Is It What You Say or How You Say It?
July 20, 2012
July 20, 2012
One of the things I like best about our business is that we’re still writing the book on it. There’s plenty of room to challenge conventional wisdom and find a better way.
Recently, one of our clients, a national company that already had good Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) scores, said they wanted to move up to best in class with CSAT scores in the 90s. But when you’re already as good as they were, it’s a lot harder to find and fix what’s wrong, because there really isn’t that much that’s wrong.
We agreed the best way was to move middle scoring agents up to top box status, because that’s the difference between good and great. The next step was how to do it.
As we began, we discovered something new about call center agent performance – that their success reflected how well they were able to identify and adapt to their callers’ styles.
The easiest part was to categorize callers as either transactional or conversational. Transactional callers just wanted to get their questions answered. Sure, they wanted the agent to be cordial, but they weren’t looking for a new best friend – and they didn’t want the call to last any longer than necessary. Conversational callers liked a softer, friendlier approach. Yes, they still wanted answers, but they didn’t mind exchanging a few pleasantries along the way.
But after listening to even more calls, I realized there were two other communication modes we hadn’t identified earlier – educational and empathetic.
The most successful agents are those who can adapt their own style to their callers:
I also noticed what could be a disconnect between agents adapting to caller styles and how they are evaluated in call center metrics. We often mark our agents down for interrupting a caller – but they probably need to do that to switch to educational mode and take control of the conversation. So, we need to make allowances for this when we monitor the calls and evaluate agents.
We’re talking about behavioral nuances, so I wondered if these skills are teachable. Although there is a certain level of innate ability required, I think training can make a difference:
Lessons learned? First, not all industries experience the four types of callers. Calls in some industries tend to be more nuts and bolts, with far fewer nuances. But for those that do, we can train agents to adapt to customer communication needs and then we can adjust our metrics to reflect the importance of the process.