Part 2: Empathy Is Critical For Contact Center Agents

This is part two of a two-part story. Read Part 1: Empathy Is Critical For Contact Center Agents

The agent leader stays focused on the customer’s feeling and does not allow his own emotions to cloud his words or tone of voice. In most cases, showing frustration, impatience, or acting even mildly upset will not help move the customer out of the emotional state.

The objectives of learning empathy for contact center agents were discussed in the first part of this two-part article.

If the agent also becomes emotional the customer may become even more upset or the agent’s attitude will make the customer even firmer in his original position.

One company developed a customer credo that contained the following points:

• A customer is the most important person ever in this office…The customer is not dependent on us, we are dependent on him…Nobody has ever won an argument with a customer.

• Whatever “ego boost” you might gain by winning an argument with a customer is far outweighed by the harm it can do your business.

• A customer is a person who brings us his wants. It’s our job to handle them profitably for him and for ourselves.

Expert behavior

The expert agent acknowledges both the situation and the feelings. “I’m sorry about that” is not adequate expression of acknowledgment. Expert agents may say:

• “I’m sorry you’ve been transferred from department to department. That can be irritating.”

• “I’m terribly sorry you had to wait so long. I can imagine how frustrating that can be.”

• “I understand how that would upset you.”

• “I see how this could be confusing.”

• “You must have been…”

• “My condolences to you.”

• “I see what you mean.”

• “I know it may not be convenient for you, but…”

Poor behavior

Examples of behaviors that do not meet standards include:

• Probing for unnecessary personal details;

• Sharing the details of how the agent handled a similar situation (for example, “When I was without heat…”);

• Being insincere;

• Saying nothing, being silent; and

• Being sarcastic.

Training on how to empathize (not in performance criteria)

Here is a map to help you walk yourself through the skill of empathy.

1. Identify the feeling: Once the person stops talking, recall the feelings or the feelings expressed (whether the speaker used feeling words or not — spoken or unspoken feelings). If the person talks about feelings, recall how he or she is feeling right now about these feelings. For instance, if someone says in a rather woeful agonizing voice:

“One of you people promised me yesterday that the gift I ordered from you LAST WEEK would be here this morning. She said you were going to overnight it for early delivery. I can’t believe you didn’t do what you said. The package is NOT here and the party is this afternoon. Now, what do you think I ought to do? I want to scream I’m so frustrated with you.”

Ask yourself what feelings are being expressed by this person. Here the feeling being talked about is frustration, but the feeling being expressed is anger. Communicate using the dominant feeling (e.g. anger).

2. Identify the intensity: Identify the intensity (mild, moderate, strong) of the dominant feeling expressed.

Select a feeling word or phrase that accurately identifies both the dominant feeling and the intensity. For example, is the customer…

… upset (mild), or

… angry (moderate), or

… infuriated? (strong).

In this example, the customer is infuriated.

3. Identify the situation causing the emotion: Why is the customer experiencing this emotion? What triggered it?

For example, in the above scenario the customer is infuriated because she was promised the “you” would be overnight the item and she hasn’t received it yet (for a party just hours away).

4. Format a response: Formulate a response that includes both the dominant feeling, its intensity and the situation.

Looking at the example above, you might conclude: “We didn’t deliver on our promise to you and now you don’t have a present to give your child at your birthday party this afternoon. I understand why you are infuriated.”

5. Say It: Let your tone and manner be empathetic, respectful and genuine.

6. Checking Accuracy: Check the accuracy of your response by seeing how it affects the other person. Does your response help the person explore further?

Kathryn Jackson is an associate with call center consultancy Response Learning Corp.

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