As consumer expectations rise, businesses are increasingly focusing on building empathy in customer service interactions. With agents handling more complex queries, building a rapport with customers is vital to reassure them, improve the experience, and better meet their needs.

It may feel like a luxury to encourage agents to focus their full attention on the customer’s needs of the moment in each  interaction, instead of, say, checking their handling time is not blowing out, or that the queues are not overloading, and so on. But it is achievable as long as there is a strong CX infrastructure in place:

1. Filter out the repetitive enquiries

It is not just a waste of your most precious resource to use up their time in responding to easy enquiries – it actually winds up your customers too, if they have to hold on a line or wait in a chat queue in order to get a 5-word response from a live person. Research shows they would much rather just self-serve on your website for the easy stuff. You want to ensure that the interactions that arrive at your agents are the ones they can really deliver value to, and boost your customers’ loyalty to your brand.

2. Integrate systems to provide a comprehensive view

To solve a problem agents need full access to information. However, they may not be able to access relevant systems outside of the contact centre environment. This means they can’t give customers an immediate answer and have to resort to calling them back. Equally, they may be able to view information, such as the status of a delivery, but not be able to understand what it means or make changes to deliver a solution. Integrating systems, such as through a unified desktop, provides agents with a comprehensive view, and empowers them to take action to solve issues.

2. Enable collaboration across the company

More complex customer interactions are likely to span multiple departments within an organisation, each with its own processes and procedures. This means agents cannot answer the issue without help from colleagues. However, this impacts customer satisfaction, as it involves callbacks or transfers to other departments. Customers simply want their problem solved, now. To overcome this companies should put in place company-wide collaboration and communication tools such as Microsoft Teams. Teams enables agents to speak to relevant colleagues in real-time via chat. The result is a more seamless experience for customers and more efficient operations for the business.

3. Empower agents

In the past companies evaluated agent performance based on productivity metrics, such as calls per shift. Agents had limited authority to make decisions and had to follow rigid rules and processes. Calls are now more complex, meaning companies should empower agents to take as long as necessary to solve the customer’s issue. Back up this approach by giving agents the ability to make decisions based on the specific needs of the customer. This requires a new approach to management, along with extensive training for agents to give them the required problem-solving skills.

4. Constantly monitor and improve

Businesses need to understand and overcome the issues that prevent agents from delivering effective customer service. They should therefore analyse the customer journey and collect feedback from agents and customers. This helps pinpoint where problems occur. This enables companies to highlight disconnects between systems and processes. For example, if an agent requests to send a new product to a customer, are there additional internal steps that slow down dispatch and result in promised deadlines not being met?

Often the best way to solve these issues is to bring together cross-functional teams from different departments. They can then update processes to better meet customer needs. Monitoring and improvement should be a constant process, with companies continually identifying where they can make changes to increase effectiveness.

Companies understand the importance of building empathy with customers. However, empathy alone does not meet customer needs. Successful businesses, therefore, need to deliver a combination of empathy and action to solve customer issues and drive deeper, longer-term relationships.