I recently had to call customer service at a major corporation. I spent 18 minutes on-hold, then spoke to someone in the call center who told me I had to call a different 800 number. Of course. I called that number and waited for another 13 minutes before I spoke to a rep in another call center. And, yes, was told to call a third number. Should a customer have to work that hard? Clearly, call center training should be a priority and has much room for improvement.
Although automated attendants have gained popularity in recent years, nearly 90 percent of customers say they’d still prefer to talk to a person for customer service requests. I loathe the automated attendants!
In college, I worked as a customer service representative for the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a small team of five of us, but it was excellent exposure to see how a business operates. I took calls for PR, marketing, accounting, scouting, minor leagues, as well as stadium operation, ticket sales, and promotion dates. My call center training had to encompass everything about the business, not just questions from baseball fans.
Working in a call center is a great way for an employee to get their foot in the door at a company. Because call center representatives have to troubleshoot customer issues, these positions allow the employees to learn a lot about a company’s products, services, and overall operations.
Working in customer service in a call center, you have to know everything! Each call is like a pop quiz about anything company-related. Who knows what the caller is going to ask? I think that’s why I get so frustrated when I call and have to be passed around from person to person when the rep can’t answer my question.
Bad customer service can cost you money, while good customer service, especially in the face of adversity, can save a customer relationship. Effective call center training equips reps with the skills they need to represent your brand, and build their careers.
No – I’m not referring to the wildly popular NBC show hosted by Carson Daly and featuring amazing amateur talent from across the nation. But there are similarities. Your call center representative is literally the voice of your organization, and that’s a big responsibility. Working in a call center requires talent, heart, and mentoring or training to lead to success.
Obviously, your call center representatives need to be trained on the technical aspects of the job; how to operate call center equipment and software, quotas, scripting, and call monitoring. They also must be trained on all features and benefits of your products and services, all of your policies and procedures. They need to be experts on all aspects of your brand. But what skills take a rep from good to great and how can you help them get there?
Service with a Smile
Although there is no face-to-face contact between your call center representative and their caller, your reps first step should be to put on a happy face. The tone of your voice actually changes, it becomes warmer and more friendly when you smile, and that’s perceptible to the person on the other end of the phone.
In my example above, I could tell my call was an annoyance to the rep. I could hear it in her tone when she told me I had to call a different number. She was defensive when she told me I had called the wrong number and I definitely did not hear a smile!
Continuity in service is also key for effective customer service, which is why documentation is so important. At first, your team will need training on how to ask probing questions that get to the root of a problem. They’ll also need to learn your organization's note-taking protocol so the results of the call are connected to the customer’s file if the caller needs to be transferred to a different department or if they call back with additional questions for future reference.
At the Cardinals, we had the ability to take notes in the ticketing system on each customer conversation if need be. This was extremely helpful to identify repeat complainers or scammers. We also used this information to go above and beyond in our apologies, if someone’s issue was not solved.
A Deeper Dive
Think about when you have a question about a product or service. Where’s the first place you go? For me, it’s the company’s website. Calling customer service is a last resort. Make sure your call center training provides your reps with a deeper understanding of your products and services than what someone could find out with a Google search.
Your reps should know where to find information about an existing customer’s account and history. Using notes from past interactions ensures the customer doesn’t have to repeat information they’ve given in previous calls for the second, third, or heaven forbid fourth time! Not only does it let the customer feel like you’re paying attention, it also helps keep calls concise, so your reps can quickly solve problems and meet their quotas.
Finally, your reps should know when to transfer a call. It could be that the customer needs to speak to someone with more technical knowledge. Or, perhaps the customer is extremely upset and would be best served by talking with a supervisor. Knowing when and how to transfer a call can reduce the customer’s time on the phone and increase satisfaction.
Technical skills allow reps to do the tasks assigned effectively and efficiently, but reps need to be able to relate to customers on an emotional level. That’s where soft skills come into play. Call center employees don’t have the benefit of being able to read facial expressions or body language. Developing soft skills goes a long way in elevating a customer’s telephone experience.
Strengthening emotional intelligence skills helps your reps read a customer’s tone of voice and level of formality so they can respond appropriately. If someone is being sarcastic, the response should be different than it would be with someone who is cheerful and happy with their service.
Emotional intelligence is closely tied to active listening. Active listening means truly taking in what the other person is saying and not just waiting for your chance to speak. It’s listening for inflection, tone, word choice. It also involves reducing distractions and taking notes. It’s interjecting with affirmations (“I see” or “I understand”) without interrupting or sidetracking the speaker.
Although call center training may include scripted responses to common questions, you don’t want them to sound scripted. You want them to be personable and helpful. There are times when your reps may be faced with an issue that takes them off script. Perhaps the customer isn’t stating their issue clearly, or you’re offering a promotion that would benefit the customer. Knowing how to ask the right open ended questions will move the conversation forward in a productive way.
When Things Don’t Go Well
A call center can be a fun, fast-paced environment. There’s great reward in solving problems and making customers happy. However, your reps are going to face angry callers and should be trained to handle them with kindness and professionalism. I always viewed it as a challenge. How can I settle this person down and win them over?
First and foremost, angry customers want to feel heard. It’s important that your reps understand the customer is frustrated with the situation, and not to take it personally. Expressing empathy as the customer vents allows the caller to cool down. Reps should be able to use their active listening skills in these situations to get to the heart of the issue.
If the customer wants someone to blame, reps should accept responsibility as a representative of your company and apologize. An ‘I’m sorry,’ can go a long way to diffuse a heated situation. Once the customer has calmed down, it’s important to focus on resolving the issue. Your reps should be trained with responses that lead to resolution. It’s imperative they don’t demean colleagues or throw anyone under the bus. The goal is to create a scenario where the customer feels the company, not just the individual representative, resolved the problem.
Finally, if a customer is truly belligerent or making unreasonable demands, make sure they understand it’s ok to escalate the call to a manager. Some customers need solutions that fall outside of a call center reps area of expertise and that should be supported.
Whether you’ve got a bustling call center or a team of call center reps working remotely, the proper training improves skills and makes your staff feel valued. Arming your team with the skills and training they need, and presenting them with incentives and opportunities for advancement, can help you build a team that has your brands’ back. ej4 offers a wide variety of off-the-shelf call center training, soft skills, and sales training modules that can be accessed anywhere.
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