contact center agent communication skills

5 Communication Skills Every Agent Needs to Master

Have you ever had an inconsistent customer service experience with the same company? 

Sometimes, you send an email with a special request and an answer zaps into a million tiny pieces, travels through the air, and lands on your screen in a matter of minutes. 

Then, there are those other times where you hang up before your problem gets solved. All because the unenthusiastic customer service agent on the phone put in minimal effort to fix your issue. You don’t get swift, effective help, so you decide to spend your time elsewhere. 

It happens.

Download Now: Use customer data to deliver consistently positive experiences.

But, WHY does it happen? How can your experience as a customer vary so drastically when you speak to agents at the same company? This team of contact center agents went through the same training. They have access to the same resources and the same channels to communicate. Yet, the quality of your experience jumps from high to low with every interaction.

What makes one agent so different from the other? 

The difference lives in the personalities and interpersonal skills of top-notch agents. 

In fact, 73% of customers fall in love with a brand and remain loyal because of friendly customer service reps. 

On the flip side, a customer is 4x more likely to switch to a competitor if the problem they have is with customer service. That means, customers care way more about how you handle their issues than the issues themselves. 

Your customer loyalty largely depends on the relationship each agent builds with a total stranger. People get about seven seconds to make a first impression. If a customer is uncomfortable with the tone of an agent’s voice, or if he feels like the agent isn’t listening, you run the risk of putting the entire customer experience in jeopardy. 

It’s common to think that listening, communicating, and pleasantly greeting callers, is inherent to those in customer service. But communicating in a professional setting takes constant awareness of what you say and how you say it. 

Your agents need support in this. And, they need coached for empowerment to hone these skills. So, they won’t waver while handling dozens of tough interactions. 

Remember though, supporting and coaching your team is different than hounding them after every interaction gone awry. Overworked agents on the brink of burnout can’t provide customers consistently positive service. After all, they aren’t machines. 

Here are five skills every agent should master (and extra resources to help you coach agents on each skill).

1. You had me at hello: Making good first impressions

Did you know that, on average, customer service agents only ask for a customer’s name a slim 21% of the time? Nearly four out of five customer conversations start without a personalized greeting or intro to the customer.

The first few words your agent says to a customer often determines how the customer will perceive the rest of the interaction. Picking up the phone with a joyful greeting, or answering a chat and addressing the customer by name, sets the tone for the rest of the convo with the customer. 

Coach agents and offer techniques on how to use a conversational tone with customers. And, share guidelines and tips on phrases to say (plus what not to say).

Encourage your agents to take a moment of mindfulness before customer conversations. Even send microlearning lessons on mindfulness to their queues. They’ll be relaxed and ready to help customers, showing more empathy from the start of the conversation. Teach agents to greet customers casually and ditch the scripts. It’s easy for customers to spot an inauthentic greeting from an agent. Starting a conversation that lacks authenticity will surely diminish customer trust, undermining your agents’ opportunity to help.

2. Two ears, one mouth: Listen more than you speak.

Your agents know the drill – same complaint, different customer. When a customer’s problem sounds nearly identical to a previous caller’s, it’s easy for your agents to check out and stop listening. 

I mean, they’ve heard it before, so they already know how to solve the problem, right? 

Probably, but the problem is, when an agent checks out of the conversation, it comes off loud and clear to your customers. And when agents assume they already know the answer to your customer’s problem, they can miss important details that might change the resolution.

The best agents listen actively to hear what customers have to say – without interruptions. Even if an agent thinks they’ve IDed the issue, listening and showing the customer they’re engaged makes all the difference in how the experience turns out. Agents are so obsessed with meeting their average call time metrics that they disengage from the interaction. They assume they know the solution and try to hurry the convo along (gotta hit that metric), despite missing details unique to this customer’s experience. 

Guide agents to ask clarifying questions to understand the issue from the customer’s point of view – not their own – before moving on to find solutions.

Get a guide filled with feedback to coach and train your agents. Jump to Your Call Center Manager Playbook. It’s a free and open resource for you to access, any time.  

 

3. Mirror, mirror, on the wall: Match the customer’s tone and language. 

Who’s the fairest of them all? 

Mirroring is a technique where a customer-facing employee (in this case, your stellar agent) matches a customer’s tone and mimics their vocabulary to relate to the customer. It’s a fantastic way for agents to build rapport and trust with each person they speak to.

Let’s say a customer calls your agent with a routine request, but the agent can hear a sense of urgency in the customer’s voice. If the agent responds nonchalantly, the customer may feel like the agent is apathetic about resolving the issue quickly. But, if the agent acts quickly and uses language to affirm that a quick resolution is important, it will ease the customer’s worries. When a customer knows their issue is recognized and important to the agent, too, they’ll leave the interaction ready to brag about their service.

Read an article from The Wall Street Journal about using mirroring to build connection.

4. Keep anger under wraps: Handle angry customer calls with confidence.

Handling angry customers isn’t easy. It’s the most stressful part of an agent’s job. But it’s the reality of working in customer service since the average agent handles 10+ hostile interactions per day.

Knowing how to effectively handle an escalated case means agents don’t take what the customer is saying personally. They stay focused and resolve the issue.

Coach to empower your agents, so they can handle angry customer calls with confidence and make the tough decisions needed to solve the problem. Give your team access to the metrics, resources, and customer data they need to serve up knowledgeable help to customers. 

When agents listen, ask the right questions, and have resources in-hand to work autonomously for the benefit of the customer, frustrations vanish.

Get real about coaching your agents with these 7 techniques. 

 

5.Crush ‘em with kindness: Be empathetic and kind.

Empathy requires a deep understanding of human emotion, and it’s a characteristic that’s needed to be a true problem-solver. Encourage agents to draw upon a disappointing customer service experience to help them swap shoes with their frustrated customers. Then, coach them to use that insight and those feelings they mustered as they work with customers. That way, your agents will be more understanding and receptive of each situation that pops up.

Here are a few key phrases agents can use to convey their empathy, too:

  • I understand why you’re frustrated. I’m going to find a solution for you.
  • I would be upset in this situation, too. Let’s see what we can do to resolve the issue.
  • This isn’t the experience we want for our customers. You have every right to be upset.

With whatever your agents say, it’s crucial to remain authentic. If an agent sounds scripted, empathy fails.

Empathy starts with you, manager. Learn how to motivate employees and build a fulfilling purpose for a contact center rooted in empathy. 

 

When all your agents are coached frequently and trained often, they’ll develop skills that translate across every customer experience. That’s when your customers will feel consistency and build a trusting relationship with your company. And, with more trust comes loyalty, less churn, happier customers, and a more profitable company.

Build consistent experiences using customer data as your guide. Learn how to create customer experience strategies backed by the data that lives in your contact center.

We originally published this post on December 20, 2016. We updated it for new insight on March 24, 2020.