How to Improve Customer Service Skills in Your Contact Center

Lee Waters
Posted by Lee Waters
Improve Customer Service Skills in Your Contact Center

It seems like everywhere you look (or listen) these days, the term Customer Experience is front and center.  No surprise, really, given the increased emphasis companies are placing on how they treat their customers - especially in uncertain economic times.  A quick look at Google Trends shows that searches on the term “Customer Experience” have more than doubled compared to the same time last year.

It’s also no surprise that this focus on CX has led to a surge in research, consulting, data and technology aimed at improving the customer journey.  There seems to be an AI-powered solution for just about everything related to the customer these days.  However, it’s also a good time to review the fundamentals - namely, the customer service skills your team has that form the backbone of that customer experience.

In any organization, customer service skills are an invaluable part of daily operations—not just for business-to-customer (B2C) organizations, but for business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-government (B2G) organizations. This is especially true for the contact centers and customer support operations  in the organization.

Let’s examine why customer service skills are so important, which ones help drive success, and how to improve customer service skills in your organization.

Why Customer Service Skills Matter for Contact Centers

There are many benefits to having strong customer service skills in a contact center, such as:

Improved Communication Skills

One of the first benefits of strong customer service skills is ensuring employees have strong communication skills in general. This is incredibly useful for helping everyone in the organization better coordinate their efforts and creating a culture of support and cooperation.

Employees who can communicate effectively are less likely to conflict with their coworkers (since they have more effective negotiation skills and can avoid the miscommunications and misunderstandings that drive interpersonal conflict).

Increased Customer Retention

Customer acquisition is a huge issue for any business—and one that businesses of all sizes and industries can struggle with. HubSpot’s research indicates that 55% of consumers simply don’t trust companies as much as they used to, 65% of them don’t trust company press releases, and 69% of them don’t trust advertisements. This makes acquiring new customers exceedingly difficult.

However, by focusing on customer retention, businesses can increase profits and avoid excessive new customer acquisition costs. Additionally, repeat customers are more likely to spend more with a brand than first-time customers. HubSpot estimates that repeat customers spend 300% more with a brand than first-time customers.

Improved Word of Mouth

If customers don’t trust companies, who do they trust? Typically, it’s friends, family, and other customers. Customers who have a positive experience with your brand are more likely to leave positive reviews and actively recommend you to their peers—people who may well be interested in your products or services since they live or work in the same circles as your existing customer.

Roughly 72% of customers will share a positive experience with six (or more) other people. By the same token, customers who have a particularly bad experience with a brand may spread that even wider.

By improving customer service skills, you create an opportunity to get the word of mouth you need to earn the trust of more consumers.

These are just a few of the major benefits of having employees with strong customer service skills in your organization.

5 Customer Service Skills Every Contact Center Employee Needs

Considering the competitive advantage that having employees with strong customer service skills can provide, it’s important to choose the right skills to focus on. By focusing on the right customer service skills, you can help ensure that you realize the biggest potential benefit for your organization.

Based on what we’ve observed in our work with brands large and small in countries around the world, here are some examples of customer service skills that every employee in a contact center can benefit from:

1. Active Listening Skills

Active listening is a key part of any successful customer interaction. Being able to focus on what the customer is saying, draw out the salient points, and form a well-reasoned response is important for all kinds of call center operations.

For example, sales reps can leverage the information they gain by listening to prospects to identify their biggest pain points/needs, relate them to the company’s products and services, then walk the prospect through how their pain points can be solved.

Alternatively, a customer support center employee can use active listening skills to identify the core issue that a customer is having with the company’s product or service, gather details about it, and then provide a response that best addresses any problems while serving the customer’s biggest needs.

Active listening is also important for internal interactions, as it helps employees coordinate their efforts better and get more out of their training/coaching sessions.

2. Problem Solving/Reasoning Skills

Not every situation that a call center employee encounters will have a ready-made solution that they’ve already learned. In many cases, employees will need to analyze the situation, identify the key issues at play, and try to find the best solution for all parties involved—whether they’re dealing with customers or with other contact center employees.

For example, say that a customer support center employee gets a call from a customer about a problem that they’re experiencing with a product, but the customer cannot define the problem accurately. Using a combination of active listening skills (to collect information) and problem-solving skills (to identify the actual issue at work and solve it) could enable the call center employee to successfully resolve the issue.

Because of this, it’s important for employees to work on their problem-solving and reasoning skills—at least to the point where they can learn to recognize the core issue of any interaction, identify the resources needed to achieve success, and put a personal plan of action into place.

3. Technical Knowledge

To best represent your brand and serve the needs of customers, employees in the contact/call center need to have a working knowledge of your company’s products and services. Not just what they cost and what the features are, but how they work, what the benefits are, and the different use cases that they might encounter.

For example, say that you have two sales reps working in a call center. Both reach out to the same number of prospects, have strong listening skills, and are fairly good problem-solvers. However, one seems to consistently close more deals than the other. The difference could be their technical knowledge of the company’s products and services.

In a situation where both sales reps have a deal hinging on their ability to explain how a customer could benefit from your brand’s products/services, one rep would be able to clearly explain how the prospect could get the results they want while the other would only be able to make some general assertions or explain product/service features that might be applicable. In such situations, the sales rep with a more in-depth level of technical knowledge regarding the product would have an enormous advantage.

Alternatively, say you have a customer support operation where there are two customer service reps who have different levels of knowledge dealing with customer issues. If one rep doesn’t know the product “inside out,” they’re more likely to struggle to understand customer issues and provide actionable advice. This, in turn, will negatively impact their ability to provide reliable and helpful support that will delight and retain existing customers, which speaks directly to the Customer Experience

4. Learning Skills

Naturally, employees won’t enter the organization with perfect technical knowledge of your specific product or service—they’ll need to learn about it first! So, another “skill” that your employees will need to develop is the ability to learn new information quickly—and the drive to learn new information.

Being able to absorb new information will be crucial for helping employees keep up to date with the latest information. For example, let’s say you launch a new product or service. If your employees aren’t able to learn what it entails, they won’t be able to speak about it with confidence when dealing with customers.

Or, let’s say a major industry regulation changes. This can have an impact on how your company sells its products and services. However, if employees aren’t able to learn the new regulations, the reasons behind them, and how they impact the employee’s work, then they may make critical regulatory mistakes—which can cost the company significantly.

So, both for ensuring strong technical knowledge and for avoiding critical errors, learning skills are important for any call/contact center employee.

5. Patience/Calm-Mindedness

In a call center—especially one focused on customer support or sales—not every customer interaction is going to be a positive one. In fact, many call center employees may frequently find themselves dealing with unhappy customers or  prospects.

According to an SHRM press release, “1 in 4 American workers dread going to work” and estimated that “U.S. companies had lost $223 billion due to culture-caused turnover.” For contact centers, part of the “toxic culture” that causes dread and drives away good employees often stems from  having to deal with angry customers.

A lack of patience when working with these consumers can cause further frustration—negatively impacting the employee’s performance and potentially driving existing customers away. This can create a negative spiral where an employee becomes frustrated with their own lack of progress towards their goals—making them more impatient when dealing with other customers.

So, learning how to develop patience in the face of angry customers who are experiencing issues or are not happy to be calling your contact center is a must. One way that organizations can help their employees develop the patience they need is to manage expectations for customer interactions from the beginning of the recruitment process. New hires who know that they will be expected to sometimes handle irate customers will be better prepared for the realities of the job than ones who are sent into the trenches without any prior warning—which can help them be prepared to act with patience.

How to Improve Customer Service Skills Quickly

So, how can you instill new customer service skills in your team quickly and ensure that they have all the tools they need to succeed? Some popular options include large-scale team training, one-on-one coaching sessions, and mentorship programs. Let’s take a look at each option:

1. Large-Scale Learning Programs

Many organizations use training programs—especially e-learning and knowledge management platforms—to attempt to instill a wide variety of important skills in as much of their workforce as possible as quickly as possible.

The methods of delivering training have varied greatly over the years. Some examples of different training delivery methods include:

  • Recorded Learning. Whether you’re jumping in the Wayback Machine to the days of  DVDs andBlu-Rays or more likely streaming  online training content, companies have long used pre-recorded learning materials  as a way to deliver basic information on everything from workplace safety to common processes , company ethics training and more. The major advantage is that it can be very cost-effective to deliver recorded materials  to employees across a wide variety of geographic locations, and scheduling can be a lot more flexible. However, the training often needs to be supplemented with more practical, in-person lessons.
  • Instructor-Led Training. Instructor-led training (ILT) still makes up the majority of training delivered to contact center employees.  There are benefits, to be sure:  Levels of engagement tend to be higher among learners, content retention is somewhat better, and surveys indicate that learners have a higher degree of buy-in when working with an instructor (whether virtually or in-person).  The downside, of course, is the time commitment.  To be effective, ILT courses generally have to be scheduled in large blocks of time.  
  • Hybrid Learning. More and more companies (about 60% of our clients, in fact)  use a hybrid model that combines  online learning platforms with Instructor-led sessions. These platforms combine pre-recorded content to explain new information and concepts to employees—and then quizzes them on the new knowledge to verify that they actually learned it - with instructor-led classes for more interaction or to cover more complex topics  The hybrid solution makes a lot of sense given the new reality of the work-from-home model and combines the best of both worlds for many companies. 

2. Coaching 

Where training is often useful for instilling new skills in a large number of employees, coaching is more useful for making “course corrections” with a smaller number of employees. Here, an employee and a manager engage in a focused, one-on-one performance review and learning session where the manager provides feedback and advice to help the employee improve their performance.

Coaching sessions can take many forms and can be focused on topics like process adherence, policy, training reinforcement, performance or employee career development.

Coaching isn’t viewed as scalable sometimes because , it relies on the coach’s  ability to dedicate personal time to each employee on your team. However, in our view  it is the best way to draw out the full potential of your top performers and drive employee engagement.

3. Mentorship Programs

In a mentorship program, you have one or more of your top-performing employees act as teachers to the rest of the group so they can share their top insights into delivering quality customer service and driving results. You could even create one-on-one mentor and mentee pairs to allow the mentor to dedicate the majority of their time and focus into instilling all of their skills in another promising employee.  (Important note:  this is something that can be done regardless of work environment.)

The advantages of mentorship programs are numerous—they help you ensure that the skills of your top performers are passed on to new employees, they’re easy to scale even as your organization grows, and they’re a great way to recognize great employees and drive engagement.

However, to create an effective mentorship program, you need a reliable way of identifying effective mentors—people who not only generate results but have the communication skills to convey their know-how to others.

Whether you want to create a new training program, coach employees yourself, or establish a mentorship initiative, you’re going to need:

C2Perform is a super app that combines learning management, knowledge management, quality assurance, dynamic coaching, employee communications, and more to give you everything you need to maximize employee performance in a single resource.

Are you ready to transform the way your organization manages employee performance? Reach out to us today to get started!

Topics: communications tools, employee engagement strategies, employee engagement activities

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