Training, Money Needed for Agents

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Let's begin by talking about money.


Money spent in business is an investment, and your most valuable investment is your employees. Your customer service representatives are the link between you and your customers. Your success is the result of their success. You will not be successful if they cannot perform.


But how many companies take their extra money and put it toward wooing new customers as opposed to additional training for customer service reps to ensure satisfaction among their existing clients? Unfortunately, too many companies ignore the importance of the people who really make a difference in the profitability of the company - their customer service reps.


For example, Motorola Inc. realized a $33 return on every $1 spent on formal training programs. That's a 3,300 percent return. Of course if the government ever got wind of that, we'd all be in trouble.


Another example of the power of a good training program was a study conducted by Nolan, Norton & Co., Netherlands. Its study showed that employees who received nine to 12 hours of formal training and spent an additional 28 hours applying that training were 70 percent more productive than reps who spent the same 40 hours trying to figure it out on their own.


Let's look at those reps who did not receive the additional training.


Do you think they have the skills to handle difficult, angry or irate customers? Can they recognize an upselling or cross-selling opportunity? I don't think so. And when the customer gets off the phone, is he satisfied or does he feel frustrated?


Training is not the panacea; it's not the be-all and end-all. However, by introducing soft skills, in addition to product knowledge and technical training, you can increase your customer satisfaction rates and add dollars to your bottom line. What are the skills that should be taught and reinforced that will make a difference in the quality of your calls? And why should you incorporate these skills into your training modules?


You do not need to look very far. Think about the last time you were confused about one of your bills and called the toll-free number. The person on the other end of the phone was certainly pleasant, but did he really understand your concerns, your specific needs, and did he provide you with the information you needed? Probably not, so always try to include the following key training areas in your customer service reps' programs:


o Active listening.


o Acknowledge the customer's response.


o Open-ended and closed-ended questions.


o Understanding the personality type that is coming across the phone.


o Steps to follow when dealing with an angry or frustrated customer.


Now that you are aware of the importance of reinforcing soft skills, here are some techniques and tips to help you do that.


Active listening. Remind your reps that there are only two things they can do on the phone - hearing (listening) and speaking. They must hear what the customers tell them if they want to help them. But how often are your reps looking at how many calls are in queue or what they're going to have for lunch and simply assume they know customers' needs?


Here's an exercise that highlights the problem: Ask for two volunteers. Ask them to sit or stand back to back. Ask one rep to describe to the other how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. How accurate are the directions? You probably would not want to eat this sandwich.


When we only have our ears to depend on (no body language or eye contact), it's very easy for something to come out of our mouths and be misinterpreted, and we do not realize it.


What can you do? Always acknowledge your customers, either by paraphrasing back their comments or through acknowledging words, e.g., "OK," "I see," etc. That way your reps have verified that they have heard what was said accurately and clearly.


Open-ended and closed-ended questions. Remind your reps that even though they speak to many customers with similar concerns, it's important to ask a balance of open-ended and closed-ended questions.


Here's an exercise that highlights the problem: Ask for a volunteer. Ask the volunteer to think of a secret. Ask the class to guess the secret by only asking closed-ended questions.


How long does it take to guess the secret by only asking closed-ended questions?


Unfortunately, most reps ask only closed-ended questions of their customers and, therefore, their call times tend to be long.


What can you do? Ask your reps to write out at least three open-ended questions that can be used on most calls and be sure you hear both types of questions when you monitor.


The following are steps to take when dealing with a frustrated customer:


• Recognize the customer's personality type (refer to any material by Myers Briggs).


• Try to lower your volume (your frustrated customer is probably yelling).


• Try to slow down your pace (your frustrated customer is probably speaking quickly).


• Paraphrase back your customers' concern so they know you've heard them.


• Repeat the customer's name to personalize the call.


We know that quality is a journey, not a destination. Even though there is no finish line, there has to be a starting point. The starting point in this process is to include and reinforce soft skills into your training curriculums.


Author and consultant Warren Bennis once said, "The factory of the future will have two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment."


Unless this fits your corporate vision, the need for ongoing soft-skills training cannot be ignored. There is always room for improvement on the bottom line, and stepping up training will not only provide you with additional dollars but also happier customers.
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