Doug Taylor looks at what the digital age will do to the customer experience.
Ever-growing numbers of contact centers are embracing digital channels to provide customers with access to information as well as the ability to self-serve. The majority of customers favour a self-service solution, which includes a safety net of personal contact if the consumer so chooses. The best organisations are integrated, allowing customers to jump from one channel to another in search of an answer.
With digital channels handling simple queries, customer service representatives (CSRs) are now being called on to respond to increasingly complex questions and speak to customers who have researched their questions prior to calling. To do so, they need better skills and training.
It is no longer enough for CSRs to be able to read answers from a script. They have to be able to think critically and act quickly, all while exhibiting patience and empathy. These more complex skills require CSRs to undergo a different kind of training than their peers completed even just a few years ago.
Why CSR skill needs have shifted
Digital channels provide customers with a full complement of self-service options. In addition to searching for information on a website or FAQ, customers can sometimes use automated chatbots or ask simple questions on social media. The increase in self-service via digital channels means that CSRs must now handle more complex queries.
It is no longer enough for CSRs to be able to read answers from a script. They have to be able to think critically and act quickly, all while exhibiting patience and empathy.
Banking provides a ready example. A customer used to call in and talk to a live person to receive a balance update or see if a check had cleared. Now, a customer can easily check that information online or in an app. Even deposits, which used to require a physical visit to a bank, can be made using a mobile device.
But if that same customer is looking for detailed advice about refinancing a loan, investing in a retirement account, or opening a credit card, the information the customer requires to make a decision can be complex. After all, decisions are not always black or white. For those types of complicated queries, many customers want to speak to a live person.
Scripts are out, critical thinking is in
When customers do finally call into a contact center to speak with a CSR, they want to know that the person on the other end of the line knows more than they do. One of the very first skills a CSR needs is the ability to establish confidence that they can help the customer who has called.
In short, they must have a wide range of knowledge or know how to quickly access accurate information. The CSR serving the fictional banking customer would need an in-depth knowledge of complex account products.
Equally important, though, would be the CSR’s ability to glean information about the customer, either from a dashboard or on the call itself, to help determine which product would be the best fit for that customer’s unique financial profile. That type of in-depth knowledge can’t be memorised or determined by running through a set of simple, scripted questions.
Sure, scripted questions on a call or website can determine a customer’s marital or family status, income bracket, investment horizon, and the like. But automated calculators don’t always take other factors into account. And sometimes, a customer may be leaning toward one product, but in speaking with a CSR, learn that a different product is actually a better fit.
CSRs need a more nuanced understanding of both products and customer needs to make appropriate recommendations. To do that, they need to be able to think critically about a given situation and evaluate options before making a recommendation.
They also need heaps of patience and empathy, or emotional intelligence. Customers are coming to calls armed with more knowledge than they used to have and most often, they’ve already spent time trying to solve their own problems and haven’t been successful.
Everyone is busy, and no one likes to be on hold. CSRs who can understand the customer’s point of view may find it easier to assist customers whose patience is running out.
How to train CSRs in critical thinking
CSR training needs to shift away from memorising standard processes and workflows and passing multiple-choice tests to indicate mastery of content information. To train CSRs in the critical thinking skills they need to serve today’s customers, contact center managers are using scenario-based questions and discussions.
Trainers work with representatives to assess a scenario critically and devise a solution. Then, they challenge reps to query their own thinking – was that the best solution? Was there a better way? How could that have been handled differently?
Ultimately, CSRs ‘pass’ by demonstrating that they can successfully apply their knowledge to a given customer scenario and come up with a logical resolution. In short, training is no longer about memorising multiplication tables; it’s about understanding, analysing, and being able to solve word problems correctly.
Digitisation has changed the way contact centers interact with customers. As customers continue to use self-service options for simple queries, CSRs must become more adept in helping those who call in with complex questions. Having top-notch critical thinking and strong emotional intelligence skills helps CSRs deliver the service all customers deserve.
About the author
Doug Taylor is vice president of operations at HighPoint