Characteristics of Successful Customer Service Agents and How to Develop Them –Part One

customer service best practices

Numerous variables contribute to the success of contact center agents. The fun of working in contact centers is largely due to the dynamic environments that exist within; they are always changing and evolving. At Telecom, Inc., we navigate change by implementing customer service best practices that have been proven to succeed, regardless of the environment or circumstance. In this article, we outline the four key steps we always take to ensure productive agents, which in turn ensures happy customers and successful programs.

Train Extensively

Whether you’re focusing on fundamentals, program-specific content, or new technology, training is the engine that drives success. Enterprise-level training should cover company history and culture, core values, technology platforms, and performance expectations. Escalation policies and roles of support personnel who will work closely with your agents should be clearly defined as part of agent training and orientation.

Next, you can introduce the best practices and skills that are central to success in any program. In a customer care role, this should include, at the minimum, effective and professional communications skills across contact channels, and various customer service skills, such as active listening, sympathy, empathy, closing techniques, order retention steps, up and cross-selling, and de-escalation.

When agents have completed their company overview and customer service best practices training, program-specific training can begin. This training should focus on the company partner, its history, core principles, culture, and brand messaging. Specific protocols, escalation practices, policies, and preferred communication will be central to this module in the training process.

The final component of the training process is an ongoing one. Keeping agents up to date on industry best practices and technology advancements and giving them opportunities outside of assigned projects to develop and perfect their customer service skills should all be part of regular ongoing training. The agenda of your ongoing training should be tailored to your projects and employees and can focus on production, quality, or elevating the call center experience. Quality assurance efforts including observation of live and recorded interactions often drive this type of training, which will give agents the insight required to focus on the areas of improvement identified through contact reviews.

Combined, these training components will provide staff with every opportunity to excel. Best practices taught should include content from industry-leading training organizations and curriculums built over time through enterprise-specific trial and error. We welcome you to read more about Telecom’s approach to training, which has been perfected over decades of successful partnerships.

Develop Positive Attitudes

Contact center agents often have a trying job, even when employed on less demanding programs. The reality is, they interact with strangers all day, and not all of those strangers are nice. Many customers reach out with problems and as a result, aren’t in the best of moods right out of the gates.

Agents are trained to achieve first contact resolution and provide excellent and professional representation in all cases. However, not every issue can be resolved with the first contact, which often leads to customer frustration or anger. This can take a toll on an agent.

Managers should offer the same empathy to their staff that they expect agents to extend to customers and can help them maintain positive attitudes from one interaction to the next. How? By keeping agents focused on the positive, even in the worst scenario where they can’t resolve the customer’s situation as requested. Don’t dwell on the negative. Do provide positive options whenever available. For example, in a case where a customer is requesting a refund/return beyond the company return period, an agent may not be able to process a refund, but they may be able to offer an alternative, like a product credit or a discount coupon for a future purchase.

Exuding a positive attitude is a skill that while innate for some, needs to be developed in others through training and reinforcement. A positive attitude and the use of positive language always helps, no matter the nature of a program.

Recognize Effort and Results

Everyone appreciates being recognized for their efforts. Words go a long way to achieving desired outcomes.

A recent report on employee recognition stats shared by Apollo Technical Engineered Talent Solutions found that 92% of workers are more likely to repeat a specific action after receiving recognition for it.

There are many ways you can incentivize agents and recognize their efforts and results. The most obvious incentive is monetary reward. Some programs and positions allow for this type of incentive, but for those that don’t, there are other effective options including, peer recognition, paid time off, grab bag prizes, gift cards, and advancement opportunities.

Recognition and reward must be tied to the proper variables vs. production exclusively. A best practice is to employ a weighted value evaluation inclusive of quality, attendance, AND results. Results alone in a vacuum make sense but could be detrimental to the success of a program if an agent cuts corners to achieve success or is a top contributor but rarely shows up for work.

Make sure to recognize the efforts of agents who are doing their best, yet fall short of production goals. A positive agent attitude is critical and acknowledging the efforts of those who work hard to do their best helps with the attitude of the whole team and the culture built throughout the company. And remember, an agent falling short today could be a top producer tomorrow.

Testing Dialogue Plans

Customers want to have real conversations with support staff, not be spoken to. A dialogue plan (a plan that manages the dialogue between two parties vs. a script that implies reading by one party to another) exists to control conversations (impacting AHT), and successfully address customers’ needs (contact resolution).

Dialogue plans should be tested, tweaked, and evolved. Don’t make the mistake of insisting that agents read terminology verbatim unless you are in a regulated environment, requiring you to do so. Solicit agent input on ways to make conversations flow more effectively, based on responses they observe while interacting with customers.

Agents represent the “front line” to customers by hearing and reading what customers think through their questions and feedback. How, what, and when customers interact with your company can provide valuable insight, and knowing these components allows you to shift the flow of the interaction more effectively by tweaking the dialogue plan for future efforts.

The service of customers by agents allows you to run tests between different dialogue plans, and you should take advantage of this. A good contact center makes it easy to segregate inquiries and run concurrent campaigns founded on different dialogue plans, providing the opportunity to compare results. Contact center technology and scripting platforms can be straightforward to administer, allowing for changes in short order. Unless you are certain the dialogue plan being employed is the best possible version that it can be, you owe it to your program, customers, and agents to continue pushing the needle upward by testing and tweaking your dialogue plans, driven by agent feedback.

To learn more about Telecom’s approach to driving success in our agents and how we implement customer service best practices, please contact us or schedule an appointment. Stay tuned for Part Two of this very important topic.

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