Thorough contact center training improves customer satisfaction

To ensure a seamless customer experience, it’s important to ensure agents are properly trained across channels. Consistency in policies and staff training is vital.

Customer service today involves much more than the call center. Today's multichannel contact center may have phone, Web chat, fax, Twitter, text chat, email and self-service options such as user forums and knowledge bases. Customers may use one, two or all of them at one time or another. To manage all these elements, consistent contact center training is vital.

"Not all interactions are a candidate for every technology," said Lyn Kramer, managing director for Kramer & Associates, a contact center consulting firm. "I may use IVR [interactive voice response] now, because I don't have access to the Web, but the Web later in the day, and give them a phone call tomorrow. It's one face to the customer over different channels, which can be a huge problem for some organizations, especially if separate groups own different parts of it."

A key area that may be overlooked in contact center management is the hand-off of a customer from one channel to another, said Lori Bocklund, president of Strategic Contact Inc. When a customer moves from email to IVR or Facebook to a call center representative, the tone of the exchange may change as well, particularly if different departments handle them.

Worse, all the information about that customer may fall between the cracks, meaning customers are forced to repeat their stories and order numbers, increasing frustration.

“It’s pretty jarring when you spend an hour doing research online and you call the support line for help only to have them take you through another hour of the same research,” she said.

A major part of the problem is lack of integration among the technologies. “Unfortunately, there are still siloed implementations out there,” said John Ragsdale, vice president of technology research for the Technology Services Industry Association. “Social media, for instance, is totally separate from the knowledge base, and there’s no integration between the two, and no search that encompasses both.”

A second problem is lack of consistent policies and procedures for all employees to follow when dealing with customers. The same support agent who answers the phone is unlikely to also maintain the Facebook page, but if both are following the same rule book for tone, language and support goals, then customers at least know they are dealing with the same company.

One support representative doesn't fit all

Not all support employees are suited for all channels. While many contact center managers have dreamed of having one team handle everything, in reality that isn't practical because of the disconnect among applications and routing and workflow, and the different skill levels of customer reps, Bocklund said.

Staff assigned to social media such as Facebook or Twitter should be good at written communication and comfortable with the idea of social media. They should know the company’s etiquette for providing support that thousands of customers will request. An accidental slip is more damaging on Twitter than on a one-to-one phone call.

Additionally, the cut-and-paste style of answering questions, which is common with email support, does not work well in a social media forum where everyone can see different questions receiving the same answers. Social media is a more manual form of support, at least when it comes to interaction between customers and company.

"Many of the people using social media are customers who are unhappy. Companies need to get the necessary policies together [for providing support over social media] and also decide if that is the right place to have a customer support contact," Kramer said.

Cross-channel contact center training is key

Although support agents may specialize in one type of support channel, they may still be asked to help out areas that receive a high volume of queries. For example, when a customer calls about trouble downloading a knowledge base article, the contact center employees have to know how to help.

Unfortunately, call center staffers aren’t always educated on their company’s other support options. In fact, often a completely different department has responsibility over the self-service website or the mobile support application, and nobody thought to train customer support on these technologies. What you wind up with is a contact center that appears clueless, Bocklund said.

“Say I’m walking my dog at 5:30 am and doing some online banking on my iPhone, but I hit a snafu and need to call the bank. What may happen is the call center management has not educated the staff on what goes on with the IVR, mobile apps or website, and instead of helping me, the call center says, ‘Oh, we have a mobile app?’ We really need to make sure that the call center people have a clue about things the customer is using,” Bocklund said.

One approach that some organizations are taking to provide better coordination of customer service policies and people is to create a new C-level position for it. The position of chief contact officer is emerging, Kramer said. "It takes a concerted effort to put everything into a single voice. We see a lot of organizations going to a chief contact officer to help pull things together."

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This sounds like common sense, but we're all human. That's the primary issue affecting any customer service interaction. In fact, things are so variable that numerous automated chats and scripts developed in the mid 2000s have gone to pasture because they were unable to predict and respond properly to humans and their questions.

Yes, it's probably a matter of coding and more data to make the UI more intuitive. But what you spend on software and rewrites and new versions is probably better spent at a rate of $10 an hour for folks who can actually use their sentience and interact with other humans. :-)