In our previous post, we outlined practical solutions for managing call center traffic. Banishing long wait times and confusing, irritating IVRs is a must for every brand. If you commit to doing it, you’ll delight your customers and make your agents’ jobs far easier.
Today, we offer part two: serving customers better once they reach a live agent. In the right environment, and with the right tools and training, every agent can become a brand superhero and create customers for life. These two call center solutions will help your team and your customer relationships flourish.
3. Turn Your Agents Into Brand Experts
Your agents must be prepared to answer those increasingly complex questions coming into the call center. Here’s what your agents need from you, and what you need from them, to improve phone service performance.
Provide Ample Training and Resources
The more your agents know, they more confidently they can do their jobs (and the bigger the increases you’ll see in agent morale, performance, and retention). Training on specific customer issues and complex products is a must, as is training on new products and promotions before they’re rolled out.
Access to physical products boosts agent buy-in, confidence, and performance even more. Lululemon makes its full inventory available to its agents, while at Lane Bryant, designers and vendors train agents directly on new product lines. With merchandise in hand, agents can help customers compare products in more detail and make better buying decisions—resulting in happier customers, more sales, and fewer product returns.
Improve Agents’ Consistency
Our clients are often surprised by the degree of inconsistency we find when we test their agents’ knowledge. In one case, only 58% of the questions we asked were answered the same way by multiple agents.
This is a big problem for brands. If customers are making purchase decisions based on what they’re hearing, one wrong answer or two conflicting answers can easily kill a potential sale.
There are two ways to combat this problem.
Provide easy access to confusing policies. This one is simple: give every agent a quick cheat sheet that lists policy exceptions customers are likely to ask about.
Have your best agents conduct policy and product training. When our clients’ most knowledgeable agents are involved in the training process, they take ownership of helping improve team performance, they develop their own career skills, and they keep other agents engaged, thus building a strong sense of community in the call center. All of these benefits will boost consistency and service quality overall.
4. Keep the Ball Rolling (and Keep Customers Happy)
Having to repeat information is a major source of frustration for customers. Any disconnect between IVR and agent, or multiple agents, suggests a lack of care and concern. It also wastes time and stalls progress.
Collect Information Once, and Use It
Many IVRs ask for a phone number, order number, or other identifying information. In our Index studies, we’ve had to repeat the information to an agent more than half the time.
There’s no point in collecting customer information through the IVR if you’re not going to use it. Agents should have access to the information, and it should have a purpose. If your IVR asks for an order number to ensure customers have the number ready (rather than to inform agents), modify your language a bit: “Please have your order number ready.”
The best solution for brands and their customers is a robust CRM system that recognizes the customer’s phone number, provides the agent with detailed account information, and allows the agent to use the information.
Train Agents on Active Listening
It’s a common problem: after answering so many calls in a given day, agents start to zone out. They hear a customer use the keyword “shipping” and launch into an explanation of standard shipping policy, but they fail to answer the customer’s specific question.
Be sure to prioritize active listening in your training. Empower agents to go off script if necessary in order to ask clarifying questions so they can confidently and fully resolve the customer’s issue.
In the past year, only 1% of our calls to Index brands were transferred. Yes, transfers are rare (thankfully), but they’re unavoidable at times. The following best practices will minimize your customers’ irritation.
Transfer warmly. Make sure the agent receiving the transfer knows what the customer’s issue is before the connection is made.
Avoid multiple transfers. A transfer to the wrong person can be disastrous. Agents must listen carefully to the customer’s issue and connect the customer with the appropriate person.
Educate and empower your team. Agents need an updated list of specialists and departments, and they need a firm grasp of escalation protocol. When managers receive transferred calls, they should have the authority to override policy on a case-by-case basis.
Take the Sting Out of Follow-up Calls
Providing customers with agents’ direct extensions, or assigning case numbers to unresolved customer issues, separates service leaders from the rest. If customers must call back, they can either speak to the agent who’s already familiar with the issue or connect with an agent who can quickly access case information. Customers won’t feel they’re starting from scratch with each follow-up call, and agents will be empowered to resolve complex issues more quickly.
To Make Your Call Center Profitable, Make Phone Service Performance a Priority
When agents exceed customers’ hopes for the service experience, customers feel better about making purchases and become more attached to the brand. In 2017, “superhero” customer service may be the most powerful brand advantage.
To learn how Lane Bryant supercharged its phone service performance and turned its contact center into a profit center, check out our recent webinar. In it, you’ll hear a firsthand account of the brand’s call center transformation.