Your ability to do your job - and do it well - depends on the standards set by yourself, or those that have been set for the call center. In this article, we'll talk about this, as well as training customer service representatives (including call center agents), and the constant need for the call center employee to adapt to changing situations and responsibilities.
Training and Retaining Call Center Agents and CSRs
Training and retaining call center agents and CSRs is the main responsibility of any employer. However, it's important for any call center agent to also understand their responsibility in this field. As a CRS or call center agent working in any environment, (and most especially those who work on the phone), it's up to you to utilize the learning materials and tools you are given in order to do your job effectively and efficiently.
Training for a customer service job requires more than learning how to answer a telephone or address a complaint. You must set both personal standards, and follow standards determined by company managers. Call center standards will tell you, or your employees, what is expected in regard to quality.
Standards can range from basic telephone and in-person manners -- such as a positive attitude, a smile, and the ability to work a computer, a cash register, or a call center switchboard. Productivity and goals are also important. For example, some call centers, encourage call center employees to satisfactorily deal with customer issues in five minutes or less. Of course, sometimes this time constraint is not possible, but it's a goal or standard a company has set, designed to provide excellent and timely customer service.
Standards for customer service must be set as business goals and/or values of an organization. These standards are defined in company procedures, policies, and standard guidelines, which should always be accessible to employees. Determining a baseline of service not only provides direction and instruction to a call center agent or customer service representative, but also gives you an opportunity to aim higher in regard to services.
In a nutshell, customer service standards should, at the very least, define what the customers might need, want, and may be willing to pay for. At the same time, you need to evaluate your competition. Standards and goals, results and drawbacks should be measurable.
For example, a measurable standard could include statements such as:
- 90 percent of call center customer issues, complaints, or inquiries will be taken care of within five minutes.
- Product return processing and credits will be posted to customer accounts within three business days.
- Issues regarding services or products worth X amount will be taken care of within two business days.
Other performance measurement tools might include surveys regarding customer satisfaction. These can be assessed by analyzing data regarding resolution rates, customer retention rates, and survey answers.
As a call center agent or customer service representative, your satisfaction with your job may also be measured. The most common standards of measurement for employers include employee retention and turnover rates, as well as survey results.
In a nutshell, training a call center agent or customer service representative starts by defining the guidelines under which they must work. Employers must take into consideration the generation gap when it comes to employees, just as it does with customers. Adequate and effective call center agent and customer service training is essential in all business industries. In order to enhance such training, it's important to:
- Make sure all call center agents or customer service representatives understand basic standards and guidelines of the company for whom they work.
- The training of new employees must offer adequate familiarity and "comfort levels" for the new employee. Leaving a new employee to sink or swim before they feel ready is one of the most prevalent causes for staff turnover in the customer service and call center fields.
- Be quick to answer questions or issues that a call center agent or customer service representative may have regarding direct customer service, solutions, and compromises.
By insuring that a customer service representative or call center agent knows and understands what is expected of them, how to do their job, and is familiar with a variety of scenarios, employers will ensure reduced staff turnover. Retaining call center agents saves business owners thousands of dollars in training and retraining costs.
As a call center agent or customer service representative, you have to be prepared for ever-changing demands regarding your position and responsibilities. Business owners expect a lot from you, and may or may not offer benefits, overtime, or formal training.
However, it's important for all call center agents and home-based telephone service employees to realize their importance for the company. You're often the first person a customer talks to, whether they're happy or upset. The demand for call center employees is on the rise.
Consistently improve your ability to communicate effectively.
- Work with little or no direct supervision.
- Cooperate and work with others through the supply chain or business environment, even though you have no direct contact with those individuals.
- Work 20 to 40 hours a week in a variety of environments (home, cubicle, or office with other call center agents or employees around you).
- Occasionally work overtime, nights, or weekend hours.
- Consistently deal with customers who have issues, or who are angry or upset.
As a call center employee, you may face varying amounts of stress on a daily basis. It's your responsibility to know when you've had enough, and when it's time to take a break. This job requires you to sit for long hours, and you may find your hands, fingers and arms grow tired working at a computer station all day.
You also need to know how to ask for help or support if, and when, you need it. Talk to your co-workers. If you work alone in a home-based environment, find forum boards or other ways to communicate with other home-based customer service providers to vent, laugh, or even cry with frustration on occasion.
Keep in mind that through hard work and determination, you, as a call center agent, will learn the skills that may help you enter different job arenas including sales, administrative and human resources departments, if that's what you choose. Many entry-level customer service representatives and call center agents are perfectly content to do what they do on a daily basis. Regardless, never forget your responsibilities as a customer service representative.
Whether you work as a self-employed independent contractor, or as a manager or director of a call center, understanding how to manage your environment is essential for success.
Dealing With Stress
Every job comes with stress. That said, there is a difference between positive stress and negative stress. Stress is a part of our everyday lives -- at home, school, and work. Nevertheless, each of you has the potential and the responsibility for managing your stress levels.
As a call center agent or representative, accept the fact that stress will be a part of your everyday life. Positive stress keeps you on your toes, efficient, and capable of handling issues proficiently and effectively. However, negative stress can engender feelings that lead to a lack of control, a lack of confidence or self-esteem.
How do you deal with negative stress? Try these tips:
- Don't spend your time worrying over things you have no power to change. Instead, focus on things you can change, or that are productive.
- Set daily or weekly goals. Negativity is a downer. Instead of focusing on everything you didn't get done today, focus on what you did. If you're unhappy with one or two aspects of your job as a call center agent, determine the root cause of the problem and try to do something to turn that problem around.
- Resolve issues. Your job as a call center agent is to solve issues, problems, or complaints from customers. Take the same approach when you have a problem with a peer, manager, or an employer.
Protect yourself from emotional exhaustion and burnout.
- As a call center agent or customer service representative, don't take complaints made by customers personally. They're frustrated, but not at you.
- Do your best to leave a tough day at your computer or workstation behind you at the end of your shift. This applies to home-based call center agents, as well as those who work in a traditional business environment.
- Talk to your peers, your manager, or friends and family regarding particularly stressful events, while at the same time protecting your customers' right to privacy and confidentiality.
In the workplace, follow a few tips to help deal with stress. For example:
- Take care of yourself, physically, emotionally, and mentally.
- Don't feel as if you have to be perfect. At the same time, resist the urge to control everything - you can't control how a client or customer feels at the other end of the line, but you can control how you react to it.
- Practice positive thinking, rather than negative thinking. When you're feeling doubtful, inadequate, or helpless, focus on the positive aspects of your character.
Resolving conflict with customers can be challenging. Practicing problem-solving techniques and conflict resolution will help you become a better call center agent. Remember to focus on customer conflict or complaint issues by focusing on the needs of the customer. Remember that customers complain for a reason. The top five reasons that customers complain include:
- Poor product quality or service
- Lower prices found somewhere else
- Lack of knowledge or ability to fix a problem by a call center agent
- Inadequate options for customer solutions to specific issues or problems
- Inflexible company policy that prevents satisfactory resolution of complaints
Other complaints by customers following contact with call center agents include the inability of a representative to solve problems, as well as slow response times by a call center agent who doesn't seem to care about the problem. Each of these issues can alienate customers and damage business.
Continually practice problem-solving techniques, whether you're new at the business or you've been doing it for years. Remember that effective listening skills are not the only techniques you need as a CSR or call center agent. Here are a few tips you can use to enhance your problem-solving skills:
- Look at the situation from a variety of different angles or perspectives
- Focus on the main issue and not the anger expressed by a customer
- Determine the major or root cause of a problem as soon as possible
To be an effective, efficient, and highly valued call center agent or customer service representative, you need to approach problems systematically and analytically. Of course, it's important to have top-notch customer service skills, as well. Your ability to not only solve issues, but also deal with the customer's personal feelings, is the mark of an excellent call center agent.
Studies have shown that nearly 100 percent of customers with a complaint will return to that business or service if their problem is resolved immediately, and in their favor. When problem-solving with the customer:
- Maintain your composure. Be flexible in providing solutions and pay attention to the issue at hand.
- Put yourself in your customer's shoes and see how you would feel about the issue. Express genuine concern regarding the problem and offer reasonable suggestions or solutions to resolve the issue.
- Ask questions of the customer to get to the root of the problem. Be open to their criticism.
- Be friendly and personable, but firm when negotiating solutions. Don't take comments made by a customer personally.
- Do your best to resolve the problem and let the customer know what you will try to do to make sure the situation doesn't occur again.
Bottom line - be accessible to each and every customer regarding his or her problem. Take responsibility for it, even if it's not your fault. Apologize on behalf of the company, without blaming any one person specifically. Explain the company's policies and then make a commitment to follow through with solutions or suggestions for satisfactory resolution of the problem.
Effective communication with others, whether in person or over a phone line, requires a certain degree of motivation. As a customer service representative or call center agent, your tone of voice and your attitude must be motivated toward serving the needs of the customer.
When speaking to someone on the phone, you can tell whether they're interested, angry, or bored, can't you? The same goes for your contact with customers. Yes, motivation matters. Your ability to provide the best in services in a short matter of time can be the difference between a return customer, a dissatisfied customer, and ultimately, negative feedback by customers.
Try to create a work environment that not only offers you the ability to do your best with your job, but one that benefits customers, as well. A person who is motivated can build a spirit of trust and loyalty between themselves and the customer. Staying focused on customer's needs lets the customer know that you do care about their feelings and suggestions.
Your ability to motivate yourself, your customers and your peers in a workplace environment demonstrates your interest in each and every one of them. Adapt communication methods and techniques based on the needs of each employee and customer.
In the "old days," customer service automatically created a vision of a person sitting behind a complaint desk, or a disinterested person at the other end of the phone line. Customer service today is interactive and comprehensive. Customer service in the 21st century requires a "human touch." That means understanding your customer as a human being, and taking pride in your ability to serve a customer properly and effectively the first time around.
We encourage students to continue learning how to provide and deal with customer service challenges. Take responsibility for your tone, actions, and solutions following a customer call and live up to your company's commitment to provide solutions as quickly as possible. Listen to your customers with sympathy, understanding, and empathy, and your efforts to keep them happy will stand you in good stead.