Are Call Centre Agents Becoming Call Centre Robots?
Managing emotions is the defining factor in client service. Getting the work done is paramount, but when a client is angry, confused, or lost, it’s the client service representatives’ ability to guide the client through these emotions that ultimately decides whether or not the service was any good. Managing emotions is what sets us humans apart from the robots. We are able to recognize and respond to another’s joy or distress.
So why do so many call centre agents get it wrong?
Before I started working in call centres I would have been first to jump on the ‘poor service’ bandwagon. If I had to engage with a call centre agent I expected the worst and generally my fears were justified. I found my experiences to be mechanical and devoid of human connection, and I accused call centre agents of being an uncaring bunch. Now, that may be the case for some, but it doesn’t paint the real truth.
Burnout aside, many call centre agents are hamstrung by a rigid legal and business mandate. The quality assessment processes they are forced to adhere too doesn’t allow them to follow a normal line of conversation. A client calls in with a story of frustration and the call centre agent responds by asking for the client’s account number. In this instance, the human need of the client gets lost to the verification need of the agent. If this interaction had to be described in personal terms it would go like this:
Wife: “I am so angry at you.”
Husband: “What is your ID number?”
When we don’t follow what’s being said then the conversation doesn’t make sense. While verification is an important step in the call process, the problem it creates is one where the agent starts serving the quality assessment form before they serve the client. Reasons cited are a fear of being penalized for not following protocol, and an unconscious script dependency – it’s easier to be robotic than engage in conscious dialogue.
For client service to take place these trends need to be reversed. In a world where automation (robotic interface) is fast supplanting the human element, it is the ability to manage emotions over and above adhering to a script that is going to set the human agent apart from the machine. Lose touch of this and client service becomes a distant and distorted reality.
Client service is people service. And we service people when we are able to listen to them and manage what they are telling us. We expect this in our private lives and that expectation is carried through into our working world. In the book Body Language In Business, it was said that doctors look more at patients when talking about emotional rather than physical symptoms or conditions. What this shows is that empathy towards another’s emotional experience is a natural human behaviour, call centre agents included. Avoidance of this and the human becomes the robot focused only on getting work done to the detriment people service.
With automation on the rise the last thing client service needs is more robots. And it’s not hard to be human; just listen and respond as a human would, the way we were born to do.