Delivering emotional satisfaction in the contact centre

20th Aug 2007

It is important for customer-facing staff to have 'emotional intelligence' - and particularly so if they work in a contact centre. Transcom's Mike Purvis discusses how the company trains employees to deal with the challenges of gauging customer emotions.

photo of a phone

By Mike Purvis, Transcom

Customer emotions are difficult to interpret from person to person and from situation to situation. And this can make the job of satisfying customers particularly difficult.

Because understanding customer needs demands such a subjective set of skills, delivering good results relies on a combination of solid training and sufficient practice. As such, we offer training to our staff to help them understand customer emotions and work with them productively. All of our agents receive customer service training in areas such as communication over the phone, soft skills and stress and conflict management.

Good customer service usually requires fulfilling two different objectives. The first is solving the technical problem at the source of the customer’s call. Is the customer looking to file a complaint? Is he looking to make an order? Or locate someone at the company? These questions usually involve straight-forward answers as long as the call centre operator is able to fully understand the question being asked.

The second objective is to satisfy the emotional needs of the customer. Often, people are already emotional when they telephone a call centre. They have a complaint, need help in solving a difficult question, or are in a rush to accomplish a particular task. Clearly, they want their problem solved, but they also expect the person on the other end of the telephone to care about their problem, understand their frustration and reassure them that it can and will be solved.

Applying emotional responses in practice

Understanding a customer’s emotional needs is more complex because it requires the operator to react to the customer’s feelings and build a personal rapport with the customer over the phone. First, let the customer vent his emotions. Then try to calm him down by connecting with him and showing him that you care. Only then will it be possible to attempt to solve his problem.

By proactively dealing with a customer’s emotions, operators stand a better chance of solving the technical concerns of their customers as well. When the customer is given the chance to voice his emotional concerns first, he is usually in a better position to explain the sort of problem he has and embrace the solution which the operator has offered him. It also gives the customer an opportunity to let off steam and calm down so that they can respond reasonably and make rational decisions.

To handle customer emotions well, a call centre operator needs to keep her own emotions out of the conversation while taking note of the emotional needs of the customer.

For example, in this first example, the call centre operator caters to the functional needs of the client but fails to address his emotional needs:

Customer: Look, I am really fed up. I have tried to reach your baggage department all morning, but I can’t get through even though it says it’s supposed to be open 24 hours a day.

Agent: What number are you using to call?

Customer: 404 555 2222.

Agent: The number has changed. You should dial 404 555 2223.

Here, the agent in the call has addressed the functional problem but has totally ignored the customer as a person. Ultimately, this approach does not lead to satisfying customer experiences. In the second example below, the operator handles the source of the customer’s frustration but also deals with his emotional needs as well.

Customer: Look, I am really fed up. I have tried to reach your baggage department all morning, but I can’t get through even though it says it’s supposed to be open 24 hours a day.

Agent: That is frustrating. I’m sorry for the inconvenience caused. Let me try to help. Could you please tell me how which number you were dialling?

Customer: 404 715 2222.

Agent: My apologies once again, it seems that our baggage department has changed its phone number recently. Do you have a pen handy? I will give you the right number and it should definitely work for you. It’s 404 555 2223.

The difference between these two calls – although both of them answer the customer’s need – is that the second call has treated him with empathy and understanding. This makes it much harder for the customer to remain emotional and lets the problem be communicated more clearly.

Delivering a satisfying customer experience

Addressing the emotional needs of a customer allows call centre operators to put a human face on our client’s business. Customers become angry when they have unmet expectations and the situation is not handled effectively.

Giving the customer a chance to vent his frustration makes him feel that he is communicating his concerns to you. When these complaints are perceived as legitimate, agents are able to agree and apologise, helping repair and strengthen the opinion that people hold of the company and the positive reputation it has for how it conducts business.

It is important for call centre managers to remember that the customers who phone our call centres are our customers as much as the clients who have outsourced these services to us.

When using the approaches discussed here, we work with the emotional needs of our customers and are better able to satisfy them by solving the source of their frustration in the first place.

Some helpful tips to deliver emotional satisfaction

• Maintain a positive, professional, polite and respectful attitude. Do not get defensive or make excuses. Apologise when appropriate.
• Speak slowly and calmly. Never talk down or accuse the customer of being at fault. Do not argue about the facts or problems – concentrate on the solution.
• Lead the call. Ask the questions you need in order to provide high quality assistance. If the customer is hesitant, explain why you need that information to do your job.
• Use positive language when possible. Try to avoid saying “No” or “Can’t be done.” If you can’t give a customer exactly what they want, tell them what you can do.
• Always discuss difficult calls with colleagues. And finally, when you handle a really angry customer successfully, pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Mike Purvis is managing director of Transcom.

Read more features, practical case studies and white papers about customer experience management.

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