Make Your Contact Center Emotionally Intelligent

Customer experience is both transactional and emotional. However, most contact centers do not pay enough attention to Emotional Intelligence (EI) in handling customer interactions. This article provides five ways to create emotionally intelligent contact centers.

1. Assess the Emotional State (ES) of the customer
Customer ES can be sensed through interactions in live and nonlive channels. Email management systems can parse incoming emails for explicit emotions by looking for certain words and phrases. Also, longer emails tend to imply high ES. Emotion-sensing is easier in live channels such as phone and chat. Moreover, "implicit" emotions can be mined through customer behaviors such as nonrenewal of contracts, decreasing volume of purchases, etc. Knowledge management technologies such as reasoning engines can help mine implicit customer ES by analyzing a combination of such customer behaviors.

2. Use an emotionally intelligent routing framework
The organization should establish a whole-brain approach for routing, based on right-brain customer ES and left-brain data such as the value of past transactions, the value of the transaction in progress, etc. -- classified broadly as "customer value." This data can be stored in customer service management systems or accessed from back-end systems through an open architecture.

It is also important to measure the Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ) of agents on an ongoing basis for EQ-based grouping. Furthermore, live or low-latency interaction channels such as phone and chat are more suitable for high-emotion situations, whereas nonlive channels may suffice for low-emotion ones. The routing framework needs to combine right-channeling and right-staffing with customer value and ES, so that queries are sent to the right channel and the right agent. Routing based on hard skills and customer-to-agent personality matching can further boost routing EI.

Consider the following framework for emotionally intelligent routing, dividing agents into three groups -- Genius (high-EQ), Average (medium-EQ agents that show promise) and Novice (any new agent).

  • High-value, high-emotion customers: Route to genius phone agents.
  • High-value, low-emotion customers: Route to genius or average agents on email or chat, depending on the business' emphasis on customer service. Greater service focus would warrant chat.
  • Low value, high-emotion customers: Route to average or even novice email agents or to self-service.
  • Low-value, low-emotion customers: Route to novice email agents or to self-service.

3. Implement tools to generate positive experiences and emotions
The most common causes of customer frustration with contact centers are being put on hold, getting transferred, getting mired in self-service black holes, being asked to repeat context, not getting the answer, getting inconsistent answers, etc.

Implementing a Customer Interaction Hub (CIH) with a common platform for multichannel customer service, knowledge bases, rules, analytics, and integrations can help avert high-emotion scenarios. A concept advocated by the research firm Gartner, the CIH approach dramatically improves contact center quality, consistency, and performance, while reducing operational costs and the system's total cost of ownership. Emotion-related data can be added to the CIH for consistent, emotionally intelligent routing across all channels.

4. Implement EQ-aligned metrics, policies, workflows, and controls
Applying EI to contact center metrics is uncommon. For instance, many organizations focus almost exclusively on throughput metrics, an approach that often defeats organizational goals and brand strategies, while completely ignoring customer ES. The last thing a contact center should do is to have a cursory conversation with a high-value, high-emotion customer! It's therefore important to manage the contact center with emotionally intelligent metrics.

Organizations can also increase their EQ by instituting clear service policies that can help defuse negative customer emotions. This includes giving refunds, replacing defective products, making exceptions, etc. These policies can be served to agents as "next best steps" by knowledge-base reasoning engines, depending on factors such as customer value and ES. In addition, EI can be built into processes by elevating service levels of high-value, high-emotion customers. For instance, the organization could implement alarm workflows that escalate such customers to high-priority queues sooner than later. Again, a reasoning engine, invoked in a service-oriented customer service architecture, can help automate workflow decisions in complex scenarios.

To insure agent EI, contact centers could implement controls such as forbidding certain words and phrases in agents' email and chat replies, while making it known that phone calls may be monitored randomly for quality and EI.

5. Emphasize attitude and EQ over aptitude when recruiting agents
Knowledge bases and customer interaction management tools can improve agent aptitude significantly. On the other hand, instilling the right attitude, which is closely related to EQ, is harder. With the availability of aptitude enhancement tools, businesses are better off focusing on attitude and EQ in agent recruitment. Furthermore, the organization should provide EI training to agents on an ongoing basis, ultimately redeploying low-EQ agents to more suitable roles, if any.

A final thought: EI is an area that is often overlooked in contact centers. Organizations that pay attention to EI will be able to profitably grow their businesses, while differentiating themselves through emotionally intelligent customer service.

About the Author
Anand Subramaniam is the vice president of global marketing for eGain, a leading provider of multichannel customer service and knowledge management software. Prior to eGain, he served in senior marketing, sales support and product management positions at companies such as Oracle, Lotus, Intel, and Autodesk.

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

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