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“In contact centers, we get the opportunity to connect with people,” said Paul Long during his recent ICMI Contact Center Expo 2022 keynote. And hopefully, he added, we make their day better than it was before they called. These connections are a gift. They can catalyze engagement and cement loyalty.
Long, a speaker, author and Master of Shenanigans at FUNdamism, noted that empathy and positivity can help make those connections.
It’s not just customer service teams who need to be empathetic and encouraging. Customer experience (CX) leaders should model the behaviors they expect from agents. Leaders’ actions and behaviors in key moments have an outsized influence on their team, noted Sara Ross, Chief Vitality Officer of BrainAMPED, during her keynote at the event.
That’s where leaders can build performance and trust. “But you have to be able to recognize those moments,” she said.
Long and Ross shared advice for CX leaders on how to interact with their employees and coach them to use these methods when interacting with their customers and each other.
Be your authentic self: “Embrace who you are. That’s what makes you special,” said Long. Encourage your team to bring their whole selves to work.
This makes it easier to be creative and strategic — and to take risks. Being authentic at work builds engagement. And the resulting enthusiasm will create great customer experiences.
Create meaningful connections: “Imagine if you could make someone smile, laugh or feel appreciated in any given interaction,” said Long. Agents could surprise and delight customers with a sincere smile or a few thoughtful words.
CX leaders could do the same for agents. So, smile whenever appropriate (even on the phone — where your smile will still come through). Have a laugh over a shared experience. Show appreciation with praise about something specific.
Listen with intent: Listen to learn, not to respond. This is as important in agent-supervisor interactions as it is in customer-agent interactions. Be as deliberate in listening to customers and employees as you would be when listening to your favorite musician at a concert.
It’s essential to make people feel heard, understood and valued — and to recognize they have their own perspectives. You don’t have to agree with what’s being said, noted Ross. But you do need to meet them where they are emotionally first to move them along their journeys.
Stand up for others: Whether an agent is solving an issue for a customer, or a manager is supporting a team member, commit to getting the best outcome you can. “Having people’s backs isn’t always about making people happy,” said Ross.
Some issues won’t get resolved to a customer’s satisfaction. And some situations involving agents will require hard conversations. The key in dealing with both, she said, is balancing intention and empathy.
Breathe first, then act: Everyone has bad days and faces frustrations. When interacting with a customer or employee, even if you’re feeling agitated, lead with kindness. It will raise the energy level and set the tone for a more positive outcome, noted Long.
But if someone is aggressive verbally, Ross advises mentally pausing before acting. Take a second to relax your muscles and reground by slowing and deepening your breath. This will help clear your mind and give you a moment to think about the impact you’ll have with the action you’ll take. “It makes empathy the natural next step,” she added.
Learn to forgive when learning: Whether you’re a manager learning a new skill or a supervisor helping your staff to learn something new, be forgiving. “Grant yourself grace for the moments that don’t work out the way you want,” said Ross. But, she emphasized, learn from them to get better next time.
And be supportive when your team is learning. When leaders build their employees up, it empowers those team members. As a leader, it’s how you make people feel and how you share your experience and expertise that’s most important, she added.
Be accountable: People tend to judge themselves by their intentions and motivations. And because we can’t read minds, they observe and judge others by their actions and impact.
CX employees and supervisors need to take ownership on the impact their actions have, especially when things don’t go well — and even if their intentions were good.
Today, 70% of consumers say a company is only as good as its customer service. But one-third say dealing with service is always a hassle. And 76% of CX leaders say low employee engagement and morale is challenging. It’s time to prioritize empathetic experiences.
CX leaders need to put themselves in their agents’ shoes when they provide coaching, plan schedules and determine success measures. And this should include when they help employees map out their career paths. Supervisors and agents need to put themselves in the customers’ shoes when calls, chats and emails come in.
If you want customers to be more patient, be patient with them. If you want to see appreciation for the ways you’re trying to support agents and customers, be appreciative of what they’re giving to the business. Be empathetic and positive with agents if you want them to show customers that same empathy and positivity.
Change starts with CX leaders on the frontlines. “If you’re waiting for things to change,” added Long, “you might be waiting a long time.”
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