Invest in Customer Service Technology to Make Agents More Empathetic

Consumer behavior has radically shifted during the past two years: they have gone digital, with 85 percent of customer service inquiries starting online, via a website search, a chatbot interaction, or within an app. Customers are increasingly busy and expect their time to be valued. This means that customers treat the phone as an escalation point for the harder inquiries that are not easily resolved online. And they bring their emotions—frustration, anxiety, or anger—to these interactions.

Agents fielding these inquiries have the double duty of resolving the harder work as well as tempering customer emotion. This is where empathy comes in. Empathy, the trait of deeply appreciating what another person is feeling, challenges contact center operations to shift perspective from the vantage point of their company to that of their customers.

Empathy is not an inborn trait for agents. It is a trait that is defined, practiced, and articulated in operations and supported with the right customer service technologies. Here are five quick wins to making your customer service operations more empathetic:

  • Ensure that the customer gets to the right agent. Agent skill and empowerment are core drivers of customer satisfaction. Don't bounce the customer around your organization. Collect inquiry details to route the customer to the right skilled agent. You can use a chatbot with natural language understanding and intent derivation capabilities to do so. Surface to the agent any content or web pages that the customer has visited so they can pick up the conversation from where the self-service interaction left off. Monitor agent performance in solving these types of issues and use prior performance as part of your routing algorithms.
  • Humanize the customer. Get agents to visualize the customer on the phone. Encourage them to understand their point of view. Reinforce that customers don';t just buy products or services; they use them to solve problems in their lives. The human picture and the customer record in the CRM should include information about their goals, motivations, and challenges they trying to address. Once agents understand customer goals and motivations, they can create solutions to the problems consumers are trying to solve.
  • Actively listen. Get agents to ask clarifying questions to best understand customers' situations. By asking pertinent questions, agents demonstrate engagement and sympathy and also narrow down the choice of resolutions. Troubleshooting process flows, decision trees, and scripted clarifying questions within the agent desktop can hand hold agents through these complex interactions.
  • Learn from example. Show agents what great service looks like. Review call recordings or chat transcripts to pinpoint exemplary customer service interactions with anxious or angry customers. Leave an empty chair at the table (or virtually on a video call) to represent the customer. It reminds the team that service is all about the customer.
  • Focus on the agent experience. Agents who are empathetic and who bring their best on every call are also at risk of compassion fatigue and burnout. Make it as easy as possible for agents to do a great job. Equip them with modern agent desktops that support quick keys and canned responses. Empower them with knowledge management tools. Make sure that rote work, such as classifying cases or capturing call notes, is automated. Give your agents breaks. And build a culture around recognition and rewards for a job well done.

Kate Leggett is a vice president and principal analyst for CRM at Forrester Research.