Training for customer facing roles involves a lot of measurable metrics. Can the employee memorize the scripts? Can they handle an issue in a certain amount of time? How well-versed are they in the customer management system? Can they use the technology? All of these are pretty simple to measure. But when it comes to soft skills training, that’s a little bit different.
What do you do when a customer is crying?
What happens when someone calls and doesn’t really know how to articulate the problem?
How do you resolve a problem when it seems like every solution leads to a new issue?
The tricky thing with those questions is that there isn’t one answer. You can’t press a button that makes a customer suddenly feel ok. Every situation is different. And the resolution for all of them comes down to one thing: soft skills.
Soft skills are the people-oriented set of abilities that help employees be more empathetic, professional, and efficient in their problem-solving. Soft skills training is challenging, but crucial. With the right tools and the right mindset, you can help your employees perform their jobs better and be happier at work.
Why Soft Skills Matter for Performance and Morale
It’s no secret that call centers – for customer service, bill collections, fraud, sales, and more – have incredibly high attrition rates. A common benchmark before the pandemic was for a call center to have a 30-45% attrition rate over six months, and it is not unusual to have full 100% turnover (below the management level) in the course of a year.
Why? Because it’s a tough job. Your employees might be asking people who are behind on their bills to pay, which is stressful for everyone. They might be receiving calls from people frustrated with a product or service. They might be making sales calls and get hung up on 9 times out of 10. Bluntly, people don’t call in to say how happy they are with everything. Most of the time, your employees are dealing with someone having a bad day.
That’s where soft skills come in. As we’ll see, soft skills are all about three things:
- Understanding people as individuals
- Seeing their issues and problems from their point of view and understanding what they need
- Using people skills to steer the problem to a resolution
What happens when your employees can do this? They can solve problems quicker, which helps with KPIs, of course. Soft skills are ultimately about closing sales or closing out complaints, which are the metrics that matter.
Meeting those metrics has two benefits. One, of course, is that employees who are good at their jobs feel good. They are less frustrated and less inclined to quit. Longer tenure means more experienced employees who can continually improve, and a growth in institutional knowledge.
Tied to that is the feeling of satisfaction that comes with actually helping someone and being able to provide resolution to the situation. It makes every call less stressful. Stress reduction is a great way of reducing attrition rates and making everyone’s job a lot more enjoyable.
What Are The Most Important Soft Skills?
Defining “soft skills” is, well, hard. There is no one set definition. There are, however, a range of skills that fall under that umbrella. These can include:
Ultimately, every interaction is about problem solving. It could be literal – Customer X has a problem with Service Y, and it needs to be solved. Or it could be a problem of getting someone to understand that they have to pay a bill.
There are scripts and methods, but when a call goes off-script – when it is complex or there are too many emotions involved – then it can be a challenge for employees. Problem-solving is all about how you get from confusion to resolution. There are a few steps to this.
- Identify a complex problem
- Break it down to its component parts
- See a path toward resolution
- Work calmly toward the end
Problem solving isn’t addition, it’s not “you need four things, and you have two, here are two more.” It’s extremely people oriented. And that can require empathy.
Empathy is also a tricky thing to define, but at its core it is a way to understand where another person is coming from and identify with their needs. It is different from sympathy – where you feel badly for someone. Empathy can be more action-oriented, because you see yourself in their problem, and work toward solving it. Empathy training helps customer-facing employees see their customers as human beings.
Empathy is notoriously hard to train, of course. Some people just aren’t empathetic. But they’re in the minority. Most people want to be empathetic, but the constant stress of customer service makes the voice on the other end of the call seem like a problem, not a person.
Empathy training can just be a matter of training people to respond not-robotically. For example, if someone’s late on their bill were to say that they were dealing with a sick relative and forgot, and asks for an extension, the employee could respond in two ways.
- “I’ll have to check with my manager, please hold.”
- “I am so sorry – I totally understand how stressful that can be. I can’t promise anything, but we want to help you out at this time. Let me put you on hold for two minutes while I check with my manager.”
Ultimately, there is no functional difference. The employee has to ask their manager. But the customer felt heard and understood, and they were talked to like a human being.
Training people to act with empathy helps them be more empathetic. It’s not “fake it till you make it”, exactly. But it is giving people the training to step back, see the problem from a human point of view, and approach it as such.
How do you relate to others? How do you treat others? How do you cheer someone up or defuse a challenging situation? Those all come down to interpersonal skills.
Like so much else, interpersonal skills are born from an innate sense of empathy. People have refined skills to understand the motivations and needs of the person they are talking to and understand what they need. That isn’t always something tangible.
What do we mean by that? Think about talking to someone at work who confides in you that their child is having a tough time with the other kids at school and feels bullied. They might want you to give them advice. They might need you to give them the name of a counselor. Or maybe they just want you to listen. Someone with great interpersonal skills understands what is needed in most situations.
This can be carried over to a customer-facing job. When talking or chatting with a customer, interpersonal skills help the employee genuinely listen and genuinely hear the issue. They will know if this is a person who wants to be heard, who wants to be matter-of-fact, who is in a huge hurry, or anything else. Interpersonal skills aren’t just about hearing. They come from genuinely listening.
The key to developing interpersonal skills in a customer-facing role is to learn how to understand the language the customer is using, to read tone, and to figure out what is between the lines. Like so much else, that ability comes with training.
Ability to Communicate
The ability to communicate is tied to the ability to listen. A customer service rep wants to be clear and direct, so that they can be heard. But they also need to be understood.
Is your rep using too much jargon? Do they sound like a robot? Are they clearly just going through the motions? When a customer has trouble understanding them, do they just repeat the same words, only slower? Or do they find a different way to explain things?
Communication is about approach. If an engineer calls a technical customer service line, they might be able to understand tech complexity. Someone without training might need to be walked through more. A customer service rep with great interpersonal skills can modify their approach while still saying all the accurate, script-approved items. They are just communicating with them in a way that makes the most sense.
Leadership skills might not seem relevant for dealing with customers. But let’s look at some of the top qualities in leaders:
- Relationship building
- Motivational skills
- Conflict management
- Critical Thinking
All of these play a role when talking to customers. Adapt to situations and provide clear, creative problem-solving. Establish a rapport. Don’t get flustered. Know how to handle situations.
When someone calls or chats with a rep, they are looking for someone to lead them from problem to resolution. Every one of your employees can be a leader.
How to Practice Soft Skills Training with AI Coaching
As challenging as they are to define, “soft skills” have traditionally been even harder to train. There was the idea that someone either had them or they didn’t. And while that’s true, to an extent, it is more that there are some people who are naturals and some who could be better if they had the right tools.
Soft skills are most important when situations don’t go according to the book. But that makes every situation different, and so hard to train. What soft skills training does is not go over every situation, but give employees the ability to react, adapt, think on their feet, and move forward. The best way to do that is through repetition so that they can feel comfortable.
Repetition comes through coaching. Putting people through scenarios without real-world risk gives employees a chance to practice using key phrases (“I totally understand and am sorry to hear that”) and to develop their own adaptive abilities. Simulation training is the best way to try, fail, learn, and succeed.
AI coaching is a form of simulation training that can provide realistic scenarios without needing to take time from managers or experienced employees. Trainees can go through calls that are both easy and challenging, with an AI tool playing the role of the customer.
What’s particularly helpful is that the AI coaching platform from Zenarate can actually detect and score empathy, based on keywords and other inputs. The tool can let the trainees and their managers know what they need to work on. It can of course measure hard metrics, but also, crucially, these soft skills.
Soft skills don’t come easy. But they make work better and provide better results. Having a way to train for them so employees don’t get frustrated improves every performance indicator and boosts morale. AI coaching platforms turn “how can I help you” into “here’s how I can help you.”
Contact us today to schedule a demo to learn more about how you can incorporate Zenarate AI Simulation Training into your agent training curriculum. We will answer your questions and help you discover how to quickly and easily make AI Simulation Training a part of your training curriculum. It’s the first and most impactful step in your career. You’ll be helping your organization develop confidently prepared agents while delivering exceptional experiences to the ones that matter most – your customers.
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