The best solution, really, to improving customer interaction with the call center is to have agents who are up to the task of having natural conversations. That's the advice our sources provided when asked to suggest ways to perfect call center scripts.
Coach the customer service representatives (CSR) so they can speak knowledgably and responsively to customers' concerns without the aid of scripts, says Alex Falcone, director of customer relationship marketing, customer experience management and direct marketing for Houston-based marketing agency Lopez Negrete Communications.
"There's an art to handling calls effectively, and it's more than simply saying the right words and checking them off," Falcone says. "It has to do with interpersonal skills, the ability to listen, and knowing how to respond to subtle clues in a customer's manner or tone of voice to meet their greatest emotional need—the need to be treated as someone special and unique."
Providing ways to do that are Falcone; Terry Arnold, vice president of contact center solutions for San Antonio, Texas-based direct marketing services company Harte-Hanks; and Sanjay Patel, CEO of Winter Springs, Fla.-based call center analytics provider Datanautix.
1. Use scripts to coach talented reps. Falcone says, "We recommend using scripts only to help a qualified CSR transfer product and service knowledge by memorizing a message in a non-scripted and natural way." He adds that the reps should then abandon the scripts and develop their own, persuasive message deliveries so that they don't use bored monotones or otherwise sound insincere.
2. Have CSRs determine customer needs immediately. "Stop the call if the needs cannot be identified," Patel says.
While most companies measure "success" by close rates, Patel says it's important to include the number of unqualified prospects in that calculation. That way, call centers aren't alienating customers by offering them products that they don't need.
3. Keep calls credible, relevant and brief, Arnold says. In the dialogue, ask questions to ensure that "what you believe to be important is actually relevant to the customer." In addition to being brief, Arnold advises marketers to ensure that the call comes at a good time and "come up for air."
In the natural flow of conversation (rather than a survey format) record the following: budget, authority, need and timeframe, Arnold says. Accept objections and address them before securing a commitment, such as a follow-up call or an appointment.
4. Try phoning the call center. Arnold suggests testing each script by having a colleague or a sales representative review it. Then make a series of test calls, listen to preliminary calls and modify the script before fully deploying it.
5. Be proactive rather than reactive. Employ knowledge about the customer that's acquired in other channels, advises research from Aberdeen Group, a Harte-Hanks Company. According to the June 2011 report, "Looking to Get Social: Web 2.0 and Social Media in the Contact Center," companies with call centers are using email, live chat, social and other channels to provide a "consistent and effective" customer service experiences.
Social media helped Animoto, a Web-based video creation platform, transform its reactive manual email-based customer support system to a proactive, multichannel system, Aberdeen reports. With 1 million emails coming in, Animoto realized it needed to prioritize customer requests, create a collaborative community-based solution and empower a self-service model.
"If a customer does eventually require direct contact," reads the report, "the information gathered throughout the support process ensures that the right customer gets the right information by the right level of support agent. The company also utilizes triggers, automated macros and integration with the customer login system to streamline daily tasks and draw on account information and prior support history. This routing capability has allowed Animoto to better utilize its workforce, as agents are no longer responding to issues in an ad-hoc manner. As a result, despite an increase of 300 percent to 400 percent in customer traffic to its knowledgebase, the number of emails and service tickets has declined. This has allowed Animoto to dedicate a higher volume of support resources to the needs of its premium customers."