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How Do You Build Empathy with your Voice Call Center?

Posted by Ross Duff, Vice President, Operations, HGS Canada

The metaphor of the Emotional Bank Account (EBA) is arguably one of the most pervasive concepts introduced in Stephen Covey’s groundbreaking book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. According to Covey’s metaphor, every interpersonal relationship, whether with friends, family members, co-workers or business partners, can be managed by “accounting” for the health of the relationship. While the “account” begins with a neutral balance, we continuously make deposits and withdrawals as we interact. These deposits and withdrawals influence trust which is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship.

How Do You Build Empathy with your Voice Call Center

When we make emotional deposits into the EBA, trust grows, even allowing us to occasionally make mistakes without “overdrawing” the account. Too many withdrawals and a resulting low or “overdrawn” EBA means that the relationship becomes fraught with mistrust and contention. There are 6 key ways we make deposits into an EBA:

  1. Demonstrate Effort to Understand
  2. Keep Commitments
  3. Clarify Expectations
  4. Attend to the “Little Things”
  5. Demonstrate Personal Integrity
  6. Recognize, and Apologize Sincerely, When a Withdrawal is Made

A few years ago, with the support of our trusted partner SwitchGear Consulting, HGS examined how we could apply Covey’s principles within the contact center environment. The result was the HGS Customer Experience Blueprint, which identifies, models, and documents best practices when handling inbound customer service calls. The result is higher resolution rates and a dramatic transformation in customer satisfaction.

One of many examples where we make use of Stephen Covey’s principles within the Customer Experience Blueprint is in the context of giving a little before we can ask of someone. For example, customer authentication and verification is a step in many of our standard call flows that must be performed before a customer service call can progress. However, this necessary step in the process can be viewed negatively by the customer, potentially setting the stage for conflict. According to Covey’s theory, we are withdrawing from the EBA by asking the customer to verify that they are who they say they are, essentially creating an atmosphere of mistrust. In this situation, before we have even begun the transaction, we are starting the interaction in arrears and working “against the current.”

To minimize this “customer experience friction point”, the Customer Experience Blueprint addresses the “Top of the Call” by immediately transferring control from the agent to the customer and requires that our agents immediately make a deposit in the EBA at the very beginning of the interaction. Agents begin by simply asking the customer, “How are you today?” followed by asking clarifying questions about the problem and restating to ensure, and demonstrate, clarity (seeking first to understand). They then ask permission to ask questions to support verification by asking “Before we can solve your problem, may I ask you a few questions?” The “Top of the Call” portion of the Customer Experience Blueprint process also includes “sowing a seed” which means that agents may communicate a potential upsell offer to a client, stating “Remind me to discuss this with you after we resolve your problem.” This strategy creates interest, leaves control in the hands of the customer, and allows customers to benefit from additional value added offers that they may not have been aware of before they called.

By implementing the Customer Experience Blueprint, HGS was able to demonstrate immediate improvements, including:

  • Higher call resolution rates
  • More satisfied customers
  • Fewer escalations
  • Higher customer lifetime value
  • Higher average revenue per call through upselling and cross selling
  • Lower average handle time

Covey’s theories and their effective application in the contact center environment remind us that contact center agents play a crucial role in building the relationship between a brand and its customers. A structured approach to developing soft skills to enhance and strengthen this relationship is a key component of building a customer-centric culture, increasing customer loyalty and satisfaction.

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