Friday, 9 March 2012

Frontline Service Employees Building Rapport – To script or not to script?

Within the consumer services industry a great deal of emphasis is placed upon the ability of operatives to build rapport with consumers. Rapport is a vital constituent of consumer service and building relationships, although equally important is to ensure consistency of communications and messaging for brand reasons. This often results in arguments both for and against the use of scripts in consumer interactions.

It is my belief that consistent and positive consumer experiences are what make a successful contact centre. I also believe that scripted conversations are unhelpful and that empowering consumer service agents to conduct operations without scripts is a priority if positive consumer experiences are to be delivered. Put simply, the robotic conversations that result from scripts should be avoided; instead natural interactions should be the mainstay of consumer communication.

Achieving this however can be a challenge. Rapport is easy enough to build in a face to face situation, over the phone it is a much more difficult proposition. Fortunately there are some techniques that can be employed to help contact centre agents to build rapport through natural conversation, not by using scripts:

• Even over the phone a smile has a huge impact upon the way we interact. It may be an old adage that “smile and the whole world smiles with you” but in consumer service this is advice worth heeding. Smiling helps to subconsciously promote friendly, approachable and familiar conversation and should be encouraged.

• Any operative worth their salt understands the importance of listening to their caller and recognising their emotional drivers. Your operatives should be tapping into their callers’ mindset, asking “Why are they calling?” “What problem can I help them solve?” to ensure helpful and productive discourse.

• Conversation goes much deeper than simply the words we use, instead interactions (particularly telephone interactions) are based upon the tone, pace, volume and inflections used. By considering, understanding and using these conversational traits effectively it is possible to show the consumer a caring, supporting and warm side that helps to build rapport.

• Rapport can also be built using ‘clean language,’ the process of using the same words as the caller during conversations. By communicating using the caller’s language it is easier to build understanding and empathy, which in turn can rapidly result in positive rapport.

Whilst I am not arguing that scripts should be done away with completely (scripts can be extremely helpful for agents when guiding callers through a step by step process) these techniques work best when operatives are freed from the constraints of scripted responses. This greater flexibility fosters conversations that flow through and around subjects, creating more natural dialogue in turn.

Understandably inbound and outbound callers have different objectives and as such the techniques may be adapted to suit these different objectives. The principles of building rapport however will remain, for example if a caller phones with a specific technical issue, an agent would follow the procedures but use language such as “let’s try and get to the bottom of this for you” appealing to the caller’s emotional driver whilst encouraging natural conversation through unscripted and positive language.

Ultimately, building rapport with consumers is essential at every interaction, whether it is inbound or outbound and whatever the subject. Key to achieving this is to choose the right language but importantly, to approach in the correct manner using tone, volume and inflection to create a bond and foster productive relationships. If this approach is maintained it is possible to have consistent and effective consumer services based upon honest, organic and amenable discourse, not a predefined script.

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