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Beyond The Script: Employing Empathy At The Contact Center

How often do you call a customer service hotline and feel like the agent on the other end is on a completely different planet? Maybe they were robotically reading from a script or seemed more annoyed with your call than you were. Getting lost in the daily grind of handling calls and customer issues can be too easy for contact center agents.

But those of us who use contact centers need to remember that behind every interaction is a real person with a problem that needs solving. We all know that customers have their fair share of quirks. An agent may be dealing with an angry customer on the phone who can’t log into their account and is juggling a toddler; situations like these show how empathy is an imperative skill in today’s busy, hectic world.

In my previous Forbes Business Council article, I outlined many of the daily soft skill examples agents face. To build on my thoughts, I now want to share insights on the types of approaches training leaders can use to develop confident top-performing agents with strong empathy skills.


The Human Touch: Complex Customer Service Issues Require Empathetic Agents


Despite the rise of self-help digital services and chatbots—and the real benefits they bring to a call center—the most challenging customer service issues still require the human touch. The most complex problems often come from customers who have already attempted self-help services or have issues that a chatbot can’t solve.

For example, consider a customer who has ordered a product online, and it’s been delivered to the wrong address. No amount of self-help options can solve this problem. It requires the expertise and empathy of a contact center agent who can work with the customer to find a solution. Effectively training agents to handle the toughest situations makes their job less challenging, and they have the satisfaction of knowing that they’re helping people in ways that robots and automation simply can’t.

In my experience across customer service and sales, it’s clear that soft skills are critical to being a successful contact center agent. This includes everything from active listening and communication to problem-solving and time management. While these skills are important, empathy has quickly emerged as the most crucial.

Empathy is all about understanding the situation and feelings of the person you’re talking to. It’s not about sympathy or feeling sorry for someone. It happens when you put yourself in their shoes and understand their perspective. When agents show customer empathy, customers feel more comfortable and can better focus on problem resolution. Agents will feel better, too, and see their work as more meaningful, knowing they’re making a tangible difference in people’s lives, one conversation at a time.

Honing Skills
 

As contact leaders, we ensure our agents have the skills to provide top-notch customer service. This includes technical skills related to their software and the all-important soft skills. When agents are effectively trained in empathy, they build trust with customers, can more quickly de-escalate conflicts and find creative solutions to problems.

In addition, empathic contact center agents drive tangible business value by building customer trust, leading to higher customer satisfaction scores and increased loyalty. It also leads to improved KPIs, such as first-call resolution, as customers are more likely to have their problems resolved on the first call.forbes empathy blog

Helping customer-facing agents hone their software skills takes more than reading a manual or presentation. It requires immersive practice to help empathy to become second nature to those working the front lines of customer care and service.

Here are some of the leading approaches you can deploy to improve soft skills and, most importantly, empathy within your contact center.

Role-Playing Exercises
 

One effective way to train agents in empathy is to have them participate in role-playing activities. For example, agents can practice responding to angry or frustrated customers, de-escalating conflicts and acknowledging customers’ feelings.

Listening To Customer Calls
 

Another approach is to have agents listen to recordings of actual customer calls and debrief afterward. It allows agents to hear your top performers in real-world examples of empathetic responses. They can learn so much from the mistakes and successes of their colleagues.

Providing Customer Personas
 

Giving agents detailed customer personas, including information about their background, job and pain points, provides important context to help them better understand and empathize with customers. For example, suppose an agent knows a customer is a busy working mother concerned about her child’s safety. In that case, they can tailor their responses accordingly and show empathy for her situation.

Simulation Training
 

Much like a flight simulator, simulation training can help contact center agents practice being more empathetic through realistic scenarios. For example, agents can be presented with a simulated scenario of an upset customer who has experienced a billing error and is frustrated with the company’s response. Now, agents can practice responding with empathy without risking a real customer relationship.

Creating A Culture Of Empathy
 

Finally, developing a culture of compassion within the contact center is important. You can do this by emphasizing the importance of empathy in training programs, hiring agents who naturally possess empathy and recognizing agents who consistently demonstrate empathy. When empathy is valued at all levels of the organization, it becomes easier for agents to incorporate it into their daily work.

While the rise of digital technology and automation has helped improve agent productivity and allows customers to resolve basic issues, the human touch remains vital. Empathy is not just a “nice-to-have” skill in the contact center; it’s an essential one that can make all the difference between mediocre and exceptional customer service.

The original article appeared on Forbes.

Contact our team today to schedule a demo to learn more about how you can incorporate Zenarate AI Coach into your agent training program. We will answer your questions and show you how you can help your organization develop confidently prepared agents while delivering exceptional experiences to the ones that matter most – your customers.

As an experienced contact center leader, Brian understands how today’s automation is leaving agents with the most demanding problems to solve. Brian is the Cofounder & CEO of Zenarate, the world leader in developing confident top-performing agents through AI simulation training, live call analysis, and personalized simulation coaching.

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