Customer Service Agents Can’t Keep Up – And It’s Hurting Your Bottom Line

a shift is required in your customer service training
At HR Soul we are proud to partner with thought leaders & disruptors in the space of HR, Learning & Development, OD & Talent Management. The following post is written by John Buschiazzo, SHRM-SCP – a talented and experienced HR professional located here in the Tampa Bay area.

A Shift Is Required In Your Customer Service Training

In today’s fast-paced world, customers demand more and compromise less than at any time in the past.

An entitlement mindset permeates every customer interaction, and it doesn’t take much to send that interaction into a downward spiral of anger, resentment, and frustration.

The recent spate of airline issues serves as but the latest example of this ongoing problem.

Social media is ready at a moment’s notice to capture the moment things go south, which then leads to media backlash, loss of sales, and brand devaluation.

Customer Service Agents are not equipped to deal with this new breed of customer, with new expectations, new demands, and new and shorter fuses. 

Your Customer Service Training must evolve to meet these new customer demands.

The Fast and The Furious – Keeping Up with Customer Demands

Most customer service training, whether it’s for a call center, front line staff, servers, or any customer facing role, focuses on outdated objectives that boil down to three core tenets:

  • Product knowledge
  • Company policies and procedures
  • Establishing rapport

Unfortunately, this training model worked best in an era when customers were less demanding and social media wasn’t at the ready to catch agents in a bad light, exponentially expanding every negative customer interaction.

A “one size fits all” model is no longer appropriate in today’s new reality.

Customer service must become faster, and yes furious, to meet the new demands thrust on them by customers.

From Meeting Customer Wants To Identifying Customer Needs

While the method to transform customer service training may seem simple, it actually takes a good bit of effort and energy – especially in change management practice as learning teams and business leaders must come together to define the problem and agree the way forward.

While the transformation steps may look to be equally important – recognizing and embracing the need to teach agents influence and negotiation is by far the most critical change required.

A smile and the platitude of the customer is always right won’t cut it any more.

In this new customer paradigm, agents must be able to troubleshoot, assess a situation, then act swiftly to defuse tension and satisfy customer needs.

Training Can Still Help – But A Shift Is Required

The following shifts will put your customer service training on track to deal with any fast and furious situation that may arise.

Shift #1 – From Knowledge to Dexterity

Most training tries to teach every representative every nuance of every product, the classic data dump of knowledge. In an ever-changing world, this is unrealistic.

We need to stop providing the fish, and teach them how to fish by:

  • Building and maintaining navigation tools and databases representatives can use in the moment so that product knowledge is at their fingertips
  • Teaching associates how to navigate the tools and systems swiftly

Shift #2 – From Legalese to Light Reading

Many customer service organizations believe command and control is the best way to ensure compliance. This often leads to a vicious cycle driving down engagement and damaging ability to retain talent as more and more policies are overlaid to stop the bleeding.

We need to simplify policies and trust associates by:

  • Crafting a small number of relevant policies that guide associates in their work and interactions with customers
  • Teaching associates the policies through job-shadowing and live skills practice rather than rote memorization

Shift #3 – From Niceness to Negotiation

Easily the most important transition is moving from being nice, at all costs, to being able to negotiate a situation to maintain calm and thus the relationship. As the world becomes ever more geared toward a culture of entitlement, we need to recognize and equip our agents to handle difficult customers, not simply to be nice at all costs.

We must shift training by:

  • Teaching elements of crisis management, influence, and negotiation skills
  • Allowing ample skills practice with case studies, role play, and on the job training to hone these new skills

Applying The Shift In The Real World

By leveraging these techniques for a recent employer, we were able to measure the following dramatic improvements in our KPI’s:

  • Customer service agents achieved their minimum quality standards x3 faster
  • Engagement and retention scores each approved by more than 10% in 6 months
  • Customer NPS scores increased significantly.

Because our training methodology changed to meet the required shift, we were also able to cut time to train in 1/2 with a net savings of over $1M year over year.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg compared to the value of brand and customer loyalty tied to the customer value proposition.

The new normal of customer service impacting all of us personally and professionally. Question is, what will you do about it? Even if you “don’t do” customer service training there are lessons here for everybody.

Remember this in your next customer interaction – internal or external – and these lessons can help you make that interaction better.