Smart Ways to Improve Every Relationship with Soft Skills Training
Everyone says dumb things from time to time. They fail to listen to important details or respond to certain questions. They accidentally miss a particularly telling tone of voice. It happens to everyone. These little slip-ups may only make you cringe when you catch yourself committing a faux-pas like that with a friendly neighbor or the coffee barista. However, the consequences are a much bigger deal in the business world, especially in customer care situations.
Call center agents should be held to a higher standard. They often communicate with customers at the worst of times – when something has gone wrong. If they fail to listen effectively and communicate empathetically, your customers might not feel like they are getting the best service. Your company could suffer. Soft skills are a sure way to remedy this issue.
What are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are interpersonal talents that help people communicate more effectively. They include the ability to listen and to make oneself understood, regardless of differences in communication styles or abilities. Some attributes, like empathy, may be innate, but soft skills can be taught and improved.
Being careful about sentence bookends is one of the most important soft skills you can learn. “Sentence bookends are the little things we say before or after a sentence that can either help frame it or make it annoying,” says Greg Alcorn, CEO of GCS and author of “7 Dumb Things We All Say: Smart Ways to Improve Every Relationship. “For example, if you go to someone and say, ‘hey, let’s talk about your resume’, that statement leaves them guessing about what you want. It could make them anxious. But if you say, ‘I’ve got two questions about your resume,’ then you have framed your need and they now know what to expect.”
We can also talk about the annoying bookends, like when people start statements with, “Hey you know what?” You can’t say anything else but “What?” Done repeatedly, that is annoying and frustrating. That is an example of a pre-sentence bookend.
There are also post-sentence ones. Ending sentences with “right?” is one example. Doing that too much is annoying for the other person and makes them feel bullied into agreeing with what you say, instead of giving them the opportunity to contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way.
Soft skills training helps people recognize when they are using inappropriate sentence bookends and teaches them ways to speak more effectively.
Asking Meaningful Questions
Knowing the right type of question to ask and when is also important. Asking an open-ended question gives the other person a chance to elaborate on ideas or concepts, share stories, and make a connection. However, there are times when you need to ask a close-ended question because this type of query gives you a single, definitive answer.
For instance, if you are working a helpline and you want to find out what occurred when a customer attempted to return a product in-store, you might say, “What happened?” However, when you need specifics, such as confirmation of what the store clerk said, the date of the attempted return, or the reason for the return, these require close-ended questions so that you get single, actionable answers. Knowing when to ask which type of question is a big part of soft skills because it helps you be empathetic and connect with the other person while finding out the information you need in order to be helpful in resolving the situation.
Finally, there is the issue of gratitude. “Gratitude begets gratitude,” says Alcorn. “The equation should be one to one. We teach our call center agents to always acknowledge a thank you.”
Alcorn first realized the power of gratitude when listening on an agent’s call with a customer named Maria. She had called in to make travel reservations and spoke with a GCS agent. The call lasted approximately 10 minutes. Maria was a person of gratitude. She said, “Thank you” – a lot. Alcorn noticed that while the agent always responded to her words, he never really acknowledged her gratitude. When Maria said, “Thank you,” the agent would say one of the following: “No problem;” “No worries;” “It was nothing;” and, “It was the least I could do.”
“Those phrases used by that customer service agent in response to Maria’s ‘Thank you’ changed my viewpoint of what to do with a thank you,” says Alcorn. “Maria was expressing her gratitude for the agent’s help, yet our agent was dismissing her appreciation. Instead, we wanted our agent to acknowledge Maria’s thankfulness. That same day, we told all of our employees – at that point, it was almost 1,000 – that the only appropriate response to ‘Thank you’ is ‘You’re welcome.’ It is the most powerful thing to do in that moment.”
How Can This Help Your Agents?
At GCS, we provide soft skills training for all of our agents. We have a proprietary program to help them improve their capacity to empathize and quickly connect with customers. We train on the correct use of vocal inflection - even when NOT to talk. Unlike many other training programs, this one involves regular sessions so that agents have the chance to continuously better their abilities to connect with customers.
With our agents we also offer regular feedback and follow-up. Some of this involves our managers and supervisors observing agent interactions, but we find that it is even more useful to have agents review their own calls. They tend to be more critical about script delivery, listening ability, and questioning skills – and they improve their soft skills exponentially more than if they had only had a single training on the subject.
Soft skills are the building blocks of customer service. While some people may be born more empathetic than others, soft skills are something you can all learn and improve. At GCS, we provide soft skills training to help our agents to communicate more effectively by being careful about their word selection, asking meaningful questions, and meeting gratitude with gratitude.
Let us help you establish soft skills training for your call center. Contact GCS today to learn more.