New thinking suggests that emotions can make or break the
customer experience. Margaret Kubicek asks readers if employees can be trained
to make the right connection
If companies are to do more than just pay lip service to delivering great
customer experiences, employees must be trained to emotionally engage with
customers. Research undertaken by Beyond Philosophy reveals that 70 per cent of
consumers say emotions count for more than half of their customer experience,
but today’s training and measurement techniques are driving the wrong customer
experience behaviours in staff.
More than half of employees polled say their training is geared to dealing
with difficult customers, and many call centres rate success according to how
fast staff can get customers off the phone. We ask whether employees can, and
should, empathise with customers.
Head of group training and development, Abbey National
Defining the customer experience and the associated training approach is
something we have been working on with our business colleagues. The change in
our training approach started as a need to improve things in call centres and
developed from there. We’ve been running more development programmes to improve
our approach to interacting with customers and understand the emotional
component of their desire to work with us.
Recently we delivered a values-oriented programme about what our customers
are looking for; they have a need or a want and very often that’s emotionally
based. The programme has seen an 11 per cent increase in customer satisfaction
across the board.
Director of organisational development, BUPA
When customers contact us it is because they have been referred to a
specialist or about to undergo treatment. It is critical that our employees
empathise with the concerns that customers are facing and the anxieties they
may be feeling. If our people can’t engage on that level, then the customer
experience will feel very cold, very shallow.
When training we use lots of examples of why customers call, what their
expectations are and get new employees to listen in on calls as soon as
possible to give context.
We recognise that you don’t often get the full emotion of what a customer is
experiencing over the phone or in a letter, so we hire professional actors to
act customer complaints on video to understand the customer’s point of view by
visualising it and relating to it.
Head of HR, Loop Customer Management
From the outset we look to recruit people with certain behaviours and
qualities, such as a natural interest in helping people. Our view is we can
train people to the telephony [the telephone system] but engaging emotionally
is either something you can do naturally, or you can’t do at all.
Our training varies depending on the clients. We do have some who want the
quantity and the pace, but increasingly business is recognising that emotional
engagement is key. Traditionally training was very geared around IT and how to
use the telephony; now it is geared around satisfying the customer’s needs. We
train with the customer at the centre rather than the system at the centre, and
we spend a lot of time understanding what drives customers.
Training director, Lyreco
The number one focus for our customer services team is customer care and
making sure the customer is satisfied. It’s not just about productivity. On the
sales side of the business, we do train people in behavioural styles – there it
is about flexing and adapting your style, so you can build a relationship with
Whether emotionally engaging with customers is important depends on the
nature of your business. For us it has a role in sales, where employees are
building long-term relationships with customers.
Founding partner, Beyond Philosophy
Business leaders are saying the customer experience is the next competitive
battleground. Eighty-five per cent are saying emotionally engaging with
customers will create loyalty, but only 15 per cent are doing it. We are on the
cusp of change.
Firms should have a clear articulation of what the customer experience is
and what emotions they are trying to evoke – say trust, or fun. With emotional
intelligence you can start to recruit people who are good at trust or fun.
You’ve then got to train them on what the customer experience is and what
actions they should take to evoke those emotions in your customer.