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When call center and customer service teams are trained to recite from a script, they spend more time talking about products than listening for cues, asking the right questions and creating true customer engagement.

Each year, Customer Contact Week (CCW) provides a good opportunity to get a pulse of the trends, possibilities and challenges of leading contact centers and customer experience organizations. With digital transformation changing the game in many areas of customer care, the event this July showcased just how far developments like automation, artificial intelligence and chatbots have come—but also just how critical the human element remains.

While technology offers exciting new options for enhancing the customer experience, and self-service platforms are increasing in popularity, CCW’s research points out that 78 percent of customers prefer the voice channel. Yet some companies go to great lengths to hide or even eliminate customer service hotlines even though strong evidence shows that improving customer engagement significantly improves cross-selling, up-sell revenue and order sizes. From our vantage point on the CCW Expo floor, we had a chance to speak with a variety of contact center leaders and customer service managers about how things are going both at an operational level and at a personal level—with the agents who are responsible for making that human connection with customers.

Just as we did last year, we polled attendees to get a sense of the most pressing challenges their agents are struggling with and which operational issues are creating the biggest headaches. There were some clear “winners”: On the agent side of the board, the biggest challenges included agents missing cues about customer needs, a need improve the “human touch” in customer conversations and the fact that customer conversations are too transactional. From an operational point of view, the concerns were largely related to managers’ inability to move the needle on results or coach effectively, as well as the continuous cycle of agent turnover and the time it takes to get agents ready to interact with customers.

Contact Center Challenges: Behind the Numbers

But when we got back home from the conference and looked over the scoreboard again, we noticed an interesting pattern beneath the numbers: All of the critical challenges that contact center leaders are most concerned about are interconnected.

For example, far and away, the biggest agent-related challenge these leaders identified was “agents missing important customer cues on needs.” But that’s not really the top challenge, if you think about it. Instead, it’s a by-product of the transactional approach to customer conversations. When call center and customer service teams are trained to recite from a script, they’re going to be spending more time talking about products than listening for cues and asking the right questions. That means they’re going to be more transactional in how they interact with customers. And guess what? This approach ultimately creates less of a “human touch”—even though there are humans involved!

Considering all of this, it’s no surprise that call center managers are having trouble moving the needle on results related to customer satisfaction, retention and sales and yet can’t explain why. And if managers believe corrective feedback is coaching (another highly cited challenge), it makes sense that they’re struggling to break the cycle of high agent turnover.

Because all of these issues are so interconnected, a single training program on identifying customer cues isn’t going to create a lasting impact. You need take a holistic approach to customer engagement for get real change—and this is increasingly urgent as customers become more demanding and the competitive environment heats up.

This includes:

  • Getting people aligned with a value-driven process: When agents are focused on delivering value rather than getting through the next talking point or product feature, they’ll naturally be looking for ways to understand and address customer needs. And when the pressure’s on or an interaction gets sticky, a process allows them to be authentic while keeping them anchored and consistent.
  • Focusing on the powerful listening-questioning combo: Agents who are trained strictly to follow a script, by definition, aren’t going to be listening and adapting to the nuances of the conversation. That makes it exceedingly difficult to engage customers, listen for cues, ask meaningful questions and uncover their true needs. Just as important, all questions aren’t created equal. It takes both active listening and the right questioning mindset to develop a two-way conversation that creates true customer engagement.
  • Building a coaching culture: Coaching has been linked to a host of positive business results, from higher engagement, retention and performance to increased revenue and customer loyalty. But too many managers are still missing the mark, often because they lack the skills and confidence to do it effectively and a culture that supports it. A strong coaching culture has the potential to transform not just your contact center, but your overall company brand. Get started with this action plan, based on our research study on coaching.

For more tips on solving your contact center challenges and making sure your people development keeps pace with your technology implementations, revisit our recap from last year’s CCW Expo.

About the Author
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Will Milano

Chief Marketing Officer

Will has driven brand and content marketing strategies for leading professional services companies for two decades including 16 years’ experience...
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