Dean Kaplan shares his secret to building a better emotional connection between agents and customers: storytelling.
As the head of a collections agency, I have a lot of stories to tell. People are often fascinated to learn more about debt collectors – a job they see on TV and in films but with which they don’t have a lot of personal experience.
The truth is, those stories are more than entertaining, they are essential to collections work. When meeting with a new client, I use stories to help the prospect see my worth and understand my value proposition.
I tell stories about similar accounts or accounts that seemed less likely to be collected on than theirs. These stories put the clients at ease and help close the deal. When working with those who owe money, I use stories to make them feel more comfortable and show them that a solution is possible.
Even more importantly, I listen to their stories. Their stories help me decide the best way to proceed in the collection process.
Turning your call centre agents into effective storytellers and listeners can be just as important to your business. Effective call centres are a fantastic resource for improving customer communications and the company’s bottom line.
In addition to your regular call centre training, consider implementing a training for storytelling. Here are a few tips to start with.
What Makes a Good Story?
A good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. In the beginning of the story, the hero has a problem. In the middle, your product or service solves the hero’s problem, and in the end, the hero conquers the problem and wins the day.
It’s important to remember that for sales purposes, you want to choose a hero with which the person on the other end of the phone can identify. So, the hero is not your company or your product, it’s a previous client.
Identification and emotion are important parts of storytelling, so stories should be as much about the emotions the hero felt as the logical and technical aspects of your product.
Don’t just focus on how the product solved the problem. Instead focus on how upset or afraid the hero was for his or her company before discovering the product, and how much better he or she felt after using the product.
Here’s an example of a story focused on logic and numbers: “Jane knew that with the new GDPR rules, she’d have a harder time staying in touch with her customers. She hired the Acme Company to help her handle the transition and was able to retain 90 percent of her customers.”
Here’s the same story with emotion added in: “Jane had been building her small e-commerce site for five years. Thanks to the time she had spent building her database, the site was on the verge of a tremendous leap in sales, then GDPR happened.”
“Jane didn’t fully understand the new laws and was terrified that she would lose everything she had built over the past five years. But when she talked to the Acme Company, she learned that they had already done all the research necessary and had created easy ways to get customers’ permission.”
“Thanks to Acme, Jane retained 90 percent of her customer list and could continue to grow her thriving business.”
The numbers are the same in both stories, but the emotional impact is very different in the second story.
Listen to Your Audience
Stories should be rehearsed but not become stiff. Ideally, your call centre agents will have a few different stories at their fingertips that they can adjust and use as needed.
In order to do this, your agents will need to be adept at one of the most important storytelling skills, listening. Listening to your audience can be difficult over the phone. It’s not always clear if someone is ignoring you, or if they simply have you on mute. But paying attention to how interested or uninterested in the story the client seems to be and how they react to certain elements can all be essential to helping close the deal.
It Goes Both Ways
In addition to training your call centre agents to tell great stories, it’s important that you train them to listen to the stories your clients and potential clients tell them.
It’s important not only for the agents to use these stories in their sales, but so that they can share the stories with other call centre agents and other departments in the business. If an agent hears a great story, make sure they take down details of the story and the client’s information.
Having a system set up that allows the agent to share the story with their managers, the marketing team and the product development team will greatly improve your company’s connection with clients.
Overcoming Resistance From Agents
Taking a storytelling approach to customer service can yield better sales, better products and a better reputation for the company. However, it takes more time and training than a traditional call centre approach.
Agents who are paid on commission or have quotas to meet are often reluctant to employ a new approach, especially if that approach requires more time spent per call. If you decide to implement a more story-focused approach to your outbound or inbound calls, you may want to consider a non-commission-based compensation plan that takes in mind the new approach.
Some agents may be resistant because they don’t feel that storytelling fits with their personality or their past training. Professional storytelling training is often a fun, team-building activity. Bringing in appropriate training can help employees feel more comfortable with the concept.
If your contact centre takes a more storytelling approach to calls, make sure to use the same techniques in your interviews for new hires. Ask interviewees to tell stories about their experiences to see how comfortable they are with the techniques.
From automated sales to remote work, our technology-driven, modern world continually removes opportunities for the kind of connections humans crave. Storytelling is a way of creating that connection, making it a great approach to sales and customer service for call centre agents.
Thanks to Dean Kaplan, President of The Kaplan Group, for sharing this article with us.