide if this was helpful ‘above the line’ work or unhelpful and ‘below the line’. If they identify it as below the line, they should be able to offer an alternative or additional response.
3. Use the ‘Welcome, Overcome, Question’ technique for objection handling
One of the hardest things for a new agent to learn is how to get past an objection. Particularly in service roles, helping a customer without totally giving in to them is one of the most important lessons.
A popular approach is the WOQ technique: Welcome, Overcome, Question. It teaches the agent to engage with the objection, counter it, and take control of the situation. A WOQ response to an objection around pricing would look something like this:
- Welcome – I appreciate you raising this with me…
- Overcome – Our pricing reflects a competitive offer with no hidden costs…
- Question – Have you used a service like this before…?
Gather real objections you’ve encountered for the group to practise with.
4. Open questions get the full story
Most often, customers want to spend as little time on an interaction as possible. Answering dozens of questions can be very frustrating for them. The best solution is usually to ask a few ‘open’ questions that allow them to explain their needs.
It’s easy for agents to fall into the trap of asking a long series of ‘closed’ questions. Closed questions can only be answered with yes or no, and they do not move a conversation along effectively.
For this exercise, pair up your trainees. One member in each pair needs to think of a subject – cars, breakfast cereal, anything at all. The other member has to figure out what the subject is by asking only closed questions. This will probably involve asking a lot of questions.
When they’re finished (or they have to give up) ask them to try it again. This time, however, allow them to ask open questions – questions where the answers are not limited to yes or no.
This teaches a pattern of questioning which prompts customers to volunteer their information.
5. Ask staff why they should empathise
Empathy is vitally important to how contact centres run. The ability to support a customer’s emotional needs can be even more important than finding them a quick solution.
It’s tough to teach, though, and agents can understandably have trouble empathising with the large numbers of people they interact with. What’s more, empathy is most important in situations where it is hard to achieve – with difficult customers.
Come up with some scenarios where a customer is being rude or uncooperative. Write them out like this: “Mrs A has called to complain about her direct debit. She is very impatient because_______.”
The trainee’s job is to imagine a reason for Mrs A’s impatience, such as “She is very impatient because she recently lost her job.”
The aim of this lesson is not to help agents guess the causes of stress in customers’ personal lives. Instead, it helps agents to remember that all customers have stress factors to deal with, and that they still need to be treated even-handedly.
6. Teams race to solve the puzzle
Nobody in your contact centre operates entirely in isolation. They need to be able to cooperate, pulling together to overcome obstacles.
Here is a fun exercise that focuses on teamwork and problem solving.
Your trainees will be playing in teams of four, and they need to be at their computers.
Send each person a one-word clue. All four clues together will reveal a common theme. For example, ‘bowl’, ‘vet’, ‘walk’, and ‘lead’ are all connected by the theme ‘dog’.
Using only email to communicate, the group must coordinate to find the answer and be the first team to email it to you. Completing this challenge underlines the importance of collaboration.
7. Get leaders and teams talking
Effective leaders involve themselves in the lives of the staff in their care. Ask team leaders to go and find out something about the personal lives of the people they support and supervise day-to-day.
It shouldn’t be anything too personal; just a titbit, like a favourite sports team, hobby, or the name of a pet.
This activity creates an opportunity for conversation, and can be the starting point for improved relationships between leaders and teams. Challenge the leaders to follow up on what they learnt about their team by engaging them on that topic in future.
8. Speak without repeating
Give your learners a short (300-500 word) transcript of a typical interaction between a customer and an agent. Invite one of the trainees to read out the transcript with you, with you reading the customer’s side.
Provide your class with highlighters and ask them to highlight four words spoken by the agent in their transcript. They should highlight longer words rather than common words like ‘you’, ‘and’, or ‘it’.
Their challenge is now to read through the transcript again, without using any of the words that they have highlighted. They will have to find new ways to get the same message across by rephrasing the conversation. Do this once in front of the class, and then pair the agents off to do it together.
This task gets trainees thinking on their feet, and strengthens the adaptability of their vocabulary.
With thanks to Sarah Howells – Customer Service and Operations Leader at Orangebox
What soft skills training exercises have you tried in your contact centre?
Let us know