All the world’s a stage, said Shakespeare. And perhaps the biggest stage of all is the contact centre.
Lucy Morgans provides seven tricks and techniques employed by professional actors that can help telephone agents make the most out of every call.
Speaking to a potential client or a disgruntled customer may seem miles away from performing on stage, but the techniques used by professional actors can help boost results and customer satisfaction.
1. Match formality to the customer
One of the most common pitfalls we see people falling into is applying a “one size fits all” approach to calls.
It’s important to listen to what each customer is saying, and personalise tone of voice and formality to suit the caller. If somebody calls and starts by saying “Hiya, mate, I’m looking for a quote on my car insurance”, the agent might not want to say “Just bear with me while I arrange that for you, Sir”, as this may sound intimidatingly formal. However, for another caller this might be just the response that lets them know they are in capable hands.
Once agents start noticing this they quickly build up the confidence to act on their instincts and can then integrate personality into their calls where they see fit.
2. Use the caller’s name
If agents can get the caller’s name they should try to use it occasionally during the call to let the customer know that they are paying attention, and that the service they are getting is tailored to them.
This can also help agents personalise the caller – by picturing the complaining voice at the end of the phone, agents often find it easier to relate to them. Adding background detail, e.g. imagining they have just arrived home from work and have a couple of tired young children to contend with, helps ensure agents are more understanding and remain calm in the face of the complaint.
3. Updating records
Contact centre agents often have periods of the call where they have to concentrate in order to complete work for the customer. When this period of time is quite lengthy, putting the customer on hold or offering to call them back is the best bet.
However, if the customer is kept on the line as the agent will only be working for a few minutes, it is important not to half-heartedly ask questions about their day and not listen to their responses, as customers often pick up on this. Instead agents should just keep them updated on what they are doing, as this is more likely to put them at ease and reassure them that their query is being resolved as quickly as possible.
4. Sound like an expert
Agents can build rapport and sound more like an expert by using anecdotes – if they don’t have any, they can talk about a friend or another client. When selling a product this can help prevent the customer feeling like they are being cold called by someone who knows very little about what they are selling, and gives them confidence in the agent’s opinions.
With complaints, using phrases like “I completely understand” and “I’d feel exactly the same” can help customers feel more comfortable, and by personalising the agent, the customer is more likely to stay calm.
5. Sit up or stand up
Whether it is down to nerves or business targets, many agents speak very quickly on the phone and often forget to breathe properly. This is something that happens on stage, too, but actors use a variety of vocal warm-ups and breathing exercises to counteract this issue. As well as encouraging your agents to allow themselves breathing time, these techniques will also give both agent and customer sufficient time to answer questions.
Some of the vocal techniques typically used are smiling when speaking, or standing up to gain confidence during difficult calls. Actors typically breathe from the diaphragm, and standing, or even just sitting up straight, will stretch the diaphragm and make breathing easier. As a result, agents will immediately sound more interested and engaged, and will be less likely to suffer from feelings of breathlessness, a shaky voice or a dry mouth.
6. Think about what you are selling
Contact centre agents may be dealing with a variety of issues, and working in complaints is a far cry from selling holidays, so the calls must be handled differently. Being formal is never a bad thing, but realising when to inject personality and fun into a call can help agents deliver excellent customer service.
There are subtle differences within this, too, so we often get employees to think about the customer as part of a specific audience, and we find that using examples – such as selling an 18-30s holiday compared to a cruise – really helps agents to recognise when and where to apply this thinking.
7. Take control
In certain situations – particularly challenging ones – it can be beneficial to think about playing a specific character. For agents who struggle to stay calm when dealing with complaints, imagining themselves as a different character can often encourage them to maintain composure. Some of the best characters to embody are typically authoritative and impartial by nature, such as a policeman or a teacher.
This allows agents to step outside of the situation at hand, avoid taking things personally and deal with the matter as objectively as possible. This can also work when dealing with particularly talkative customers, where imagining yourself as somebody confident and in control, like a chat-show host, can help those less confident on the phone to engage more with these customers.
Lucy Morgans is co-founder of Hendrix The Dog Productions, a drama-led corporate training company which uses professional actors and acting techniques to boost employee confidence. They also run Tone of Voice workshops for call centres and provide actors for role plays during corporate training sessions.