By: Bruce Lebowitz

Executives often judge a contact center by traditional metrics. These might include low abandonment rates, an extremely quick speed to answer and meeting handling time goals. When proud of a contact center, executives often point to its technology too. The fact that the contact center never goes down, has instant screen pops so the agent knows everything about the customer before they even pick up the phone and an easy to navigate IVR can make a call center a showcase. Additional bells and whistles might include omnichannel capabilities that allow a center to handle calls, chats, emails and mobile interactions. Even the environment… a state of the art contact center with sleek furniture or a WAHA (work at home) capability that allows agents to work at home allow bragging rights.

Image courtesy of StockSnap on Pixabay, published under CC0 1.0

However, these state-of-the-art contact centers offering great design, delivering great statistics and utilizing the best technologies don’t necessarily deliver a great call. Having all these tools, along with a superior infrastructure, will not ensure a great call, which is a meaningful interaction between two people. The agent with access to all this technology and all these tools still has to

  • Develop a connection with the caller,
  • Solve a problem and
  • Be personal and positive.

Most importantly, the agent has to care.

All too often the focus of a center is on the technology and environment rather than the customer experience. Working with a healthcare company with a horrible make-shift CRM, a poor virtual call center technology provider and a fairly limited ability to integrate channels I discovered a company with very happy customers.  The simple ingredient that made the callers happy was that the care agents really cared. As customers were calling to schedule MRIs, the agents never failed to wish them well or express concern for them. Conversations were personal without being invasive. The simple act of caring made up for the multitude of difficulties in the systems. The customers didn’t mind minor inconveniences as long as they knew the person they were speaking with had their best interest at heart and genuinely cared about them.

As we started to look deeper into this phenomenon, we realized a couple of things. One was we couldn’t train people to care. We had to adjust our recruiting criteria to find people who have lived a life filled with caring.  We looked at volunteer experience… we looked at family situations. We invited personal conversations in our recruiting process to better understand the candidate as person and not just his/her professional experience.

We also altered our training to reflect the values we wanted to express. We wanted to be personal without being invasive. We wanted to be caring without getting over-involved. Thus, our training focused more on conversations and less on systems. We covered how to recognize fear and sadness and how to offer comfort without platitudes and false hope. We learned not to say “everything will be alright” but rather “I understand you might be feeling sad or nervous”. Customer satisfaction scores soared with virtually all surveys delivering greater than 97% of all callers being very or extremely satisfied.

We found customers valued the interactions and came to find calling our center less of a chore and a place where an unpleasant task became less lonely and offered connection. While we understand that technology and metrics and environment are all important factors in a contact center, the customer’s experience is paramount and when that experience is delivered by a human being who really cares, many of the other variables in a call center fade away.

In today’s environment competence and efficiency are simply table stakes. To deliver an excellent experience, an organization needs to focus on the personal connection too. Scripting “caring” doesn’t work. Staffing your frontline with warm, compassionate people and promoting a culture that values and rewards creating the personal connection can help deliver a memorable and superior customer experience.