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Humanising your customer service

27th May 2021
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Customer service is a vital cog in the customer experience wheel, with the contact centre operating at its heart. Whether operating remotely or within the four walls of the contact centre, customer service agents connect with customers at a critical moment of truth, often when they have hit a roadblock in their journey.

When executed well, the relationship between customer and agent can be powerful and meaningful, converting customers from potential detractors into promoters. However, most brands fail to see the true value of the contact centre and the opportunity it presents to build a long-term relationship with customers.

The contact centre as the face of your brand
The ongoing global pandemic has resulted in a seismic shift in the customer experience model. In person, in-store moments have been replaced by contact centre agents acting as the main touchpoint between a consumer and a brand. In the customer’s eyes the agent is now the brand.

And you can see how that conclusion has arisen. From pre-sales enquiries to post-sales aftercare, the contact centre and its team of agents are the lynchpin of a customer’s journey.

As brands start to reimagine how they engage with customers as we slowly emerge out of the pandemic, a good starting point is to look at the contact centre – and how it can be better used to deliver that much needed ‘human’ touch.

Forging an emotional connection
The contact centre yields considerable power in the customer experience chain. As the face, the voice and the actual embodiment of your brand. What an agent says – and how they respond to a customer’s query or complaint – will determine whether that customer leaves an interaction feeling appeased and positive, or further disgruntled and ready to sever ties. With a considerable amount at stake, it is key that efforts are focused on forging a better emotional connection with customers – essentially ‘humanising’ the contact centre.

Before the onset of COVID-19, driving an emotional connection with customers was considered important. Today it has become essential. According to recent research 40% of consumers say they have been in touch with customer service departments more since the start of the pandemic. The same research also found that 67% of consumers have the same or less patience for bad customer experience during the same period. However, in a positive twist, the findings revealed that 80% of consumers feel more emotionally connected to a brand when customer service agents can actually solve their problem.

As the gatekeepers of an organisation’s brand, agents should be aiming to develop an emotional connection within every interaction. How well this is executed in practice comes down to how brands equip and empower their agents to create those positive customer experiences.

Empower your agents
It is vital that organisations enable their contact centre agents to be part of the movement towards positive change. If they are more directly connected to the process, they will be able to see the leading role that they play in facilitating positive customer journeys.

While every brand may take a slightly different approach, these are the key ways that they can empower their agents and humanise the contact centre:

1. ‘Humanising’ customer feedback – this is a step beyond a generic company feedback survey. More ‘humanised’ feedback gives customers the opportunity to leave feedback directly for the agent they interacted with. The results speak volumes here, as 86% of consumers are more likely to leave feedback regarding a positive customer service interaction if they knew an agent would benefit directly from it.

There is much value to be derived from taking a more humanised approach to collecting feedback. It presents an opportunity to personify the brand – making the agent the focus of the feedback – therefore reinforcing that personal and emotional connection created through an agent/ customer interaction. In turn, brands can use this personalised feedback as an opportunity to open up the conversation with a customer and gather vital insight on their overall experience with the brand. Meanwhile agents have the opportunity to receive direct feedback from customers that they are interacting with, leading to opportunities for development, whilst also boosting employee engagement.

2. Customer driven rewards – the use of humanised customer feedback can be further extended to incorporate reward and recognition. By giving customers the opportunity to deliver direct agent feedback, they can also suggest how the agent is rewarded for a job well done. This is a big departure from the usual culture in contact centres that focuses on rewarding agents for metrics such as average call handling time, but instead uses actual feedback to reward and recognise staff for building emotional connections.

3. Coaching – empathy plays a key part in building a firm connection with a customer. By listening to the concerns of the customer and through demonstrating understanding and empathy agents have the power to convert even the most disgruntled customer from a potential detractor into a promoter. This skill comes through regular coaching; teaching staff the appropriate language to use with customers and how to pick up on the unsaid. Customers want an opportunity to be heard and so by regularly coaching your team, agents can hone their skills so that they can handle even the most difficult interactions with ease and bolster that all important customer journey.

4. Humanising a multi-channel strategy – brands today communicate with customers over a number of channels, not just voice. As increasing numbers of customers connect with contact centres over email and chat, brands can look to add the ‘human’ touch by embracing image and video feedback as part of a wider customer experience programme. All of this makes even the digital customer experience feel even more personal.

As the human face of a brand, a contact centre agent can be the difference between a detractor and a promoter, a lost customer and a loyal fan. Often through listening, demonstrating empathy, and providing a suitable resolution, a contact centre agent can directly deliver a positive experience to a customer that leads to a long-term relationship. By coaching staff, embracing technology that promotes visibility and personalising tools such as feedback, the contact centre can add that much needed human touch to the customer experience. For those that have previously overlooked this vital cog in the customer journey, it’s time to take note and ring in the changes, before your competitors leave you behind.

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