People, process and technology tactics to serve your customers' emotional needs
Organisations are good at solving customer problems, but not so good at serving their emotional needs. So where can they start?
Acknowledging the growing competitive imperative of the customer experience, in recent years organisations have targeted several areas where CX improvements can be made.
Typically, the primary area of focus has tended to be on the effectiveness of their service operations, ensuring that they are able to solve customer problems quickly and satisfactorily.
More recently, this has been accompanied by a drive to improve ease – reducing customer effort by increasing the number of contact channels available, and ensuring that customers are able to receive expert advice quickly, easily and through their channel of choice.
A third area of interest, albeit one that is still in its relative infancy, is that of the emotional component of the customer experience - something that is widely acknowledged to be a key factor in the customer's perception of their brand experiences, but remains a mystery to many, particularly in terms of how it can be influenced.
“Ease and effectiveness aren’t quite as straightforward as brands wish they were, but they are certainly better understood inside brands,” says Ian Jacobs, principal analyst at Forrester. “Brands understand effectiveness - whether the experience delivers value to customers – and especially in customer care. Ease - how difficult it is to get value from the experience – we are just wrapping our heads around, and there has been more focus on the last couple of years. But emotion… There is a reason that you see survey research suggesting that consumers would rather have a root canal than call into a contact centre, and it is because we are ignoring the emotional component.”
So what practical steps can organisations take?
Training and hiring to address customer emotion
In the report ‘Use Emotion To Beat Customer Stagnation’, Forrester details several ways that leading-edge brands are influencing emotion in their customer service experiences. Broadly speaking, these efforts fall into two different strategies.
Firstly, there are the people and processes pieces to address, which effectively amount to hiring the right people, training them appropriately, and then freeing them up to focus on emotion, while also exploring what processes can be rolled out to support them. This requires that organisations reconfigure their hiring, training and retention practices to not only focus on practical attributes such as typing speed and low accuracy rate, but also factor in emotional capabilties.
At the recruitment level, for instance, brands should be amending hiring material to emphasise the desirability of people who have the ability to build emotional bridges to the client. Organisations could actively seek out those with higher emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ has been proven to contribute greatly to the success of individuals and organisations - those with higher EQ tend to outperform all others with similar intellectual knowledge; EQ helps you to relate more skillfully with fellow employees and customers; EQ helps you to control your behaviour and emotions better; and EQ helps you to be more self-aware and prevent being blinded by problems that increase customer effort.
Elsewhere, brands should also explore how they can update the content of their training programmes to reflect a greater emphasis on emotion. Financial services provider Legal & General, for instance, put its entire customer service staff through an empathy and engagement training programme.
The programme, named Customer Experience Matters, was designed in partnership with learning solutions provider Hemsley Fraser, to help staff enhance their interaction skills. Topics such as building rapport; listening and questioning; managing the conversation; and understanding and acknowledging what matters most to the customer were covered. The training, which was recognised by the Institute of Customer Service, was the first given to agents working in the life protection area, before being rolled out to other departments.
With the right staff in place, organisations can then start to focus on customers’ emotional needs. As an example of this, Forrester’s report details the work of DBS Bank in Singapore to assist customers with their emotional needs during the painful process of reporting lost or stolen cards. Typically, this has been an interaction that has been the focus of ensuring effectiveness and ease - to help to make it as quick and simple to replace cards as possible. But DBS has explored how to also factor in an emotional component.
“The bank realised that when people have their cards stolen, they probably don’t just have the DBS card stolen,” says Jacobs. “The card was probably contained in a wallet or a purse and is therefore part of a much broader trauma that the customer suffered. So DBS has realised that because it is only one small piece of this, perhaps it could start to address the broader trauma.”
DBS now trains its agents so that when dealing with a customer reporting a stolen card, to first ask if the customer is safe both physically and emotionally - and if the answer is ‘no’, the agent has been trained how to help customers report the theft to the police. They then go through the simple and effective process of replacing the card before the emotional component kicks in again and they provide the customer with a list of phone numbers and web links to help them deal with all the other items that they have lost - for instance, who they should contact to help them get a new driver’s licence, or even how to replace a competitor’s bank card.
Jacobs continues: “It is a simple procedural change that shows that DBS is really looking out for the customer overall - not just their financial wellbeing, but their overall wellbeing. It is focusing on the emotional piece. And what did that take? A couple of smart people at the bank thinking about where the brand actually fits in the customer’s life.”
This emphasises why organisations must think about customer journeys not only as the journey taken with their brand, but the much broader journey that customers go through during their daily lives. “When you start to think about it in the broader context, you can start to realise your role as a brand in that customer’s life,” adds Jacobs.
Metrics to focus on customer emotion
There is also the measurement and metrics piece associated with customer emotion – something that has largely been overlooked by organisations. Indeed, it is little surprise that there has been a dearth of activity around customer emotion as of yet when it is yet to translate into the metrics by which customer service is driven.
“If we continue to look at effectiveness metrics as part of the overall dashboard that judges whether a contact centre manager is successful or not, with perhaps some ease metrics just starting to emerge too, then that is what they are going to manage,” says Jacobs. “And you know it is possible to be incredibly effective while still being completely tone deaf - so we really need to change the metrics that drive our service organisations.”
Being able to demonstrate that a contact centre has driven better Net Promoter Scores (NPS) is great - but really only where that contact centre manager is actually being judged on NPS. Because if they are being judged on call handling time, and their 20% improvement in NPS was accompanied by an 11% increase in handle time, it would not be a trade that the manager would be prepared to make. So organisations need to think long and hard about how the emotional component will translate into the performance metrics of their staff.
“If you think back to the debate in the media between the CEOs of United and Delta, they both recognise that emotion is an issue - but they disagree about how to deal with it, or even if they can deal with it. Now imagine that the United Airlines’ board had in some way put an emotion metric in their CEO’s performance - he would all of a sudden start to figure out that there are ways that he can influence emotion!”
Technologies to help address customer emotion
In addition to taking action around people and processes, organisations can also capitalise on a number of technologies that represent other opportunities to service the emotional needs of the customer. Broadly speaking, these tools either aid organisations before the customer interaction, during the interaction or afterwards.
In terms of pre-interaction tools, by encouraging customers to fill out a short form before an interaction organisations can steer them to the most appropriate channel for their emotional needs, analysing the form for word choice, tone and punctuation for signs of distress, and indicators that the customer should be steered towards an agent rather than, say, a chatbot.
At the more sophisticated end, there are now tools emerging that enable organisations to create agent personality profiles based on data such as call recordings and interactions with systems, as well as generating personality profiles and communication-style profiles of customers. Taken together, this enables the organisation to match customers with the most appropriate available agent. “From an emotional standpoint, you can identify who will make the interaction feel the smoothest and the least like pulling teeth,” says Jacobs. These tools work best for large contact centres because a lot of interactions are required to build the customer profiles.
US insurer Humana has demonstrated how its agents being served emotional cues by real-time analytics tools achieve a 28% higher Net Promoter Score than agents that don’t receive any emotional cues.
Real-time analytics tools are also available that can help organisations during the actual interaction itself. These are analysing the call not for meaning, but for emotional tone – for instance, identifying whether the customer started the call neutral but is now getting upset. In the event that there is a problem, the agent can then be provided with real-time cues to help them think about and demonstrate empathy for the customer. For example, the agent could be notified that she is talking over the customer, or she could be reminded that she needs to let the customer finish their sentence before they start talking.
“It is usually things that seem really simple, but in the heat of the moment, when the agent is dealing with a frustrated customer, and their own frustration level may be rising, they need this kind of external prompting to help them to remember how to provide emotionally-savvy service to the customer,” explains Jacobs.
Forrester’s report notes that US insurance provider Humana has demonstrated how its agents being served emotional cues by real-time analytics tools achieve a 28% higher Net Promoter Score than agents that don’t receive any emotional cues – a meaningful difference in customer perceptions of the emotional experience.
Finally, in terms of post-interaction tools, analytics can be applied to historical data for training purposes. Speech analytics and text analytics tools are already commonly used to identify problems with the agent performance, but call recordings can also be analysed to identify emotional markers. This can then help the organisation to understand how customers react to specific agent actions, and identify which actions lead to negative emotions.
This can then be used to train agents to avoid those specific actions and the subsequent negative emotions in the future – either through agent training, or via real-time tools that deliver cues during the course of the interaction.
Picking a path
Whether your organisation wants to take a more technology-focused approach to customer emotion, or put more of a focus on the people and processes first, will depend on your own specific circumstances.
As Jacobs notes: “There are two paths that you can take to start to influence emotion in your customer service experiences. One requires no technology, and that is just thinking about your processes and your people, and how you can free them up to focus on emotion. And then the second approach is to acknowledge that this is a complex service world, and that you have got potentially millions of customers all with different needs, so you’re going to need some technology to help in this fight against a stagnation of CX because of emotion being ignored.”
But whichever path you plump for, the important thing is to acknowledge that in the face of stagnation in customer experience standards, solving the practical problems of your customers is in many cases no longer enough – they also need to have their emotional needs serviced as well.
“The very first thing to do is recognise that you can do something about emotion,” Jacobs concludes. “So if you don’t want to be just another statistic whereby your customers would rather have a root canal than deal with your contact centre, it’s time to start thinking about emotion.”
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 20 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined MyCustomer in 2007.