Learning & Training, Technology, Work

Five Tips To Successfully Onboard Live Chat Agents

Live chat communications continue to trend upwards in importance. No surprise here. eMarketer predicts that in just one year from now, 80 percent of the world’s smartphone users will use messaging apps. We’re more connected than ever, and that provides challenges for modern sales and service organizations. Today’s online customers want and expect a fast response time to their customer service query, plus a frictionless way to initiate support.

Forrester reports that 55 percent of adults will abandon online purchases if they can’t find a quick answer to a question, with 77 percent stating that good online customer service is the most important thing a company can do for them. It’s clear that in today’s climate of consumer choice, organizations who provide support at point of sale through live chat stand to gain the most in customer loyalty and reduced cart abandonments.

Connecting with website visitors through live chat also takes less time and human resources than phone support to consumers, raising productivity and profitability. As chat agents are expected by their organizations to be valued support partners for customers and prospects, these individuals play a larger role than ever in securing overall customer satisfaction and brand equity.

For new agents, a structured onboarding program is crucial to allow organizations to ensure that they’re getting the satisfaction outcomes they seek. Not only does effective onboarding introduce employees to processes and procedures within their new role, it also builds confidence, trust and engagement at possibly the most crucial stage of their lifecycle in the organization – a stage that largely sets the tone for the rest of their employment and their interactions with customers.

Here are some tips for managers and leaders looking to build an effective live chat agent onboarding process, or refine their existing one.

1. Train to the chat platform

Chat systems tout their ease of use and turnkey nature. However, any technology tool requires time for operators to get familiar. Optimal use of tech by live chat agents is fluid and tacit, and even with the simplest of tools, it still takes time for agents to get to this level of mastery.

Make training hands-on, incorporate real-life exercises, and use training-ready versions of the platform to allow agents to roleplay and test common scenarios. Give agents time to play around on the platform and engage in practice runs before bringing them live. The last thing your agents need while tangling with customer issues is also battling the tech they use, so don’t assume they’ll just “pick it up”.

2. Establish clearly defined goals and relevant metrics

If your agents aren’t clear on what they’re supposed to achieve, they won’t be able to secure the outcomes you need. While this might sound common-sense, failing to clearly communicate expectations is a symptom of the “curse of knowledge” – where we can assume that agents know the ropes when that’s simply not the case.

The concept of “going above and beyond” is one area that’s often neglected in agent onboarding, as many see it as a basic tenet of customer service, or something that should be implicit in an agent’s personality. But it’s a hugely important area which should be explicitly covered in onboarding to be sure that your agents really are on the same page as you. For service organizations, not practicing this philosophy can spell CSat disaster– and for sales organizations, this equals leaving money on the table.

Don’t leave this to chance. Promote this concept and empower your new live chat agent to do more than just answer a visitor’s stated questions. Challenge them to always consider what other help they could provide, or what else could be useful if they were in the customer’s position.

In terms of lead generation, this “one step further” approach is especially vital. Teach agents early on how best to seek out potential lead opportunities. That means more than just pointing the customer to a white paper. They should also offer to pass them to an inside sales person for more in-depth discussions, or to a video that requires registration, for example. Giving customer service agents the authority to foster meaningful dialogue rather than focusing on how quickly chats are completed can support lead generation objectives as well.

3. Integrate them with the entire chat team

Research into learning has shown that development of knowledge in onboarding is inseparably bound to learner activity in a number of different contexts – the physical (work space), the material (tools and tech) and the social (other employees).

Because of this, social aspects of learning and working should be accounted for within effective onboarding programs. Your goal should be to help your new agent learn from other seasoned agents, and empower them to build relationships within the whole team.

Before going solo, new agents should serve time as an understudy to one of the team’s top performers to glean proven tips and tactics to successfully perform the job. Document best practices to disseminate valuable “lessons from the front line” to all agents. Establishing weekly meetings to discuss events that went well, those that didn’t and trends in the field that can turn into great teaching moments for the entire live chat team.

As a bonus, creating this kind of supportive team environment will improve the productivity and success of all agents, not just those who recently joined the company.

4. Educate agents on when to get help

A live chat agent can solve a majority of the customer service issues that come in, but they can’t act as a mouthpiece for every function within your company. Most likely, they can deal effectively with 80 percent to 90 percent of customer queries, with the extra 10 to 20 percent needing further checking, information or consultation with other teams.

That’s not a bad thing. If you try to force agents to deal with things that require too much improvisation or that the agent does not have authority to do, you will trigger negative customer interactions.

Set procedures for agents to quickly get assistance from a supporting team or team leader when issues are beyond the scope of their power or authority to resolve. Recognize that on paper, this sounds simple, but in practice this can be a lot tougher – even the most seasoned agents encounter situations they haven’t seen before, and deciding where the boundaries are isn’t always easy to define.

Focus on building supports to help your agents in their decision making, for example through a robust agent-facing KB, or through having team leaders and floor walkers readily available. Build a culture of communication which encourages agents to speak up when they’re not sure about something and discourages them from “winging it”.

Finally, make sure that whatever supports you use, they’re easy and quick for agents to access. Few things are more frustrating for a customer than spending 15 minutes on a live chat waiting for an answer because the agent doesn’t have the assistance they need at hand.

5. Utilize Technology To Support Agents

Technology is developing rapidly, and for many contact centers, shifting to new tech-focused service models comes with questions and risks. There’s sometimes a view that technology will end up reducing service quality, and some are even concerned that chatbots and AI will end up taking jobs away from humans.

This narrative is shifting as firms begin to recognize the best applications for this technology – and often, that means aiming to complement and enhance the work of human agents, not to replace them.

When used properly chatbots can provide great advantages to a new agent. The ability for bots to take on common customer queries cuts out questions which can be perceived as boring or repetitive, leaving your agents to focus only on the queries that need their help the most. This allows you to effectively upskill your agent pool as your agents develop expertise in longer and more complex queries. Agents enjoy connecting with customers, not answering repetitive questions.

Augmented intelligence is another exciting area through which agents can be provided with data which helps them to make better decisions. Through deep learning, natural language processing and multivariate analysis, companies are able to analyze more variables and more extensive data sets than is humanly possible to help agents perform better at their jobs. The goal of these systems should focus on arming humans with information they can use to engage the customer more effectively.

At RapportBoost and Comm100, we’ve frequently seen that the very best chat agents aren’t the ones who are naturally gifted at charming the customer. They’re the ones who possess superior emotional intelligence, situational awareness, defer to the algorithm in certain circumstances, plus use their instincts and experience to decide when different situations require different tactics.

The combination of human AND machine once again beats either one alone – and this is certainly an exciting prospect for anyone looking to help agents to do the best job that they can, through onboarding and beyond.

Originally published here.

Culture, Customer Experience, Emotional Intelligence, Work

Creating Customer Heroes: How Your Agents Can Become Customer Storytellers

Let’s imagine, for one moment, that you’re casting your agents and customers in a movie.

What roles would they play?

Would your agents make their screen debut as wise sages, imparting knowledge and truth to help spur your customers to a glorious conclusion in their customer service journey?

Or would your agents be more like sword-wielding fighters, battling to defeat angry customer ogres before they burn your contact center to the ground?

Fantastical tales aside, stories about our businesses carry a lot of meaning. The narratives weaved by ourselves, our agents and our customers can communicate common values, elicit emotion, develop trust and understanding, and communicate knowledge and wisdom that can allow us all to grow.

The exercise above might seem silly. But thinking about your agents and customers as people in a story often paints a more vibrant picture of the type of service your business gives than a lot of the ‘hard’ information we calculate, classify and analyze in our contact centers.

Stories are a great way to make communicating complex information simpler, they provoke thought and learning, and they can often guide our actions in a way that’s clearer than cold NPS or CSat figures.

Some stories have persisted for thousands of years – and many people have produced theories that help to explain why storytelling is still such a useful form of information transfer. Communication scholar Walter Fisher argues that storytelling is one of the most persuasive forms of communication.

And in Chip and Dan Heath’s book “Made to Stick”, they argue that storytelling is a key ingredient of ideas that are compelling and produce action.

I certainly agree with them – as a professional trainer, I can confirm a story told during training sessions often gives people a lot more to analyze than a basic “show and tell” type of learning.

Given that storytelling can be such a powerful way to share learning, what does that mean for your contact center?

In this article, I’ll explore some of the ways you can help your agents to become “Customer Storytellers” to help everyone in your organization benefit from the stories your customers tell, and to learn from the ways that your agents helped them.

Agents as Listeners

Every day, your agents are in the privileged position of being let into the stories and lives of your customers. Agents act as the ‘ears’ of an organization, and it’s listening and perspective-taking that allows successful agents to understand and find meaning in the stories your customers tell.

It’s been said that the contact center is one of the most data-rich departments within an organization, and that’s true. What’s also true is it’s the department most rich in narrative!

Given all of the information that flows through your center, why should we pay extra attention to trying to capture customer stories in particular?

Well, we all know that customer expectations are on the rise. The stories your customers tell every day are an authentic and real-time source of information to allow you to keep meeting those expectations.

While customers might not have the time or want to go to the effort of providing feedback via formal channels, your agents can help to fill that gap.

While we’re all used to capturing CSat data and the like to measure how we’re doing, few organizations consider how best to capture the customer stories that your agents hear every day.

Because stories come to life when we tell them, asking your agents to listen carefully to customer stories with a view to sharing and understanding them is a pretext for helping them become true customer storytellers.

Agents as Storytellers

Listening to customer stories is just the first step, as it’s the sharing of stories that holds the most potential for growth and change in our organizations.

Ask any of your agents for stories about their customers, and the tales they tell will say a lot about the roles that customers and agents play in the big story of your organization.

Do they talk about customers so angry that they threatened to call every newspaper or politician that they thought might be able to swing things their way?

Or do they talk about those stories where they laughed or cried with customers, and connected with them in a way that goes beyond a simple phone call?

The morals and learnings we can gain from those stories are significant, and whether they’re good or bad, it’s through sharing them that we can start all to understand and to do better.

Your contact center staff have the potential to be the ‘voice’ of your organization just as much as they’re also the ‘ears.’ 

Customer advocacy can start within your agent team, and encouraging them to communicate stories allows more people access to information that’s rich with learning opportunities.

Developing processes for agents to share customer stories (with the rest of your team, or even with your entire organization) helps us not just to better understand our customers, but also to better appreciate the personalities of our agent team.

And it’s through a better understanding of each other that we can begin to affect significant changes in our work.

While we will never all agree all of the time, if we can approach more interactions with our customers and each other with a view to hear and consider different perspectives, it opens up possibilities for reasoning and action that would have never been there had we simply viewed situations from our point of view.

When teams can use a variety of perspectives to develop a fair and balanced comprehension of what’s important and what they should strive for, this allows them to be better equipped to deliver a service that provides fair and balanced experiences for customers.

Not to mention that encouraging the telling of stories, whether good or bad, makes for workplaces where we can be more comfortable with telling our own stories – the ones that help others to understand more about our authentic selves.

Agents as Heroes

A danger inherent in customer storytelling is asking your agents to tell stories about situations they’re powerless to control, making them little more than a bit-part character in the tales of others. Often, this results in stories that show the frustration of agents who want to do the right thing, but are consistently unable to.

If you’re interested in using storytelling within your organization, think about how you can empower your agents to become the heroes in your customer’s stories – the characters that save the day, subvert expectations, and provide hope.

It’s a lot easier for agents to ensure your customers’ stories have happy endings if they can themselves initiate the ‘plot twists’ that turn negative situations around. The ability to act autonomously in deciding the outcomes of customer stories means that the roles agents play, of the attentive listener or the customer advocate, can become genuinely lived rather than just acted out.

Being able to affect change in the lives and stories of your customers has profound benefits. Autonomy in work has been shown to lead to increased levels of well-being and job satisfaction, and many of us should be able to recognize that when agents can affect change in their work, it turns it from being something that’s done to them, to something that they participate in.

If you’re wondering how you can give your agents more autonomy, just ask your agents themselves. They should be able to provide you with examples of an abundance of situations where they wished they could do more, but weren’t able to – and sometimes something as simple as a change in access permissions can open up new possibilities for issue resolution.

While agents won’t always be able to give customers everything they ask for, combining sensitivity to the stories of customers with the ability to turn situations around makes for better issue resolution that’s full of possibilities and fairer for all parties involved.

Not to mention, the bonus of giving your agents more freedom to become customer heroes is that it increases the chance of positive customer experiences occurring.

And for most of us in customer service, it’s those positive customer stories which are much of the reason we’re in this industry in the first place – stories which show that we all have the capacity to listen, to understand, and to do even small things that can mean the world to others.

Originally published at CX Accelerator.

Culture, Customer Experience, Emotional Intelligence, Team Building, Work

More Than Just Lip Service: How To Turn Corporate Values into Lived Behaviors in Your Contact Center

Communication – We have an obligation to communicate.
Respect – We treat others as we would like to be treated.
Integrity – We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely.
Excellence – We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do.

Do these corporate values sound familiar to you? Given that some 89% of companies have core values of some kind, it’s likely that you’re accustomed to these types of statements, which many companies all over the world proudly align themselves to.

The difference with this list of values is that they’re pulled from the 2000 Annual Report of what would become one of the most unethical companies of all time – Enron. In the wake of Enron’s 2001 accounting scandal, it quickly became clear to shareholders and customers alike that these values meant nothing, in a corporate culture where greed reigned supreme.

While Enron is an extreme example of values fallen by the wayside, sadly it’s all too often that company value statements are pinned up on the wall and forgotten about, while lived culture brews all practices and tactics which make for disempowering, politically-charged or unethical working environments.

It’s a sad thing that the contact center is so often a place where these practices are often seen and publicized. From KPIs that cause role conflict and stress, to high-pressure sales tactics employed by desperate staff at the expense of vulnerable customers, there are companies everywhere who pay lip service to great culture while allowing awful business practices to impact on customers and agents alike.

Corporate value statements are meant to prevent this, but they’re problematic for any professional who looks for results in any business initiative – and corporate values are as much of a business initiative as any other practice to fuel organizational change. How can values be measured? What even are we measuring here? While corporate values are often seen as too disputed or illusory to get to consensus on and measure, it can be done. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from helping contact centers to embed their corporate values.

Make Values Visible

Your values shouldn’t be hidden in a corporate handbook. Make it clear how much they influence your working culture by putting them front and center. Print them on coffee mugs, engrave them into meeting room windows, hang them on posters.

Making values visible is much more than physically marking their presence. Your leadership team have a huge role to play in setting the standard for values-driven business, too. To put it simply – if they’re not talking about values, your teams aren’t going to either.

Work Towards Shared Definitions

Some values are really difficult to define. Ask your average person what integrity is, for example, and you’ll likely get an answer along the lines of “Doing the right thing”. That’s all well and good, but Enron’s executives probably thought they were doing the right thing for their lifestyle and family the whole time they were secretly lining their pockets with the organization’s money.

Values mean different things to different people, so it’s essential to get your team agreed on what a particular value actually means in order for them to see how it can be applied to their work. Get your teams thinking about what your corporate values really mean to them by way of a brainstorming session – and be prepared for some deep discussions that range into the realms of philosophy, ethics, psychology, and more.

All of this makes for some seriously interesting debate that will help you understand your teams in new ways, as well as helping them towards a deeper understanding of what values really are, and how they apply within your organization.

Define What Values Look Like – And What They Don’t Look Like

Many of us would say we are principled people who act according to certain standards. You’d be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t say that they don’t take accountability for their actions, or that they don’t treat people with respect. But ask how values can be shown in an everyday working environment, and some might struggle to come up with some concrete examples of what certain values actually look like. What do accountable people actually do to show that? What behaviours do you need to show to demonstrate excellence?

What’s more, the nature of modern work often presents some interesting ethical dilemmas that value statements alone don’t resolve. Is it a violation of integrity to book a doctor’s appointment on work time when you’re not feeling well? Is Ken’s bordering-on-xenophobic nature to be expected given his upbringing and culture, or does that signify a problematic absence of respect? Identifying behaviors linked to value statements is a great way to give clarity to these moral grey areas.

Create some clear examples of specific behaviors to give your teams that clarity. Work with them to brainstorm what each value looks like, and also what acting with an absence of that value looks like. These behaviors should cover both interactions with customers, as well as interactions with each other.

With some encouragement, many people can come up with some real-life behaviors that act as a solid guideline for value-driven working practices, and help make value statements more concrete than a list of well-meaning but vague phrases. Document them for future reference and be clear that your list should rightly be always up for debate.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is – Measure & Assess Values

It’s rare for organizations to measure and assess standards for behavior against corporate values, but turning values into a KPI sends a seriously strong message about how important values are to you as an organization.

What’s more, when staff know there are expectations for value-driven conduct, values transform from being statements that are talked about on induction day and then forgotten, to becoming a reliable standard which defines how work occurs within your business.

You can implement a value-based KPI into your annual review process by asking staff to come prepared with examples of times they’ve shown behaviors that signify a particular value. You can decide how in-depth and granular you want this process to be – it might be enough for you to ask your teams to evidence one or two things that show they’ve acted with a certain value at each review, and give them a tick in the box that demonstrates they have thought and acted in accordance with that value. Or, you might choose a more lengthy process that incorporates coaching and 360-degree feedback to develop a rating.

With sensitivity to the practicalities of this process, it’s possible to develop a new KPI that helps your corporate values to become truly lived.

Why Values Matter In The Contact Center

Few business areas have seen as much transformation in the last few decades as the contact center. Back in the 80s, as the telephone enabled the offshoring of customer communications, the call center was born as an opportunity for business cost reduction. The draw of call centers was the ability to cheaply process high-volume customer inquiries – inquiries which were often low quality, and the targets and practices within them tended to disadvantage agents and customers alike.

Only in the last ten years has CX become a strategic priority, and now, our agents are much more than low-skill, scripted triage staff – they’re fully-fledged knowledge workers, with valuable and transferable professional skills, creating clear business advantage for the organizations they work within.

Despite this incredible change, contact centers still suffer from the image problems of the past – viewed as places where ‘professional’ work and ethics are often absent. Agents still try to minimize aspects of their role from their friends or relatives, who still commonly see contact centers as unskilled, low-value places to work. And many customers still dread contacting customer service, expecting to talk to agents with no ability or desire to truly help. These are big issues which affect the potential success of the work that we all do, as demonstrating the worth of our centers is especially hard against this backdrop.

With that in mind, it’s important for anyone who hopes to advance contact center working practices to reject the perceptions of the past, through ensuring that their centers are staffed by agents who aren’t disadvantaged by their jobs, and who serve customers who are treated fairly. Values can be a strong driver to set a clear standard for conduct, communication, and behavior in our centers so that this hope becomes more than just an aspiration.

The promotion of value-driven business practices, then, is essential to actually change the problematic perceptions of contact center work and to help us raise the bar of best practice throughout our industry.

It’s on all of us to situate values strongly in our workplaces, helping us to create contact centers which are recognized as operating fairly, upholding exceptional standards of practice, and allowing for empowering work to take place – for agents, businesses and customers alike.

Originally published here.