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How to prepare phone agents to handle customer complaints

Perhaps the worst image for a retail or ecommerce executive is the abandoned shopping cart. Customers have already been drawn in by marketing and positioning, they’ve made product comparisons and done some research, and finally deemed a product worthy of purchase.

What causes the sales process to stumble right before the finish line? According to research by American Express, it’s (you guessed it) poor customer service. Research shows that 78% of consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase because the poor service experience.

What’s more, customers are more likely to share their bad experiences with friends. Pew Center research reported that about a quarter of adults have posted reviews online about a product or service. And news of bad customer experiences tends to reach twice as many people as stories about great customer service, according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs.

In another study, the Customer Experience Impact Report by Harris Interactive, research found that customers who have a positive experience typically tell 9 people, but customers who have a negative experience typically tell 16 people. Beyond word of mouth, this research also found that 86% of consumers quit doing business with a company because of a bad customer experience.

But first: plan to get it right the first time

The threat of brand abandonment makes getting customer service right the first time even more essential. In fact, right now ecommerce leaders are planning their customer service staffing strategy for the 2018 holiday season—and getting the call center solution right will be a competitive advantage for companies.

That’s because hassled holiday shoppers are unlikely to shrug off a negative experience simply because a brand is experiencing a spike in customer demand. High demand periods such as holidays are the best times to ensure you can flex up your workforce to meet customer needs and differentiate your company from others that struggle to keep up with calls.

Six strategies for recovery

Here’s how retail leaders are preparing their customer service workforces to handle customer complaints:

Encourage feedback.

In “Understanding Customers,” Ruby Newell-Legner reveals that while 91% of customers will simply never return after a poor customer experience, just 4% will take the time to complain. By keeping lines of communication open, such as offering customers multiple opportunities for feedback and keeping feedback forms short and simple, you create more opportunities to save the sale.

Actionable insight: Ensure your agents are trained on how to handle customer complaints and when to elevate them to managers. Now might be the time to review and refresh your training module for agents on this topic.

Fix it in their favor.

Often, agents don’t fix a customer’s small problem because of rigid policies or scripts that tell them not to. Take the long-term view of a customer relationship by resolving issues in a customer’s favor in the short term. Research from Lee Resources shows that 70% of customers would do business with a company again if their complaint is resolved in their favor.

Actionable insight: Clearly communicate to agents what tools or rule exceptions they are empowered to use to solve problems. Often, agents don’t fix a customer’s small problem because of rigid policies or scripts that tell them not to. Although the agent is following the rules, this results in a bigger problem—loss of a customer and future business.

Monitor and respond socially.

Many retailers have heard the phrase “a complaint is a gift,” but customer service complaints (especially those made publicly on Twitter—about 80% of tweets about a product or service are negative or critical) might feel like the worst part of the gift-giving season.

Actionable insight: Connect your social media team with customer service agents to seamlessly respond to complaints on social media and connect unhappy customers to agents on the phone who are empowered to solve their problems.

Prepare your agents.

In addition to training agents on how to handle complaints, give them real-time backup. Live contact with with higher-level account reps is essential, such as text chat to support that difficult conversation.

Actionable insight: You might be thinking of staffing up entry-level workers, but think also about how to manage and mentor these people. Start now by identifying standout people who can be promoted and trained to be ready to act as mentors, supervisors, and managers during the busy season.

Hire for empathy.

While busy times might compel you to simply seek out warm bodies to fill call center seats, a workforce of empathetic call takers will resolve issues more swiftly and to the customer’s greater satisfaction. A false note—the sense that a call center agent is just reading from a script rather than truly listening—can ruin the opportunity to fix this customer’s experience.

Actionable insight: Don’t settle for a call center’s limited staffing, which brings in candidates only within commuting distance. Consider virtual agents who are sourced based on their talent—not merely geographic proximity—and who offer more flexible schedules to cover all time zones.

Hire for maturity.

Customer service agents who have seen and handled a similar issue are best equipped to calm the customer, find a way to make it right, and ensure that the door stays open for future sales.

Actionable insight: Attrition is a perennial problem for the call center industry, as is finding workers with sufficient maturity. While the average traditional call center worker is 23 years old and has 5 years of work experience, the typical virtual agent is 38 years old with 15 years of work experience.

Could a fix-it strategy prove to be the best investment?

Loyal customers are, on average, worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase.Regardless of whether you’re planning for the 2018 busy season or simply trying to improve your existing call center agents, getting it right has never been more critical, because failure to save one sale can mean years of future purchases lost by an incompetent call-taker.

According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, loyal customers are, on average, worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase, and it is six to seven times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one.

That makes preparing your customer service agents with these six strategies a worthy long-term investment.

Learn more about preparing for customer service spikes that can undermine call quality in our webinar.