It’s the fundamental driver of your organization’s Customer Experience. Ignore it at your peril. EMBRACE it, and you’ll prosper.
In the late 19th century, the legendary American entrepreneur Marshall Field forever transformed the retail landscape — and single-handedly invented the concept of customer service — when he famously declared to the staff of his eponymous Chicago department store, “Give the lady what she wants!” More than 100 years later, Field’s simple formula for business success is still profoundly effective.
It’s also never been more difficult to deliver on.
A constantly expanding universe of choices has made consumers smarter, savvier and far less tolerant of subpar quality and service. And while increased CS automation has added efficiencies, slashed costs and provided a certain degree of convenience for customers, there is a downside to self-service. Sometimes, you need to talk to a real person. By the time a customer in that position has run through the number-pressing gauntlet and finally made contact with a live agent, they’re often exhausted, confused and just plain mad.
Even more significantly, exactly what a customer wants isn’t always easy to identify — not only for agents, but also for customers themselves. A customer may ostensibly be calling to resolve a billing error or order a product. But in any customer/agent conversation, there’s a deeper level of need at play. This need has nothing to do with product and everything to do with personality. And if your call center isn’t equipped to accommodate it, you could be risking revenue, retention, reputation and much, much more.
Conversations in call centers are no different than conversations in any other area of life: they’re better when those involved have a good connection. And, just as in everyday life, “better” means different things to different people.
In general, people align with one of four major personality types: Emotions, Opinions, Thoughts and Reactions. Each one of these types has its own way of expressing itself and of wanting to be treated, including preferences that are communicated to others through things like word choice, tone and syntax.
Most of us aren’t consciously aware of either projecting or receiving these “advertisements.” We simply know that we click with some people, but not with others, and automatically form our conversations and relationships accordingly. In the typical call center, that control is lost. Callers and agents are forced at random into what are really mini relationships, with potentially disastrous consequences.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way. In this, as with so many other things, technology has arrived to save the day. Highly sophisticated linguistics-based algorithms have been developed to analyze customers’ call data and identify their individual personality type. That identification remains attached to a customer’s phone number, following them into call centers that have implemented a software solution to optimize it.
Some of today’s biggest and most service-heavy companies are already deploying this solution. As they’ve discovered, pairing personalities in the call center has the potential to be massively beneficial, influencing virtually every critical metric. Here are five reasons why:
1. You make a great first impression: Every customer goes into a call hoping for a good experience and outcome. Precisely what that means for them, however, depends largely on their personality type. That’s where things can start to come apart. Even a fairly specific expectation such as “politeness” can vary widely at the granular level. What resonates with one type can be offensive to another. Imagine the reception you’d get if you greeted Warren Buffet with a hearty, “What’s up, bro?!” and you begin to get the picture.
In those critical first few moments, it’s important to set the stage for the smooth, mutually satisfying interaction everyone wants. Aligning customers with agents who recognize and respond to their definition of good service — whether that means being warm and nurturing, prompt and efficient, or respectful and results-oriented — can help to set both of them up for a successful call.
2. Your agents get off the phone sooner: Average talk time (ATT) is a metric near and dear to the heart of every call center’s operations. When agent/customer personalities conflict, that metric rises for the simple reason that mismatches create a very real language barrier. A customer is using a specific set of words to communicate his or her needs; the agent is using a completely different set of words to respond. Negotiating that miscommunication can pile precious minutes onto a call, all while the customer’s blood pressure skyrockets and their satisfaction plummets.
Agents and customers who understand each other’s personality language have naturally shorter conversations. And when ATT goes down, the financial benefits are significant. In an average 300-seat call center, for example, just a one-second decrease in monthly ATT can translate into a dollars-and-cents savings equivalent of as much as one full-time agent’s salary. Companies using personality-based call routing have seen monthly ATT reductions of well more than 100 seconds. It adds up — fast.
3. Your agents are also happier: The notoriously high turnover rate many call centers experience is understandable. It’s tough to spend hours and hours a day being yelled at and criticized, feeling like you’re not doing your job well. However, agents who primarily serve customers with whom they have a positive connection feel understood, appreciated, valued and satisfied. That’s a recipe for a motivated and content employee, while also significantly lowering hiring and training costs.
4. You win the long game (even if you lose a round): Call center agents are trained to solve the problem a customer presents to them, and rightfully so. But if a customer’s personality needs aren’t met, chances are they’ll walk away with a negative impression of the conversation, and your organization, even if their transactional needs are met.
What’s at stake here is the most important success measure of all: lifetime value. With a myriad of other companies vying for their business, customers don’t need to stick with one that makes them feel bad, mad or undervalued — and they won’t.
What’s more, in the age of social media, a single negative experience can be detailed and broadcast to millions, dealing a potentially devastating blow to your business. The 2014 Comcast debacle may be one of the more highly publicized examples of this, but it happens constantly, every single day.
On the other hand, when a customer feels listened to and valued, he or she is much more likely to maintain a positive impression of you, regardless of the actual call outcome. And, if you’re really doing it right….
5. You create customer evangelists: The flipside of a tweet or Facebook post that broadcasts disappointment is one that lavishes praise. A happy customer who is also socially plugged in —and these days, more and more customers are — can be as wonderful for your company’s name and numbers as an unhappy one can be damaging to them. They can put a positive message about you in front of hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, even millions of people — all without you spending a dime of your marketing budget.
Success in business ultimately comes down to satisfying the deep human need to be heard and understood. Organizations that leverage new technologies to meet that fundamental need in their call centers are innovating and defining CS/CX standards for our generation — and scooping up the customers, employees and profits of those that fail to keep pace.
— Jason Wesbecher is Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Mattersight (www.mattersight.com), which offers a proprietary set of personality-based SaaS applications that help businesses have more effective, more effortless conversations with their customers.
Wesbecher has spent close to two decades holding sales, marketing and executive positions within the B2B SaaS market. As an entrepreneur, he most recently founded and served as CEO of Docket, a sales enablement software company backed by Austin Ventures and First Round Capital. Prior to founding Docket, he helped guide Jive Software through an IPO as the leader of the strategic accounts, federal and LATAM teams. Previously he has held sales leadership positions at eLoyalty, Siebel Systems, TIBCO Software and Trilogy. Wesbecher holds a BA in Economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He is active within the Austin start-up ecosystem and frequently contributes to Entrepreneur Magazine and Huffington Post. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.