Happy and delighted customers are your best path to bringing in new business, retaining existing business, and enhancing your brand presence. According to HubSpot, 80% of consumers say they’ve stopped doing business with a company because of a poor customer experience. As a former leader of Training & Quality Assurance (QA) for a global customer support team at Western Union, that statistic rings true. Today, companies cannot afford to skimp on developing top performing customer service agents. Here are five ways to improve your customer service agent performance:
Provide Best-In-Class Training
Studies prove that 70% of what human beings learn is through taking action. In other words, practice or on-the-job-training (OJT). No great golfer or musician becomes great by simply observing another person performing the work or by reading the most books on a subject. People become great at something through repeated and consistent action taken over time. It is no different for customer service agents. Listening to a facilitator teach, studying via e-Learning curriculum, and taking quizzes to prove knowledge memory will not help an agent become great. True development of skill through taking action and repeated practice in a well-rounded blended learning approach is the key to developing great customer service agents. Best-in-class training is centered around agent skill development through an effective learning strategy.
Practice Active Listening
When leading Training & QA for a global customer support team at Western Union, there was a major gap in the customer experience as 80% or more of the quality assurance form that customer service agents were measured by was compliance focused. Financially incentivized to be ‘compliant’, the agent missed opportunities to delight the customer for fear of failing a compliance requirement. This included the all-important Active Listening component. In overhauling the approach to QA through the help of organizational studies conducted via Gartner, Active Listening became one of the 6 pillars to our newly defined ‘Customer Experience’ evaluation. Instead of merely following a call flow to get off the phone quickly, our agents began actively listening to the customer and taking action by adjusting to their needs in real-time creating a more delightful experience. This resulted in a more customer-centric quality model that drove CSAT scores up 37%.
Empathy, Patience, and Consistency with Customers
To effectively and at scale understand the true level of service being provided by customer service agents, innovative analytics are essential. While at Western Union, our QA analysts could not score enough customer interactions to be considered a statistically valid sample. To scale our scoring of customer interactions across the organization, we implemented a customer experience analytics platform. We could finally monitor enough customer interactions (10% or more of each call type) accurately, scale assessing agent performance, and better understand the customer experience. Simply measuring a higher population of interactions improved agent performance due to the accountability factor. However, the largest area of improvement came because of our newly introduced metric of customer sentiment. Our teams were able to improve the customer experience at a global scale because of better understanding real customer sentiment, which included tonality, empathy, pace of speech, word choice, and more. Over time, our nearly 7,000 global agent workforce across 35+ languages was becoming best-in-class.
Add the Human Element
In a recent study by Harvard Business Review, 58% of customers prefer voice human interaction when solving their problems. The customer service agent will always be in demand and will never go away. Companies today must focus on how to enhance agent performance, especially as automation leaves agents with the most challenging interactions to solve. Each of the changes made while leading global training and quality at Western Union were directed at improving customer experience, which relied heavily on our customer service agents performing their best. The technology and process changes implemented enhanced agent performance and ultimately customer satisfaction and experience.
Master Best & Required Practices
The final problem for our leadership team at Western Union was to ensure agents were mastering best & required practices through an enhanced training and coaching approach. We transitioned from 95% instructor-led training to a 70%/30% blended learning approach, where only 30% was instructor-led. This included more E-Learning, more practice time, and significantly more OJT. To successfully implement the new learning & coaching model we sought out innovative technology which led us to Zenarate. Zenarate AI Coach is an AI Conversation Simulation platform that creates hyper-realistic simulations of any call or chat scenario so you can train your employees the way humans learn best: practicing, solving problems, making mistakes, and building confidence. It’s the closest thing to training in a live environment without any risks.
As a test, we integrated Zenarate AI Coach into our new training approach at one of our contact centers in Puebla, Mexico. With two simultaneous new-hire cohorts of over 20 agents each, we saw results that were both pronounced and rapid. One cohort followed the standard training model, while the second cohort integrated Zenarate AI Coach’s AI Conversation Simulation practice. Our Zenarate test cohort outperformed the control cohort by over two to one. The test cohort saw KPI lifts such as: +50-70% speed to proficiency, +35% quality scores, +45% customer sentiment, and +30% agent retention. Zenarate AI Coach is like a smart and patient role-play partner that allows for agents to practice and develop necessary job skills for success, but available 24/7.
To summarize, improving customer service agent performance requires a focus on helping people perform their best. This is done through an (1) effective training approach, which requires more doing and less facilitation. It requires (2) active listening and adjusting to customer needs. Agents must (3) better relate with customers through enhanced soft skills. Companies should remember (4) that human interaction is still key to the customer experience. Finally, the key is (5) is combining the former into the mastery of your best and required practices. Zenarate AI Coach is the solution that multiplies the effect of your best training practices, improving customer service agent performance and helping your people perform their best.