Amazing customer support is amazingly underappreciated. Whether staffing a contact center at a Fortune 500 company, or answering the lone phone at a startup, it isn’t easy to consistently, empathetically, and intelligently respond to customers. And while managers might look for a call center productivity formula, the secret to delivering great, repeatable support is easier to find than you might think: It starts with confident employees.
Imagine an entire call center filled with confident customer support reps. Gone are disengaged, defensive, lackluster, or unhelpful reps. Rather, customers interact with forward-thinking, solution-oriented, kind-hearted people who are empowered to represent your brand with excellence. This seemingly trivial focus on confidence could lead to seismic shifts in call center efficiency metrics.
In 2014, speech coach Caroline Goyder spoke at TEDxBrixton about “The Surprising Secret to Speaking with Confidence.” Convinced that “all of us have confidence within,” Goyder was inspired by Peter Brook’s quote that “we open drawers in the self.” So she commissioned a custom-built chest of drawers and brought it on stage for her TEDx talk. In the chest’s three drawers were items that represented three physiological ways customer support reps—and everyone—can cultivate confidence during interactions with others. Focusing on these ideas might be the best call center agent productivity strategy of the year:
There’s no such thing as a bad saxophone
From the first dresser drawer, Goyder pulled a toy guitar—an instrument. Put simply, the voice of every call center rep is an instrument. And just like any instrument, practice is essential for success and improvement. Goyder notes, “When we hear a great saxophonist…what we know is that they practice a lot…they have worked and worked and worked to get a great sound.”
She follows this metaphor with the story of Demosthenes, an ancient Greek orator who, after stunning failure, locked himself in a basement for three months of practice. Legend has it that Demosthenes emerged as one of the greatest orators of his day.
It’s clear that practice is powerful. On the noble quest to improve call center efficiency and productivity, don’t neglect a training plan that includes copious practice. While Goyder recommends singing to cultivate vocal confidence, call center reps should practice identifying customer concerns, answering common questions, and walking contacts through solutions. While these ideas are essentially the bread and butter of customer support, too few teams actually prioritize practice. Such reinforcement separates a wishy-washy support rep from a true professional.
The king sits still
“When actors are playing king, the king stays really still. Everybody moves around the king, and that’s how you know the king is in charge.” Goyder isn’t just offering advice for royalty, she’s suggesting we all slow down our pace. To do this, she pulled an anatomical rendering of a diaphragm, the large abdominal muscle, from the second dresser drawer. Building upon the monarchal metaphor, Goyder suggests that, “the diaphragm is the king of confidence.” When breathing slowly and deeply, the speech of a call center rep exudes confidence.
“How do you know who the most powerful person in the room is? The person with the most confidence. That inner confidence is what we are going for here. How can you tell? …The most powerful person in the room has the most relaxed breathing pattern.” — Caroline Goyder tweet
Power isn’t the aim of a customer support rep—it’s great service. But when interacting with a contact or experiencing stress of any kind, engage the diaphragm by breathing deeply and feeling the rib cage expand. This will translate to cool, calm, and collected responses that customers appreciate and other team members admire.
Inspiration and respiration
Finally, Goyder pulled an empty glass jar from the last drawer. “It’s air. Why [does] air matter? It’s because we breathe our thoughts.” While this may sound a bit abstract, her point is simple, yet powerful. Every inward breath is a chance to thoughtfully prepare a response.
Goyder notes that “In Latin…inspiration and respiration have the same root. The Romans understood that we breathe our thoughts.” tweet
In a customer support context, it’s hard to overestimate the value of pausing before responding to a consumer. A momentary delay to breathe and think will lead to infinitely more mature, thoughtful, and helpful answers, which in turn result in a higher NPS and better mean time to resolution.
Goyder’s concluding advice? “If you want confidence in speech, all you have to do is to know when to shut your mouth.”
Open the drawers to inner confidence
One might ask, “how do these three ideas help my contact center improve?” It’s easy to get lost in the nitty-gritty details of training customer support reps or running a call center and forget about the soft skills that drive human interaction. Goyder’s three ideas may seem inconsequential, but when responses are practiced, reps display poise, and a team prioritizes thoughtfulness, the result is a productive, confident, high-performing support team.
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