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Becoming Morgan Freeman: Empathy is a Must in the Contact Center

wavingWe’ve all been in the shoes of a customer when we’re trying to accomplish some sort of personal business, only to have a monotone, Ben Stein-like voice on the other end talk to us and either address our issue or pass us along to someone else.

An empathetic tone is not only a suggestion when trying to solve problems verbally; it is a necessity. Personally, I need two things when I talk to a human in the customer service: help with my issue and empathy for my situation. If I don’t get both of those things, my NPS (Net Promoter Score) comment will be something along the lines of “Mr. Ben Stein took care of my problem, but wow, I don’t even know if he cared about it. What a robot.” Mr. Stein would get a Passive rating (a 6 or a 7 for all you NPS types), which will do nothing to help the company’s NPS score.

In a retail or restaurant environment, in-person service employees are blessed with the fact that customers are standing right in front of them and can react to body language and facial expressions. In contact centers, we don’t have that benefit because all we are is a voice on the other end of the line. We, then, must appeal to the only sense that the customer can rely on at that point: hearing.

Lots is known about how to take a bad customer experience and turn it into a good one. Not a lot is known, however, about how to take a customer experience where everything is done to the customer’s satisfaction, but they were still not happy enough to give a positive score on an NPS survey. Chances are that they talked to Ben Stein, and he just didn’t seem to care.

Becoming Morgan Freeman

The kind of tone that customers want when they call into a contact center is a relaxed, conversational tone. When I was thinking about how we, as professionals, can achieve the perfect tone on every call, every time, I gravitated repeatedly to the celebrity voice that we all know, the voice that I hope for whenever I call a company as a customer. That voice, of course, is Morgan Freeman.

It’s not easy to train an employee to be Morgan Freeman, but that must be our standard. In fact, a study conducted by McKinsey in March of 2020 found that in an environment where more and more business is conducted virtually, the proactive creation of a human connection between customer and agent is no longer considered “going the extra mile.”

Hire and Train Like You Mean it

When I began my career in a collections call center, my training was 10 weeks in length. I learned to operate a plethora of systems and studied and mastered a call model. “Words that Work” was, and is still, a constant reminder that we count on empathetic sentences to convey our caring attitude. Any training in tone and manner contained tricks to how NOT to let customers make you angry. No training was ever delivered on proactive empathy.

We move forward by making it known during the hiring, training and continuous learning processes that empathy is the base characteristic that we want from all employees. Interview questions like, “Describe a time when you had an upset customer and used your verbal tone to help defuse the situation and resolve the customer’s problem” would be extremely helpful. Not only would it provide insight into the individual’s ability to solve problems, but it would challenge them to talk about tone of voice as a tool. (For example, my answer would incorporate my desire to channel Morgan Freeman to listen and defuse the customer’s anger.) Once that is accomplished, the customer is more open to working with me to achieve their desired outcome.

Training would just be an extension of hiring. It would start with tone and move on from there. Tone training could be anything from role playing, to video training to listening to live calls. The key is to plant that seed of tone before anything else.

Continuous learning involves checking in with all agents regularly, sharing best practices, listening to calls and identifying opportunities for tone improvement. Working with employees to grow this particular skill can only improve how customers see our businesses and grow our bottom lines.

The inner Morgan Freeman is just one trick. Choose another actor if you’d like, a sports commentator, a motivational speaker, anyone who you think will drive home the point that customers want to hear, first and foremost, a person who cares on the other end of the line.