Despite rapid growth across a number of customer service channels - live chat, chatbots, email, and social media being the most prominent - phone still is the most used (48%) and most preferred (80%) method for resolving queries. That’s because at the end of the day, if you want to get help, you call in.
While hard skills, things like technical proficiency and product knowledge for example, vary from industry to industry, soft skills are universal across all industries. At the end of the day, providing a quality CX is about establishing and building a relationship with the caller.
Soft skills directly impact the most mission-critical call center KPIs across an organization. Whether you’re trying to improve customer experience, make your agents more efficient in their day-to-day, or mitigate compliance risk, agent soft skills are a powerful way to achieve your KPIs.
We’ll first start with the benefits, then in our next section, we’ll walk through a couple ways to coach agents to improve their soft skills.
When agents approach a conversation with empathy, they’re acknowledging the caller’s thoughts and feelings. They’re connecting by putting themselves in the caller’s shoes which in turn shows the caller that they truly care. And as a result, when an agent uses empathy statements throughout a call, the caller finishes the conversation with a more positive customer experience.
First call resolution (FCR) is the rate in which an agent resolves the caller’s issue on the first attempt. The better the agent’s problem-solving skills, whether it be applying prior coaching, efficiently navigating their internal knowledge base (IKB), or having deeper domain knowledge, the better their rate of first call resolution.
Sentiment analysis was traditionally black and white. Was the call overall positive or negative? With tonality-based sentiment analysis, you can understand the myriad of caller emotions beyond what was said, to how it was said. This incorporates tone, intent, silence, and volume, and maps it to specific interactions across the call. When an agent approaches the call with positive intent (and empathy), they’re influencing that call to stay positive. The result is higher sentiment scores from start to end.
Active listening is key to understanding the root of the issue on every call and the details required to more quickly and seamlessly resolve the issue. That’ll directly correlate with average handle time (AHT), because the agent is more effective in handling their calls. Active listening is at the core of applying other coachable techniques, like empathy statements and product/industry knowledge, but it all begins with understanding what the caller truly needs.
It’s estimated that 85% of escalations could have been resolved with the initial agent. However, supervisor escalations are a common fallback for frustrated callers, and any number of causes drive them, from lack of agent confidence to the complexity of the query. The agents’ ability to adapt to a variety of situations is a key soft skill for de-escalating a situation, whether it be laying out multiple options, using empathy statements, or utilizing tools and permissions available to them.
Specifically for highly regulated industries like insurance, healthcare, and collections, an agent’s coachability to understand and adhere to compliance guidelines is crucial to the business. A single violation can lead to stiff penalties or even a ban on operating. Having agents who understand when to follow complex compliance processes begins with their ability to be coached.
With an understanding of the most important call center agent soft skills and the impact they can have on your organization, let’s next look at a couple ways you can coach agents on them.
Keep in mind, to effectively create coaching programs around soft skills, you need comprehensive insights on every interaction taking place on the call, as well as a way to deliver contextual, data-backed feedback to the agents. That’s where contact center AI comes into play. You can read more about the infrastructure behind coaching for soft skills here.
The most impactful way to increase agent empathy is to coach agents on how to utilize empathy statements throughout a call. One of our customers, a large U.S.-based moving company, monitors their agent performance around empathy statements using a MAGIC and Tragic moments methodology.
MAGIC moments are interactions that “Make A Great Impression on the Customer,” for example, “I understand your frustration” or “we’ll get this fixed for you.” On the other hand, Tragic moments do the opposite, delivering a negative experience for the caller and creating a sense of uncertainty, frustration, or doubt.
Another one of our customers, a national window coverings provider, coached agents on using empathy related statements, and saw an immediate improvement in empathy scores from 11% to 37%.
Collaboration is a valuable soft skill that encourages agents to work together and with their supervisors to improve their own, and their peers’ performance across a number of KPIs.
1:1, group, and peer-to-peer coaching sessions are three great options. Peer-to-peer sessions, sometimes called peer calibration, in particular are powerful in that it gives agents a safe and collaborative environment to collaborate - in many cases, making it easy for agents to openly share issues and work together to improve them.
Some other best practices to encourage collaboration include:
This is where coaching with context comes into play. By using specific call snippets or in-transcript comments in every QA evaluation, agents can look at not only what they need to improve, but understand why they need to as well.
This is particularly important when it comes to coaching on active listening and patience, which go hand in hand. When an agent is able to review their own call and look at what the caller was saying, understanding their true intent, supervisors can more effectively coach them on how actively listening could have better resolved the call.
Like Tammi Zelm, VP of CX at ASSA ABLOY said on our recent webinar on 3 Proven Ideas to Improve CX quality:
“It’s so much clearer for agents when they can hear themselves. They make the connection as to how they are sounding. They consistently have aha! Moments. They think: ‘I need to change the way I’m deflecting and practice that.’ Now the agent can monitor her progress. Using data and examples, it’s less personal, more impactful.”
From hiring new agents to developing them, soft skills should be at the forefront of your coaching strategy. Though they can be hard to pinpoint in every agent, utilizing speech analytics and contact center AI allows you to monitor the interactions and KPIs connected to each essential soft skill.
All in all, they’ll give you the baseline for coaching your agents on the human side of the call center - connecting with callers, empathizing with them, and delivering a great customer experience 100% of the time.
Joe Hanson leads content marketing at Observe.AI. Want to guest blog? Or maybe you have some expertise you want to share? Connect with him on LinkedIn.