As a consumer, I receive my own fair share of agent calls and make calls to companies for customer service assistance too. I also monitor calls when I work with clients since this gives me a great view into not only the skills of the agents but also what their customers are saying.

PROCESS FIRST AND LISTENING ISSUES

Many of the Agents I interact with or monitor on calls are so focused on the process and procedure of what must be done that they aren’t really listening to the Customer or Prospect. These Agents are more concerned about pulling up screens and navigating, often making the customer feel uncomfortable during the process. Dead air, pauses, talking to themselves while searching for information or missing questions the customer asks or commenting on what they said.

One recent call I listened to demonstrates this perfectly. I heard a customer telling the Agent that she had to cancel an appointment due to a death in her family. The Agent was “flipping” system screens distractedly and simply said, “Uhuh.… We have an appointment open next Tuesday at 9 a.m., OK?”

Did the Agent satisfy the Customer’s need for a new appointment? Yes.

Was the Customer problem was resolved? Yes

Did the Agent show interest in that Customer during that “moment of truth”? Absolutely not!

“EMPATHY CAN’T BE LEARNED” – WRONG!

Not all Agents demonstrate poor empathy due to a listening skill problem. Others just have no idea HOW to give empathy to anyone, whether a team member, customer or friend.

A University of Michigan study, presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, analyzed data on empathy among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years. “We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000,” said Sara Konrath, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research. “College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait.”

We can’t assume that everyone understands or has experienced empathy personally enough to know how to express it.

To add to the problem, some Managers and Supervisors are also responsible for the lack of empathy shown by their agents. Training may focus heavily on the technical part of the call such as processes and product knowledge. Metrics that drive “speedy” handling without regard to the “warm fuzzies”, as I like to call them, are pushed. Supervisors may tell Agents to be friendly and nice but don’t offer specific examples or demonstrate empathy on calls they handle themselves while the Agent observes.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP IMPROVE EMPATHY SKILLS

The most important thing Managers, Supervisors and Quality Coaches can do is to coach including role play, taking calls while demonstrating and offering phrases that can be used. Helping the Agent put themselves in the Customer’s place to understand how they are feeling at the time of the call is important.

When you hold your next team meeting, discuss phrases and words that you can use to show empathy, concern and interest in the Customer.

“Mrs ____, I’m so sorry for your loss”

“My sympathy to you and your family”

“I don’t blame you for being upset”

“We really appreciate your business”

“Thank you for telling us about that problem so we could take care of it”>

“I’ll be glad to help you with that”

Remind your team that the customer is making a decision about them and about your company in the first 30 seconds of the call. Taking time to acknowledge and show interest in Customers truly is as important as solving their problems.