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The Here and Now … A Most Opportune Moment

The Here and Now … A Most Opportune Moment

/ Operations, Strategy, Customer Experience
The Here and Now … A Most Opportune Moment

Where the customer “interaction” or “experience” takes place.

“The here and now” is an idiom from the 1800’s that means “at this moment.” When it comes to the front line of any Contact Center, “the here and now” is where the customer “interaction” or “experience” takes place. Many components make up the total experience (i.e., both interaction and transaction). They all collide when the front line interacts directly with the customer in “the here and now.”

Let’s look at the importance and use of vocabulary when it comes to managing the interaction and delivering on the Customer Experience. The choice of the best rapport-building words and phrases contributes to the efficiency of the contact, the agent’s confidence, and the customer’s overall experience.

Regardless of contact channel, today’s agents handle many complex activities and situations that require problem solving. The words agents use when interacting with customers become a critical success factor to a great Customer Experience. There is a huge risk to that experience when agents focus on CAN’Ts. Can you think of a couple of reasons why that is? Customers want solutions to problems! They want action, attention, caring, empathy, resolution and often the agent needs to restore their confidence. When met with lists of obstacles, (can’ts) customers feel frustrated and continue to lose confidence. Frustration fuels escalations, delays, ugly social media blasts, reductions in retention, and potential loss of market share which ultimately damages profitability.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” —Winston Churchill

I propose that positive word choice, also known as “transformational vocabulary,” be considered a strategic communication option. This is a must-have rather than a nice-to-have. Are your coaches able to coach to such a skill? Job aids with “positive phrases that work” is a start, along with proper coaching to contextualize the use of the phrases and to inspire the use of words that manage the interaction. For example, if a caller says they are “frustrated,” a well-trained agent can literally reduce the intensity of the caller’s emotions by responding, “I understand your concern.” Concern is a more manageable state than frustration!

My work takes me to Contact Center operations in a variety of industries. I have been privileged to witness hundreds of customer interactions and transactions. There is one simple yet powerful phrase that can greatly assist customers, trainers, and ultimately agents in response to issues, concerns, or problems. The phrase is very much a part of “the here and now,” yet I am surprised by the infrequency of its use. An agent’s reply of, “Here’s what I can do NOW” is easy, to the point, and keeps the agent thinking in terms of possibilities.

Imagine this phrase as a principal component of agent education! What a yield that would be! Building and conducting ongoing scenario-based discussions around the use of this action phrase has tremendous potential. The power is twofold. First, it cues the agent to think in terms of what CAN be done as opposed to what CAN’T be done. It also offers the customer a positive option to explore. Customer Experience is about problem solving. So far in my life experience CAN’Ts don’t solve problems; CANs do. They didn’t write a book about the Little Engine That Couldn’t!

The words agents use when interacting with customers become a critical success factor to a great Customer Experience.

My thinking is that if agent education included a distinct leaning towards “Here’s what I can do” it would spark and foster critical thinking. Communication practices in which conversations are guided through a lens of possibility (CAN) provide for a more thoughtful engagement. This results in a “branded experience” that contributes to the desired Customer Experience.

The use of CAN does not mean saying YES to every request made by a customer. However, regardless of the absurdity of a request, alternatives do exist. CAN behavior expands beyond the actual phrase, “Here’s what I CAN do.” The phrase acts as a catalyst to the agent in terms of their own response to a customer that is frustrated, anxious, disappointed, etc. What goes on behind the scenes (i.e., in your head) carries an enormous amount of weight when it comes to what comes out of your mouth. The CAN phrase may act as a communication “filter” to minimize negative reaction and maximize positive pro-action.

Consider the power of questions rather than inflammatory CAN’T statements. (These include “I can’t,” “They won’t allow it,” and “No one else has had this problem.”) Asking additional questions rather than leaping to telling the customer what is not possible and often interrupting the customer mid-phrase softens the conversation. Open-ended questions work best: “May I ask for additional details around …?,” “Would it be all right if I …?,” “Are you familiar with our …?,” and “What would it take to make you feel better about the experience?”

Once we enjoy genuine clarity around the situation, the ability to identify the true source of frustration is enhanced. This allows for a more targeted CAN response such as, “David, I CAN understand your concern around the amount of time this has taken; here’s what I CAN do now.” Even when the offer is totally contrary to the request, a new discussion emerges. In this case, the agent has asked questions and discovered that the actual situation is not causing frustration. It is the time it has taken! What a totally different driver!

An agent’s reply of, “Here’s what I can do NOW” is easy, to the point, and keeps the agent thinking in terms of possibilities.

Keep in mind that agents must not be “scripted” to robotically utter positive phrases. You can’t script intimacy. Excellent educational activities allow powerful words and phrases to transform everyone’s style to produce results consistent with the promise and goals of the brand. The linkage of these elements is primarily the responsibility of leadership. Avoid giving it short shrift by demanding a scripted response; educate for an integrated response. Only then will everyone’s interaction be their own. Everyone needs their own voice.

Consider educating, discussing, and adjusting communication skills for all involved in the Customer Experience. Focus on “Here’s what I can do NOW.” Adding “now” to the phrase adds power, urgency, and immediacy. It is a genuine call to action; few customers will object to at least listening to the options. And an entirely new conversation begins. File this under Call Control! A positive Customer Experience is a communication-based outcome and the effectiveness of CAN over CAN’T is such a powerful tool.

Let’s face it, the role of Contact Center agent revolves around “the here and now.” When customers reach out for assistance, they want immediate attention, supports, and solutions. Each interaction presents an opportunity to make a positive impact by addressing concerns in the present moment. By embracing “the here and now” mindset, agents provide real-time assistance by actively listening to the customer and delivering timely resolutions. It is in these moments that the power occurs to create exceptional experiences and hone strategic communication skills.

Kathleen Peterson

Kathleen Peterson

Kathleen M. Peterson is the Chief Vision Officer of PowerHouse Consulting, a call center and telecommunications consulting firm.
Twitter: @PowerHouse603

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