March 28, 2013
The Future of Soft Skills in Contact Centers
Filed under: Entrepreneurship
It’s a well-known fact that good soft skills are critical for virtual contact center agents. The most effective agents have the innate ability to complete transactions successfully with even the angriest customers, ensuring that a positive resolution is reached for all parties. As is the case with technology, the soft skills now needed in contact centers are undergoing a transition – one that ensures agents are able to interact with a globalized client base.
When considering the types of soft skills your team might require or that you may wish to train for, there are several that are key:
Intercultural Communication Skills
We live in a multi-cultural environment where it is very simple to initiate conversations globally, making it much easier for organizations to sell to a world-wide audience. Additionally, there are large numbers of people from other countries in the United States for education or work purposes, and these people are just as likely to purchase services and products and be in need of customer service as anyone else. The important aspect for any agent, on premise or working at home, is to understand this fact and have the ability to support the customer, regardless of the complexity added from cross-cultural communication.
To build a foundation for this soft skill, executives and managers will need to first recognize the importance of intercultural communication. Then it is simply a matter of creating a support environment that supports cross-cultural communication. Some important elements to consider are to:
- Slow down – it is easy for agents to speak quickly in their native language, which is a common objection for non-native speakers.
- Break down information – we convey large amounts of information in a single sentence. By choosing a single piece of information to convey, it is easier for non-native speakers to understand the concept.
- Avoid slang – Americans love their slang, but when trying to assist someone who does not natively speak the language, slang, jokes and colloquialisms make it difficult to provide good customer service.
Values & Ethics
We have recently featured posts that show the challenge when values and ethics are not part of a person’s make-up (as in the case of the guy who outsourced his own job). A strong set of values and ethics ensure that short cuts are never taken when working with a customer. In addition, you can rest assured that your agents will conduct themselves in a professional, appropriate manner without having to be told, simply because they contain these important soft skills.
With the increased understanding of emotional intelligence versus intelligence quotient, or IQ, we are better equipped to find the high quality agent who has both. Intelligence will help the agent determine the best course of action, and has a direct correlation to the ability to activate soft skills. Good listening, word choice, and tone of delivery all stem from having high intelligence, both EI and IQ.
When determining future soft skills for the successful contact center, high emotional intelligence should definitely be on the list. This soft skill supports other important skills such as empathy and active listening.
One of the most important soft skills, and often one of the more difficult to learn, is active listening. Often we are so busy trying to wrap up and go to the next engagement or transaction that we will think about what we want to say next. Active listening ensures we understand and obtain important information to assist customers in resolving their issues.
Some of the tips used to assist in active listening include:
- Repeating what the customer said
- Using verbal queues to prompt for more information
- Being attentive and in the moment
It is more difficult to engage in active listening virtually, since body language and queues are missing. However, it is more critical to use active listening skills so that the customer’s issue is correctly documented and resolved.
As the trends continue to move toward a more globalized marketplace, soft skills required will continue to change. By embracing the need to adjust soft skills training, your virtual contact center agents will be better equipped to assist customers and provide excellent service.