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Don’t Overlook the Importance of Communication Skills Training

We have all been there, having to call customer service of a company for which we are a customer. We have an issue that we need to have resolved in order to be a satisfied customer. Waiting…waiting …hoping to hear a voice rather than a recording. More times than not we hear that rehearsed recording telling us how important we are and that someone will answer as soon as they are available. We are instructed to push some buttons to make sure that we get the person that we want. We wait some more as we go over in our minds just what we want to tell the person we need. After much anticipation, we finally hear a real voice.

Now, the judgement begins. At first we notice the sound of the voice. Do they sound pleasant? Do they sound like they want to be there? Do they sound like they are rehearsed as they greet us on behalf of their organization, or do they sound natural? We haven’t spoken a word and we already have an opinion about how the experience is. Our hope is the person we are talking to will listen to our issue or request, understand exactly what we need, and most of all…be nice. Did you notice I haven’t even mentioned the hope of how fast our issue or request is satisfied.

Studies have shown that the major part, three-quarters in fact, of good customer service is not whether or how fast the resolution comes, but how the customer was treated and the overall experience. Sure we need resolution, but that only makes up the other one-quarter of our judgement.

Companies spend millions each year on front line support training. Lots and lots of process training, learning the new software and tools, safety and security, as well as ethical and legal matters as it pertains to the company. Of course these skills are all necessary in order to run an efficient support environment. But, in my years of experience in the support industry, I have always felt that not enough attention is paid to the old traditional skill known as “communication” for front line agents. Now I am not referring to just talking to customers. It’s about hearing your own voice, standing or sitting upright while talking, listening (really listening) so you can feel what the customer is feeling, making adjustments to your tone of voice so you can sound concerned, confident, or even empathetic based on the customer’s needs. It’s about smiling when you speak, remaining calm when the customer is not, and being able to admit when you do not have the answer but will make an effort to find out.

When front line agents are exposed to hearing what they sound like, it is an eye-opening experience. People do not know how they really sound. Think about your reaction when you see yourself on video or hear yourself on a recording. In my experience, most people say “Do I really sound like that?” When I have played recordings for front line agents, they always express how they didn’t mean to sound that way.

We have to be careful about how our tone of voice can affect the impact of what we say. Factors like inflection, clarity, articulation, and confidence are all factors in our communication that can have an impact on the message received.

Then there is the other part of our communication (probably the majority) and that is listening skills. As the old cliché goes, “Hearing is different than listening.” We may hear the words somebody says to us and might even be able to repeat the words back, but it doesn’t sink in and you give no reaction. Customers can sense if you are not listening to them, and that can have an effect on customer service.

These are just some of the skills that need to be introduced and then reviewed on a consistent basis. When customers are surveyed and asked about their experience with customer service of any company, the response more often than not is related to the dialog with the agent and whether they were nice or helpful or patient. Even when issues are not resolved in a timely manner, customers can still report a pleasant experience based on those “communication skills.” Those are customers that keep coming back! Believe me, that will be training dollars well spent.