Behavioral Analytics Drive Empathy and Build Rapport in the Contact Center

Since the 1960s and '70s, the telephone has been the predominant medium for customer service interactions. Companies have sought ever since to make their contact centers places where customers could confidently, and with minimal effort, make inquiries and seek resolutions to their problems. The ultimate goal is to garner customer loyalty through excellent service. Unfortunately, as customer expectations have grown, that goal has become more difficult to achieve.

A proven technology that analyzes subconscious behavioral signals is now available to the contact center. With this tool, large pools of agents can communicate more effectively and build rapport with customers, and management is empowered to comprehensively measure communication effectiveness and customer perception. Behavioral analytics help companies provide the excellent service that they have been striving for.

Tuning in to Behavioral Signals

Contact centers consistently struggle to build emotional connections with customers. The challenge is more pronounced in large organizations where thousands of agents handling millions of calls per day need to form positive emotional bonds with each customer. Surveys show that these positive connections rarely take place. If anything, the emotions that run highest in contact center interactions are negative. The No. 1 complaint among American consumers is rude or condescending agents (Consumer Reports). In fact, 57 percent of customers get so angry during calls to contact centers that they hang up the phone without resolving the issue that led to the call (Consumer Reports). Angry consumers don’t stand pat. Accenture states that $1.6 trillion is up for grabs annually from customers switching service providers.

During calls, customers and agents both unknowingly give a variety of signals that reveal their levels of engagement and satisfaction. Until recently, however, contact center leaders had no way to recognize, measure, and leverage those signals to enhance experiences and improve agent performance.

According to research pioneered by Dr. Alex "Sandy" Pentland at MIT, humans subconsciously emit behavioral signals that he refers to as"honest signals." A second channel of communication, honest signals involve vocal expressions, among other gestures, that communicate what's on people's minds more honestly and powerfully than the spoken word can.

Dr. Pentland's research at MIT reveals the predictive power of honest signals. In one study, a group of venture capitalists evaluated business plans from young entrepreneurs in person, while another group evaluated them only on paper. The groups chose entirely different plans as the best entries; honest signals in the applicants'pitches determined which would be chosen. Groundbreaking research also demonstrated that mimicry between employees and bosses successfully predicted the outcomes of salary negotiations. The same science of honest signals present in those scenarios is now available via technology to the contact center.

Creating Actionable Customer Service Insights

Behavioral analytics solutions convert the proven science of honest signals into actionable insights. The solutions capture and analyze voice signals generated within phone conversations, focusing on elements such as pitch, tone, silence, and turn-taking, among other characteristics. Voice signals are processed in real time through behavioral models, and agents are presented with in-call speaking guidance. Summary measures of agent performance and customer experience are then presented to contact center managers.

The in-call behavioral guidance helps agents dynamically adjust their speaking style to form a more personal connection with each customer. It assists agents in breaking away from robotic, scripted speech and helps them to communicate confidently with the appropriate energy and intonation. Agents more actively listen to the customer. They are alerted in real time when there is tension building in the customer's voice and respond in an empathetic manner. They are notified when a customer is anxious and can adapt their style to de-escalate a situation. In a sales context, behavioral analytics can assist agents in identifying and responding to distress signals, helping them increase satisfaction, loyalty. and revenue per customer.

The post-call insights provided by behavioral analytics give contact center managers an objective measure of how effectively agents are developing rapport with customers. The solutions provide a scientific measure of a customer's experience on every interaction. The measurements are generated from honest behavioral signals, which ensure more complete and accurate insights.

Delivering Empathy and Rapport at Scale

Behavioral analytics enable the improvement of more than just the customer experience. They also help agents engage more actively in their jobs. Due to operating in a highly stressful and often repetitive environment, contact center agents struggle to effectively build emotional connections with customers. As a result, they become increasingly and openly disengaged over time. Traditionally the only way supervisors could detect this disengagement was to walk the contact center floor and overhear an agent's communication style. With the growth of contact centers, combined with work-at-home and offshore agents, this manual approach to detecting disengagement is too little, too late, and difficult to deliver at scale.

By providing real-time feedback and guidance, behavioral analytics create an environment of continuous improvement for agents, helping them demonstrate the skills that lead to better emotional connections with customers. When agents have better conversations, and when customers are happily involved, the agents themselves experience an exponential increase in engagement.

According to research by Forrester, emotion is the No. 1 driver of customer loyalty across 95 percent of industries. Behavioral analytics measure and improve how customers and agents communicate, leading to stronger emotional connections with customers. In an environment in which demanding customers have the will and the way to switch service providers, behavioral analytics enable companies to tune into the honest signals expressed in conversations to ensure a superior customer experience.

Joshua Feast is CEO and co-founder of Cogito.