Useful Advice for
Contact Center Managers
This month’s Challenge Solved addresses a question that reflects one of today’s top concerns for contact center leaders. We hope our response stimulates some new ideas for you and your team. Also, thank you to Dina Vance, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, North American Operations at Ulysses Learning, for sharing her fascinating insights and recent research findings from Ulysses’ behavioral scientists.
Have your question answered in an upcoming Challenge Solved advice column. Email your question to: ChallengeSolved@ulysseslearning.com
Q: I feel like we will not go back to pre-pandemic times in our contact center. It’s clear that our customers’ expectations have changed and it seems our contact center is experiencing more challenges with each passing day! What’s your take on this and what can we do to keep our people engaged, achieve our business results, and deliver exceptional service in an efficient and effective manner?
Our featured expert for this month’s question is:
Senior Vice President, Managing Director of North American Operations at Ulysses Learning
A: Take heart! I think you are quite astute in your observation that customer expectations have changed. Let me share a quick story with you about when I had my realization that the world of customer service has, indeed, evolved. A couple of years ago, I was in my car waiting for my Popeyes’ chicken sandwich order and ironically, looked into the neighboring parking lot of Chick-fil-A and noticed they had a long line of cars in their drive through, while I was sitting in a line of one—me. Now Popeye’s offers a great sandwich, too, so I was wondering why was I the only one at Popeye’s?
After some research, the answer became apparent. You see customer expectations were shifting from good customer service (good product, timely and professionally given) to good customer experience (memorable, easy to do business and a “step above”). People were choosing Chick-fil-A because everyone knows their associates are well trained (“My pleasure.”), offer additional perks (“Would you like Polynesian sauce?”), and personable (instead of talking into a box, there is a live person to take your order). This made me think about how our solutions need to stay relevant for the changing times.
I share this story with you because it can be a wonderful springboard to dive deeper into new strategies and tactics that could set your contact center on a new course for even greater success. Just over two years ago, our team began a series of conversations with clients and each other designed to ensure that we were delivering the optimal customer experience to our clients and to feed this information into our strategic plan. Our goal was to leave no stone unturned as we dug into every aspect of our business to ensure our solutions were relevant for the changing times. At the same time, the pandemic began to take hold, and, quite frankly, accelerated our planning. It also helped us gain a level of clarity, which, looking back, has been a silver lining for us.
Here are a few of our guiding strategies which we’ve been told by many of our clients have resulted in enhancements that are making a real difference in their contact centers today. These strategies may also give you some food for thought as you ponder new ideas for your contact center.
#1 We challenged the validity of our eight-step Conversation Strategy
Since our inception, our behavioral scientist team regularly validates and revalidates Ulysses’ eight-step Conversation Strategy. However, since it is the core component of our training, we wanted to really rip the strategy apart by thoroughly testing what happens when you start to take steps out of the model. We learned two important findings. First of all, how you execute the eight steps doesn’t matter as long as you follow the framework in an emotionally intelligent way, and second, the eight steps not only still hold water, they are also all essential if your goal is to consistently achieve positive customer experience results.
In the process of evaluating the strategy, what we found particularly interesting was that as customer expectations shifted (which happened rather dramatically and quickly during the pandemic), providing good service was no longer good enough. In fact, what many of us previously thought was good service, turned out to be a “minimum” level of service. What we found out is, since customers now expect more, a multi-step conversation framework is more important than ever because the stakes are even higher. AND, ultimately, what mattered most to customers is how they felt about the service they received, which directly influenced whether or not they would continue to come back to a company and bring their friends. (This also just happens to be a key driver leading many contact centers to now place a healthy focus on raising their overall Net Promoter Score.)
#2 We challenged ourselves to help clients make even stronger connections to EQ-building best practices.
For years, we used what we referred to as Judgment@Work to further help guide a successful customer service conversation. Think of Judgment@Work as an overlay of activities that reps can put into action after learning the eight conversation steps. The general premise of Judgment@Work is that once reps felt comfortable using the basic eight steps, they would use their own “judgment” to make the steps their own.
Over the years we realized that some, not all, reps struggled a bit with the judgment piece. As such, another important part of our three-year strategic plan was to, again, dig in deep to research and review exactly how the Judgment@Work overlay was being executed by reps and organizations achieving high Net Promotor Scores (NPS). Because NPS is such a wonderful indicator of exceptional customer experience, we wanted to point the lens of our research camera there.
What we observed was a very compelling picture. We found that these top-performing client organizations had a large percentage of team members demonstrating a high level of emotional intelligence on their calls and in their interactions with each other.
They fully embraced Ulysses’ “4-B” response method (Be Aware. Be Calm. Be Respectful. Be Forgiving), which helps individuals be more self-aware—the foundation of EQ or emotional intelligence—when responding to customers and each other. The 4-Bs are now newly embedded in all ServiceMentor training modules and some client teams even participated in our advanced EQ workshops. Clients tell us that these proven methods to raise emotional intelligence have helped strengthen team and customer bonds as measured through NPS. They have found there is, indeed, a positive correlation between lifts in team members’ EQ and lifts in overall NPS ratings.
But we didn’t stop there. We then went through each of the interactive computer simulations, which are the focal point of ServiceMentor, and really scrutinized each scenario and, where needed, revised the content to boost learners’ EQ even further by helping them use the eight-step Conversation Strategy as a framework to develop skills to empathize with others, build stronger customer bonds, and improve team dynamics with confidence, consistency, and excellence. We now call this approach the Framework With Freedom©. Oh, and we updated the navigation, as well as look and feel of the training, which further supported the enhancements and strengthened learner engagement.
#3 We challenged ourselves to deepen our client relationships even further.
While the pandemic did bring its fair share of chaos, we worked diligently and in new ways to engage with our clients, providing them added value far beyond what most “training” companies provide. During these past two years, we got in the mix and got messy (with so many interruptions and new challenges flying at our contact center clients, we took an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to be there for them). And, when clients were open to it, we got very involved in creating business solutions that not only helped them survive the beginning of the pandemic but created an environment where their contact centers could thrive going forward.
These three strategies can be applied to your contact center in one way or another as you continue to consider your question and its implications. If you’re ready to talk more about this communication or want to tap into our insights on other issues, we are always here for you with open ears and a true desire to see you succeed.
About Dina Vance
Senior Vice President, Managing Director of North American Operations at Ulysses Learning
In her current capacity with Ulysses Learning, Dina is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company and also serves as the chief client relationship executive, working with Fortune 100 clients and other progressive organizations to redefine the way customers are cared for. Under her leadership, Ulysses has become well known for its work in transforming customer service, sales and coaching cultures through the development of emotional intelligence or “EQ,” enabling reps to confidently, consistently and expertly handle every call. The company has special expertise in serving the insurance, utilities, and financial services industries.
Before joining Ulysses in 1999, Dina was responsible for the ground-level startup of two contact centers which led to her accepting a role as call center lead consultant and division manager for an international bank training organization.
Dina can be reached on LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org; for more details on Ulysses Learning visit www.ulysseslearning.com.
Challenge Solved! is sponsored by:
Ulysses Learning was founded in 1995 as a joint venture with Northwestern University’s world renown Learning Sciences department. Since then, Ulysses’ continued focus on research and development has earned it prestigious awards and recognition and, most importantly, the respect from its clients who rely on Ulysses for innovative performance improvement solutions that change with their rapidly developing and evolving environments.
Contact centers achieve profound business results ahead of schedule with Ulysses Learnings’ artful blend of patented simulation-based e-learning, facilitated exercises, coaching, and technology-driven tools, that redefine the way customers are cared for and transform customer service, sales, and coaching cultures. Ulysses has one of the only training systems proven to build EQ with its proprietary Framework with Freedom© approach, enabling reps to develop skills to empathize with others, build stronger customer bonds, and improve team dynamics with confidence, consistency, and excellence.
Ulysses Learning is a multi-year recipient of the Gold Stevie© Award for best contact center customer service training.
Begin your contact center transformation now. Phone 800-662-4066 or visit ulysseslearning.com to get started.