Traditionally the call centre industry has a bad reputation for hiring people and then throwing them in the deep end. It used to be that as long as you had a pulse you were hired, given a headset and shown to a cubicle with a script to start answering calls. No training, just a brief induction, then get on the phone and start talking. Answer calls, talk to customers and make them happy.

If only it were that simple. Communication is an art, especially when you are dealing with people that are angry, upset or impatient.

In a recent survey, 70% of contact centre managers admitted they didn’t provide regular soft skills training – training that would equip agents better to deal with emotive customers. This is ironic really because contact centres don’t often get calls when everything is going right, they get calls when things go wrong. So the chances are that most of the time customers are not happy when they call in. They have a problem and they want it fixed NOW!

The best kind of customer service

Think about the value of your brand and what the best possible customer service could be. The best service is silent service. It is when customers buy your product or service and it simply works. No hassle, no problems, it does everything it is supposed to and you never actually hear from your customers until they want to buy from you again.

It’s easy to talk to a happy customer, but if that’s all you’re training your contact centre agents for, who is really losing out? When things go wrong the first point of contact is the person who answers the customer care line. They have the power to make things better, to turn an angry customer around, even if it isn’t an easy task, it’s about customer retention.

I’ll admit I’m a little biased because I work in the contact centre training and have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of the industry. Working in an environment where people are angry all the time and taking it out on you can be very stressful. However, when you are equipped to handle it, it can be one of the most empowering and rewarding careers, because you get to make a positive impact in people’s lives. You get to turn around bad experiences and leave customers smiling.

Train for your brand

Ultimately on a strategic business level, upskilling your contact centre agents is really about protecting your brand.  The average customer can boost or damage your brand online more than they could in the past. A simple Facebook post complaining about your product or service could reach thousands of people around the world before you even have an opportunity to respond or are made aware of the issue. I believe that across industries, there needs to be far more investment in recruitment and training of customer service personnel, because those front line advisers now represent your brand globally, online, and to a lot of people.

Additionally, because of multi-channel customer service, agents now need to be more skilled to be able to communicate on various platforms. It’s no longer just about telephone skills. Live chat, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook require written communication skills that include good spelling and grammar. Social media channels also require a different type of communication that is less formal and more engaging and uses appropriate humour.

Today branding incorporates the customer experience as much as advertising and marketing. Increasingly the customer experience becomes the biggest part of the brand. Harley Davidson does this really well. When customers go into an outlet to buy a bike they get kitted out with a leather jacket and helmet so that they can have the true Harley experience that goes with owning a Harley. And it’s this experience, the feeling of belonging to an exclusive group of riders that ultimately sells the bike (and jacket and leathers).

True value of training

In a recent interview I commented that investing in customer service is really investing in existing customers, by solving their problems. Customer retention is low-hanging fruit compared to acquiring new customers, which is time consuming and expensive.

When you consider customer retention and start to add up the lifetime value of customers, suddenly customer service is seen in a new light and gains a whole lot more value.

The markets are changing and customers are changing. Personalization is becoming increasingly important. One size no longer fits all. Customers are tired of hearing a scripted response. People want that human engagement, empathy and solutions that work for them.

How will you empower your contact centre agents to deliver on this expectation? Training can make a difference. Customer service is the new brand ambassador and when front line teams are valued with comprehensive training and skills, your brand value grows.