Making Emotional Connections in a Digital Age

“Digital” has been in the spotlight this year for contact centers and for many brands their digital journey is only just beginning. At Frost & Sullivan’s Contact Center West’s MindXchange, we had a chance to sit down with contact center thought leaders and discuss digital shifts. Brooke Bains, Sparkcentral’s VP of Customer Experience and Sales, facilitated a session focused on making emotional connections in a digital age. I participated in this conversation and wanted to share the insights we heard from the contact center executives and managers who participated.

We began with a hashtag exercise. This activity allowed us to warm up a bit and start bringing digital elements into the conversation. Brooke asked everyone to create a hashtag related to their digital efforts. The hashtags could be a goal, a challenge, or a piece of advice that impacted their contact center this year. Here are some of the hashtags shared during our discussion:

#connectforinsight

The person who wrote this hashtag shared that an emotional bond is built by connecting, but it also helps agents understand the customer and their issues. They said that it is important to facilitate connections from people having issues with people who have insights into solving those issues. These connections might feel superficial on digital channels, but the results can be felt by the agents and the customers they are helping.

#empathy

This hashtag reflected both a goal and a challenge. The creator of this hashtag asked, “how can I train agents to better show empathy before diving right into the solution?” Other questions this brought up included: In a world that values efficiency and effortless experiences, how can we balance those with empathy? How do we make genuine connections that empower our agents and show our customers they care?

#evangelize

At first glance, you might think “evangelize” applies to your agents or your customers. Think again. A theme that surfaced in many discussions was brought up here. The person who shared this hashtag said, “there is a disconnect between senior leadership and end users — leadership needs to understand the customer experience truly”. She went on to share how her team is learning to evangelize to senior leadership.

#telltheirstory

Following in the steps of other hashtags shared in this exercise was one that read: “tell their story”. One way to build empathy and engagement is through storytelling. Ask yourself: What are our customers going through? Where, in their experience, are they having issues that we can resolve or impact? When you view the journey from the customer’s lens you get a new perspective. From the customer’s point of view, what is their perception of what we’re offering? How does that impact our operations and strategy?

#craftingme

Last, but not least, another leader shared “crafting me” as her hashtag. She advised leaders to help their agents empathize with and understand customers. Her advice: by creating a relatable version of yourself, you help establish a trust and empathy with your customer. Don’t lie about who you are, but do show a relatable version of yourself to customers.

I loved the hashtag exercise and hearing how passionate these leaders were about leveraging their workforce to take action. I’ve heard leadership at Sparkcentral say the same thing: if you don’t have the people and processes in place, you will have a much tougher challenge ahead of you. By investing in your team’s ability to connect with customers, you are improving their overall service, not just digital. The takeaways weren’t about whether or not to support customers, but how to best do that depending on the channel.

“If someone has to contact me, there is already an issue. We have to take action; there is no choice.”

Next, we gathered participants into three groups and gave each a topic to discuss. One group was asked to share positive service interactions and what made them unique. Another examined negative service interactions and what made those stand out. The third group talked about their experiences interacting with bots. Here’s what they had to say:

What goes into a positive service experience?

This should go without saying, but it was repeated time and time again: treat your customers like humans. The standout service that the group had personally received was built on a foundation of empathy and understanding. The group was particularly blown away by the proactive issue resolution they had received. Whether it was a refund or a representative going the extra mile to exceed expectations and anticipate needs, the proactive moments stood out. One person shared how they had a great memory of getting a glass of water during a stressful check-in situation. The little things make a world of difference — and it doesn’t have to be expensive or cost anything! They also recommended playing to your strengths; no matter where you’re providing service, do it well. The key takeaway was to leverage every opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.

What makes a negative experience and how can we avoid that?

No brand sets out with the intention of providing poor service. The group had a theory: the root of some of the bad service out there is caused by agents treating customers as if they are tired of hearing from them. This must be addressed, as it potentially impacts every contact center. If your customer is contacting you about an issue that is new to them, but repetitive to you, how do you make this interaction feel fresh and unique? As customers, these leaders wished they had been asked for feedback. A piece of advice from this group: don’t assume you know your customers’ goals and challenges — ask them! Surveys are a great way to do this. The key takeaway was that first impressions stick and agents must be engaged and empathetic with each customer, every time.

To bot or not to bot — what works and what doesn’t?

The thought leaders who participated in the bot discussion started by asking a simple question: How transparent are you with the customer about leveraging a bot? While some wanted to keep their bot undercover, many shared that transparency helps set expectations. Bots should be there to make the customer’s effort lower, not higher. If your customer encounters a bot that makes their lives more difficult, they will know that you added a bot to cut costs, not to serve them. You must make your bot experience as easy as possible for your customers and your agents. Once you’ve evaluated the effort from your customer’s perspective ask yourself these three questions: How can a bot help with a personalized experience? How do we create a more personalized service across all channels? How does what we do on the phone impact other areas of the contact center? This group’s key takeaway was that technology should not be introduced arbitrarily, but to lend itself to low effort experiences.

“If someone has to contact me, there is already an issue. But this issue gives us an opportunity to make a magical experience and create a win for our customer — and it doesn’t have to be expensive, just effortless!”

At the end of our discussion, Brooke summed up the top takeaways from the hour in these four points:

  • Find ways to reduce effort
  • Make it new every time (#winning!)
  • Do what you do and do it well
  • Expand agent’s bandwidth to delight and surprise

With these guidelines in mind, your contact center can increase focus on creating connections with customers. This can be accomplished with digital technology, not in spite of it. If you’d like to learn more about how digital messaging can improve customer satisfaction, increase agent happiness, and improve your contact center’s ROI, please send us a note. We look forward to hearing from you and sharing more insights!


Originally published at www.sparkcentral.com on October 26, 2017.