Oct 19, 2011

[Call Centers] Different Ideas For Practicing Your Skills

I'm sure we've all come across the popular phrase "a born salesman" -  a statement that insinuates that sales is more based on the innate nature of the person and not because of anything he has learned to do or that you can learn as well. On a similar vein, a lot of call center folk complain that managing your CSAT scores is an entirely random process - that no matter how well you're doing the scores are outside of your control since it's all up to the customer. The list of such arguments and excuses for agents not hitting their KPI targets just goes on and on to the point of being a tad silly.

Practice makes Perfect
by JanneM via Flickr
But what most call center don't understand (or perhaps don't accept) is that a lot of what makes one agent successful in the job versus the other is normally a combination of both raw talent / innate ability and finely honed skills. In this sense, practice does help one become closer to perfect, if you're willing to open yourself up to the possibility.

But what can you practice? That's the typical question I'd used to get and as a trainer my natural answer would go back to the value of agent-customer role-plays.

Not, not that kind of role-play, you filthy thing. But I jest.

So I thought it might be helpful to all you call center readers out there to spend some time talking about the little things that every call center agent should work on (or at least try to work on) to improve your phone skills.

In the recording booth
by warholsoup via Flickr
The first item seems easy enough, but it's something a lot of us take for granted - understanding the sound of your voice. It's one thing to instinctively know how you think you sound like, but it's a completely different beast to actually test what you sound like over the phone. At the very least, try to record your voice going though your call opening or spiel (whichever applies) and take some time to listen to it. And with the advances of technology today, most phones come equipped with some form of recording capability to help you here.

Do you like how you sound? Do you think you sound like a guy or a girl? Can you imagine listening to yourself for more than 5 minutes? These are the kinds of questions you should ask yourself as you listen to the recorded version of your voice - this is more or less how you'll sound over any electronic medium like a telephone. And make sure ask questions relevant to the specific nature of your job. Do you sound like someone you'd trust with your credit card information? Would you buy something from yourself? Does the sound of your voice help you calm down after an unpleasant billing issue? Do you wonder why people keep mistaking your gender over the phone?

If you don't like how you sound, then you need to practice controlling those little quirks and extreme behaviors you have that might put your customers off.

This also presents a great opportunity to work on another skill - listening.

Make sure you record a longer sample of yourself as if you were talking on the phone with a customer (best done with the help of a friend) or even better if you can ask your supervisor or QA person to let you listen to a few of your own calls. And this time, really, really try to listen to yourself.

Listening devices
by abrinsky via Flickr
For this exercise it might help to actually take notes - play the role of a QA for a change. Note down if you have clutch words that you repeat often during your calls when you don't know what else to say like "basically" or "actually" or even the work "like". Do you tend to stammer or say "um" a lot? I've encountered agents who said "fantastic" a lot in their calls and never realized it, just to cite an example. Thus start noting down the little things about you handle calls and decide whether or not you think it helps you or hurts you.

You can also try this activity without your actual voice, just to focus on your listening ability. Switch to a TV channel you don't normally pay much attention to or is outside your interests like an international news channel or a channel dedicated to stocks. Without facing the television, try to take notes and capture what is being discussed. Did you understand the actual topic of the show in question? Can you understand your own notes? Can you do the same thing without taking notes with pen and paper?

Day 127: Multi-tasking
by susanvg via Flickr
And that branches into a last area most people overlook - the quality of your notes. Whether you are allowed actual paper or you work in a paperless environment with only the computer as your friend, your notes have to make sense. Have a friend narrate a story while you're at a computer. to make things realistic, try to have a second program or website on like keeping Facebook open while trying to capture the story or working on a narrative of your own day while you try to listen. It's not a perfect match, but it's good practice for the kind of multitasking you need to do on the phone. If you find that your notes are really lousy given you were too busy with other things, then you need to be more strategic in your calls and not get all system-focused when it severely impacts your listening abilities. It's not called active listening for nor good reason after all.

There are other exercises people can try to improve their phone skills. A quick list includes:
  • Speaking in English without lapsing into Filipino either at home or while on break at work
  • Trying to speak for a whole minute without using any clutch or filler words 
  • Preparing possible small talk conversation points OTHER than the weather
  • Listening to different types of customer accents and trying to hear, memorize and understand what they're saying without taking notes
  • Regularly scoring your own calls using your center's QA form with the help of another QA
  • Actually role-playing customer scenarios with your supervisor or your peers
I'm sure there are a lot more things that you can try to experiment with in terms of adding to your routine. The key here is understanding that you can control most aspects of your call and until you truly become comfortable with what you're saying and making it your own, then you're not going to excel in this or any other field.

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