Take your call center culture back to the basics

The contact center has changed dramatically for every industry, not just financial services. With so many technologies, channels and processes to manage, contact centers are expected to deliver more, often with less time and fewer resources. Keeping pace requires going back to the basics of employee engagement—attracting rich talent, encouraging growth and maintaining momentum through reward and recognition.

Bottom line: Employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction are inextricably linked. Satisfied customers help build your reputation and grow your business.

Commit to customer-centricity

Recruiting talent is different than it used to be – it’s not just about customer satisfaction, it’s about customer delight. First and foremost, the agent has to care. She or he has to be someone who is going to listen and be present in the conversation. Human connection is fueled by empathy and can transform a wary customer into a strong and committed brand follower.

Many financial institutions make the mistake of overinvesting in day-to-day transactions and fail to differentiate themselves in the customer experience opportunities that matter. Superb handling of these moments requires an instinctive frontline response that puts the customer’s human needs at the top of the agenda.

Soft skills like compassion and active listening have always been important. But now, decision-making, critical thinking and good judgment are equally necessary because calls are more complex than they used to be, and the urgency of the customer request is heightened.

Critical thinking goes beyond just remembering facts to understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and problem-solving. After learning the issue, an agent must know how to determine next steps to resolution, especially when a customer’s issue is especially unique.

Cultivate a path to performance

Because customers are becoming increasingly comfortable with self-service tools, live calls to contact centers are often more complicated to resolve. Providing consistent, high-quality customer service depends on experienced, knowledgeable agents with proper training and support. Failure to retain these talented employees can have significant repercussions: Employee attrition can erode customer satisfaction while increasing operating costs.

A high-performance culture flows from a team approach to employee engagement, planning and management – being accountable to a standard, but more importantly, being accountable to each other and to customers. A team approach is grounded in a culture of setting of clear targets and goals. Open communication ensures everyone understands not only what the goals are, but why the goals have been set.

Creating a winning culture must go beyond onboarding to investing in ongoing development – cultivating career opportunities – to ensure retention. Career-pathing begins with an individual development plan and progression initiatives. A best practice is to build goals around each development initiative, so when an opportunity becomes available, the specialist is prepared for the challenge.

Create a community of caring

Everyone owns recognition. It’s not just leaders that help create a community. The contact center is a community, and how the community supports each other, recognizes each other and celebrates each other is crucial to keeping up everyone focused on what is important.

Key to retaining talent is rewarding specialists who are committed to your values, performance excellence, thriving in a team environment and delighting customers and members. Recognition is the No. 1 thing employees say their manager could give them to inspire them to produce great work.

A “wow call” award for an outstanding customer experience, an Employee of the Month award, or even team performance awards – all help to foster a culture of commitment, fun and focus.

With the shift to self-service, the contact center remains one of the few opportunities for a personal touch. It is essential to optimize that touchpoint by making sure your accountholder hangs up feeling even better about your financial institution than they did before the call.

Consumers expect simple transactions to be done right every time, and exceeding their expectations by creating positive customer experiences provides precious opportunities to build brand affinity, deepen relationships and strengthen loyalty.

Once viewed as a transactional cost center, today’s contact center is now the pulse of the organization and the emotional component of a brand. Through the interactions your contact center employees are having with consumers, financial institutions are better able to gather valuable customer insight and use it to grow richer relationships.

Terri Panhans is vice president, contact center solutions, at Harland Clarke.

A version of this article originally appeared in the BAI Executive Report “Connecting with customers … and keeping them.”