We all face difficult and challenging situations from time to time. These can include financial stress, illness, loss of a loved one, being in an accident, being the victim of a crime, or loss of property due to a natural disaster. Right now, in the grip of the cost-of-living crisis, it’s not an exaggeration to say that many are suffering.
When customers facing hardship contact a business that provides one of the services that are essential to their lives, what they need more than anything is understanding of their personal situation and emotional support.
Contact centre teams need adequate training to ensure they deal with sensitive situations with an appropriate level of emotional intelligence. It’s also important for team members to have the tools to cope with potentially stressful and emotional situations.
What is emotional intelligence?
We can define emotional intelligence as the ability to identify, understand, control, and manage different emotions – both your own and those of others. Emotionally intelligent people recognise emotions in others and adjust their behaviour accordingly. They demonstrate an understanding of the feelings of others and use this to guide their mannerisms and actions in line with varying situations.
Why is emotional intelligence important in contact centres?
Contact centre teams frequently tackle disastrous, unsettling situations that customers find themselves in. To give a clearer picture of what team members deal with, imagine speaking to a customer who has lost their entire home in a flood or a fire, who is sobbing through the phone as they attempt to go through the rigorous, painstaking insurance claim process.
A contact centre agent’s job is to understand the situation, assess the damage levels, and organise the follow-up restoration and reparation process. And they must progress through this with caution, remaining as sympathetic and as emotionally available as possible.
What’s more, it’s unlikely that these will be simple, one-off calls. In most cases, the process is lengthy and involves several difficult conversations.
To provide the best customer experience (CX) possible, therefore, it’s important for contact centre teams to develop a high level of emotional intelligence. One in three consumers switch companies or brands after a negative customer service experience, so team members need to be proactive in managing frustrated customers, showing them the empathy and support they need.
Give team members the right training for sensitive situations
Frontline contact centre teams need adequate training to handle the challenging situations they will face. Distressed customers not only want a fast response and resolution, they also want to be heard, understood, and appreciated.
Training to develop emotional intelligence starts with understanding ourselves and the impact we have on others. There are four aspects to emotional intelligence, which encompass awareness of our own behaviour as well as regulating our behaviour towards others.
Understanding the different aspects of emotional intelligence only goes so far without practice. Developing a more conscious awareness of the words we use, our tone of voice, and our body language takes time. Equipping team members with these skills will not only pay off for your customers, but it can also bring lifelong benefits in their personal lives and in their interactions with work colleagues, helping to build a more supportive work environment for everyone.
Beyond training, emotional intelligence factors such as listening, empathy, understanding, and rapport, should become key metrics to track in your quality monitoring. Supervisors and QA teams should be able to score for these traits when listening to calls, so that feedback can be provided to individual agents to let them know what areas they need improve.
Support for customers and team members alike
For those who work in contact centres, dealing with such challenging calls and conversations can be overwhelming. It’s therefore important to give team members adequate space to manage emotions – both their own and those of their customers – and ensure they feel supported by their team.
This support for team members can come in many ways, for instance:
- Being upfront and direct about situations employees will be facing.
- Implementing resilience training, so team members can receive the tools they need to manage their own wellbeing.
- Giving team members time after a tough call to recover and have a chat with leaders and colleagues if necessary.
- Providing access to extended training with various subject matter experts – for example on financial hardship or bereavement – to make sure team members feel confident in supporting customers with these types of issues.
- Introducing employee assistance programmes for one-to-one confidential support.
It’s well-known that supporting your employees is one of the most important ways to look after customers. Equipping teams with the skills to manage their own emotional wellbeing will put them in the best position possible to support customers.
“For us to support customers that are facing hardships, we need to support our frontline team members first,” says Krystal Valentine, TSA Group’s Channel Manager. “If you’ve got a team that feels supported, they’re going to have the skills to handle the work, and to handle those challenging situations. But if you don’t have that foundation to start off with and you’re not listening to your team, it’s not going to work.”
It all begins with first contact
Having the capabilities to support customers is essential, as is possessing the emotional intelligence to instantly identify the customers that are facing hardships. Teams also need to be able to recognise distraught and vulnerable callers quickly so they can prioritise them and pass them on to the right specialist team.
From an operational point of view your contact centre needs to be able to case manage vulnerable customers and be proactive in updating them as they are often upset, frustrated, and distraught by the situation they are experiencing. Waiting for news only adds to their stress. Being sensitive to customers and their emotions in each of these interactions is extremely important to make them feel that they’re being supported.
Emotional intelligence benefits the customer and more
Ensuring contact centre teams are equipped with the skills and behaviours to display emotional intelligence and empathy is the baseline requirement for dealing with vulnerable customers. It also ensures that teams are better equipped to handle sensitive situations. This is great for employees, who will feel better about their difficult roles, and it will also improve metrics such as customer satisfaction and retention in the long run. Frontline workers who feel that their employer has their back are also more likely to stay at the company, reducing attrition in the contact centre.
We’ve also found that training employees in emotional intelligence has a knock-on effect throughout the business, not just in our vulnerable customer programmes. Even though other areas of work may involve less complex and sensitive scenarios, the emotional intelligence that employees gain goes a long way in more mundane situations.
Team members become better equipped to understand customers’ emotions, meet their needs, and resolve conflicts. Their ability to interact as a team member and support their colleagues is also dramatically enhanced.
TSA are Australia’s market leading specialists in CX Consultancy and Contact Centre Services. We are passionate about revolutionising the way brands connect with Australians. How? By combining our local expertise with the most sophisticated customer experience technology on earth, and delivering with an expert team of customer service consultants who know exactly how to help brands care for their customers.