What is the best way to ensure that customers are delighted by their service experience? Is it tracking KPI’s like AHT or FCR? To be sure, metrics are an important component to managing a well-functioning call center. But beyond and between the numbers, how do you create a customer experience that truly makes the customer feel engaged and valued? The answer is in the quality of agent-to-customer interactions as a whole.
Agents who infuse their customer conversations with a human element are able to respond to customers in a way that not only satisfies their service needs, but also strengthens the customer relationship.
What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize one’s own emotions and the emotions of others in a way that facilitates satisfying, productive interactions and relationships. According to Daniel Goleman, the American psychologist credited with popularizing the notion, emotional intelligence consists of five elements:
- Self-awareness: The ability to recognize your own feelings and how they affect others
- Self-regulation: The ability to control or redirect emotional impulses, especially those that are negative
- Motivation: A passion to work for reasons other than money
- Empathy: Recognizing others’ feelings and responding appropriately
- Social skills: The ability to manage relationships and build social networks
Clearly, emotional intelligence and customer service go hand-in-hand. Customers today are concerned with more than product pricing and innovation; they want to be “wowed” with a personalized, engaging customer journey.
Why should emotional intelligence and customer service be top priorities for your call center?
A customer who experiences emotionally intelligent service is likely to become loyal to the company because their engagement with the brand has been heightened and enhanced by this personalized, human interaction. A customer would rather return to a company where they know they are valued as an individual than take their chances at a new company.
Customers who have been “wowed” by emotionally intelligent customer service are likely to share this enthusiasm for the brand with others. This means positive mentions on social media and an influx of new customers who trust a personal recommendation more than typical marketing efforts.
A comprehensive study from Rutger’s University found that salespeople at L’Oreal sold, on average, $91,370 more in company products when they were hired on the basis of their emotional intelligence.
Improved agent attrition
It’s not only the customers who benefit from emotionally intelligent interactions with a company. Agents and call centers themselves benefit as well, since agents who are emotionally intelligent have a 63% lower rate of turnover.
Researchers have determined that the most productive employees in positions of average complexity (e.g. salespeople) owe a third of this productivity edge over their peers to technical and cognitive ability, and two-thirds of it to higher emotional intelligence.
So what does it look like when emotional intelligence and customer service are successfully married? For starters, the conversations unfold more naturally as a result of the emotionally intelligent agent sensing any tension or negativity and responding to it with skill and sensitivity.
Listening and expressing empathy for the customer will be as much a part of the conversation as problem-solving and/or pitching and upselling. Finally, the conversation will end with a customer who is not only satisfied, but happy.
How can you build emotional intelligence in your agents?
1. Train agents in the skill of active listening
A common emotional need people have is to feel as if they’re being heard. Rather than firing back a response as soon as the customer is finished stating their query or concern, agents should first listen actively and repeat the concern back to the customer.
This not only has the benefit of eliminating inefficiency caused by a faulty understanding of the issue, but it gives the customer a sense that their needs are valid and understood by the agent. This sense of validation starts the conversation off on a solid foot of practical and emotional understanding.
2. Use ongoing data collection to customize customer interactions
Some customers like their service conversations to be brief, straightforward, and focused on the facts. Others prefer a more personable approach, including small talk or casual banter. Some customers are calling with a routine query whereas others are following up on a complicated issue.
Knowing these differences and approaching the conversation accordingly, especially for a returning customer, can make all the difference. Encourage agents to keep a detailed log of customer interactions, including history and preferences, to put customers at ease in the way that suits them best.
3. Give agents practical skills for emotional intelligence and customer service
Of the five components of emotional intelligence, three of them-- self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy-- are a direct result of becoming aware of emotions on both sides of the interaction and responding accordingly.
Why not train agents in the skill of doing just that? Agents-in-training could include think-alouds during and/or after their customer interactions (real or simulated) to identify customers’ feelings and hypothesize the best approach, and to recognize or anticipate their own feelings and how to manage them.
Keeping emotional intelligence in mind when hiring, training, and supporting your call center staff is an investment that will pay off in many ways. From increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, to a healthier, more productive work environment for your agents, emotional intelligence awareness and training has the potential to improve all areas of call center operations.