Valur Svansson of IP Integration discusses how the contact centre is changing, causing emotional intelligence to become an increasingly important skill.
We have entered a new age in the contact centre. With more technology at our disposal than ever before, chatbots, robotic process automation, self-service capabilities have all been designed to make the life of the customer, and the agent, easier. And this technology is being adopted in droves – with $1.2 trillion reported to have been spent on digital transformation in 2019 alone.
However, in amongst the plentiful benefits that digital transformation brings, most notably reductions in AHT, increased first time call resolution rates and reduced traffic to the contact centre, a new problem is emerging – the need to reinforce the human touch.
The Rise of the Robot, the Changing Role of the Agent
In 2018, 25% of all customer interactions were automated through AI and machine learning.
With 90% of companies now planning to deploy AI within three years, this number is expected to grow to 40% by 2023.
For the most part, customers are happy with this change. In fact, Forrester tells us that 63% of consumers are satisfied getting service from a chatbot, as long as they have the option to move the conversation to a human if needed.
However, it is when the conversation transitions across to the human that a potential problem emerges.
As robots have taken over more and more transactional calls – change of address, stock enquiries etc., agents are increasingly tasked with the longer, more complex queries.
Research from Deloitte Digital found that 61% of companies expect an increase in complexity of calls into the contact centre as the use of self-service for routine matters increases.
It stands to reason, as if a customer has opted to speak to an agent it is often because they are dealing with a highly emotional issue – a missed flight, a family emergency, a failed product, etc.
And while staff have been trained on how to provide a solution to any number of queries, are they being ‘human’ enough when dealing with customers? Are they understanding their customers and empathizing with them enough to turn a disgruntled user into a brand advocate, singing your praises to whoever will listen?
The Customer’s Need to Be Heard
The differentiator ultimately rests on whether the customer feels heard by the agent. Any customer with an issue will want to say their piece, but if the response from the agent closely follows a prepared script, delivered in a neutral tone, that customer is hardly going to feel appeased.
The agent’s role here is to turn that customer around. There may not be any change to the solution the agent provides, but the language used, the tone it is delivered in and the level of empathy provided can make a huge difference to the overall outcome.
The role of the agent is therefore changing. While technology has ensured that customers can self-serve, when a customer takes the time to dial into the contact centre, the expectation is there for an emotional connection – customers want you to understand their issue, to feel their pain, to empathize with them. And ultimately, it is a connection that will serve you well.
Research from Deloitte tells us that even when a customer has had an issue with a brand they are willing to remain loyal ‘so long as they receive a straightforward, honest, and empathetic response to concerns. When they feel that their issue has been addressed, 77 percent of people will stick with a brand.’
This emotional connection is therefore central to the customer’s long-term relationship with a brand. Agents who are friendly, yet assertive, and treat customers like individuals provide assurance and the customer feels satisfied that they have reached the right person. All of this improves the customer’s overall experience, resulting in a higher end rating, and overall loyalty, from customers.
How to Introduce Empathy Into the Contact Centre
Getting the balance right is central to this strategy working effectively. There are a few key tools and tactics that contact centres can implement to smooth the transition to a more emotionally connected contact centre:
Choose your agents wisely – Identify agents who can demonstrate emotional intelligence. Build this into the recruitment process and ensure agents in your inbound call team possess the required skills.
Train staff – You don’t want the agent to be unprepared for such situations – if they haven’t been trained, they won’t provide the assurance that customers need. Agents need to be trained so that they can go off script, and aren’t scared of the customer’s emotions. Make sure budgets are assigned to coach agents to be able to address a customer in distress.
Understand your customer – as part of the training, help staff to identify the profile of the caller they are dealing with to help the agent shape the way that they communicate with them.
Enhance the technology – Intense Analytics can be used to fine-tune technology such as chatbots to identify words/phrases that suggest a customer’s distress or concern. This will enable the chatbot to know that they need to pass the customer to an agent, with the chatbot programmed to recognize what the customer is feeling, content, intent, concerns, etc., e.g. ‘I recognize that you might need help. Let me transfer you to an agent.’
Use the right language – Empathy, and where appropriate, sympathy, are key in communicating with customers. Make sure the language that agents use when dealing with customers appropriately reflects this. Be reassuring, provide a sense of immediacy and be personal.
Ultimately, a relationship with your customer is akin to a relationship with any loved one in your life. There are ups and downs, but usually most things can be overcome following a conversation. Customers want to be engaged, and, as the voice of your brand, the way agents communicate is central to success.
Empathy and demonstrating an understanding of your customers is critical to a long-term engagement strategy. And while the complexity of interactions is increasing, the solution is a simple one. Listen, understand, empathize and act. Crying is optional.
For more insights from IP Integration, visit: www.ipintegration.com