The Critical Skills that All Customer-Facing Teams Must Have

The Critical Skills that All Customer-Facing Teams Must Have

by Colin Shaw on August 1, 2019

When I created Beyond Philosophy, I chose the name for a reason. I believe it is crucial to do more than discuss your theories about Customer Experience strategy. Sure, you need to think about it, understand the philosophy behind it as well as the science, but after that, you should go beyond the philosophy and do something.

In other words, theories are fascinating but falderal unless you implement them in your Customer Experience.

The theories we talk about in behavioral economics that people are so excited about now are 50 to 60 years old at this point. However, these ideas have not infiltrated business, politics, or life to the extent that they should because implementing them in real-life is difficult.

I find it exciting to discuss practical tools and approaches. In our most recent episode of our podcast, we talked about how you get the frontline teams to embrace the philosophy behind your Customer Experience program and deliver it.

The Reasons Behind Our Reasoning

When it comes to practical strategies you can take, we have developed some tools in our global Customer Experience Consultancy work to help you address the problems of implementing these theories. It starts with understanding the customer journey and how they feel during the different moments of their experience.

We enable this understanding through behavioral Journey Mapping, which we have discussed in the past. In brief, we changed how we assessed and plotted the customer journey from beginning to end in our Journey Mapping exercise by including emotions in the mix. We added emotions for a couple of reasons, but one of them has to do with my wife. Let me explain.

When I walk in the front door, and I shout hello to my wife Lorraine,  within a one-word response I can tell you how Lorunderstanding through behavioral Journey Mappingraine is feeling, happy, sad, or if I have done something wrong (which is usually the case). We know each other well, so I can tell how she is feeling based on how she sounds in tone and cadence alone. If I can see her, I will also see her facial expression and body language and use that to interpret the emotional environment I have entered.

I’m sure most of you are the same with your significant others. You can evaluate them to determine how they feel.

Once you know where you are emotionally speaking, you can choose what to do or say next. (In my case, I might need a moment as I will be frantically scanning my memory banks to see if I can remember what I forgot and why she is vexed with me this time.)You can do something that will make the situation worse or better.  Effectively, you convert your significant other from feeling one way into feeling another.

It is the same exercise with customers.  A customer walks into a Customer Experience feeling something. Hopefully, customers are happy, but they could also be frustrated, annoyed, or even ambivalent. A customer-facing employee must first evaluate how customers feel. Then, the customer-facing employee makes a choice that meets your goal, which is to evoke the emotion that drives value for your organization.

Why Training on Emotional Management for Frontline Employees is Vital

How many high-minded strategic initiatives have come down from the top levels of the corporation and then died at the frontline? The answer is too many. The cause of death? Lack of employee training.

Before you get to training, you have some critical work to do. It would help if you first researched what drives value and which emotions influence these factors. Then, it is crucial to design your experience to evoke those emotions.

However, emotional engagement is not going to manifest itself magically in the customer experience just because you’ve designed the experience that way. It is essential to train your people on how to do that.

Many employees need training on how to evoke those emotions. You can research and design, but if you don’t train people a practical way to apply what you discover and plan, you have wasted your time with the first two steps.

If you don’t train employees, it is harder for them to engage with your program. Moreover, the employees are not motivated to do anything differently because they haven’t been trained to do anything different.

This emotional management training isn’t for everyone. Some people get it and naturally understand how customers feel and can instinctively manage emotions.

However, in the best circumstances, I estimate that only around 20 percent of your people have this level of emotional intelligence. The vast majority of your team, approximately 60 percent, need some help with these skills. The other 20 percent probably are working in the wrong department, but for now, let’s focus on the 60 percent in the middle.

The Three Skills for Frontline Teams to Manage Customer Emotions

So how do you address these skills with 60 percent of your team that needs some help?

It comes down to three skills:

  1. Understanding the significance of customer emotions.
  2. Identifying what emotion the customer feels.
  3. Knowing how to manage the customer’s emotions to a valuable place.

Skill #1: Understanding the Significance of customer emotions.

The first skill to work on is teaching the majority of your team about the critical nature of emotions in a Customer Experience. This knowledge is fundamental for your frontline team. Without a baseline understanding of this concept, you doom your success with the next two skills.

Skill #2: Identifying how the customer is feeling.

There are five areas of customer behavior to consider when determining how they feel. Their words, tone, facial expression, body language, and actions are crucial. Ask yourself five questions, which include

  1. What words are customers using?
  2. How are customers saying the words?
  3. What do the customers’ facial expressions look like?
  4. What does their body language say?
  5. What are customers doing?

For example, let’s say you are trying to build a relationship based on trust with a customer. You need to recognize if they have those feelings of trust toward the offer, company, or even you. If you hear them say, “I’m not sure,” or “I don’t think I understand,” or “I was expecting this,” then their words indicate they do not trust the offer/company/you yet.

However, it is not a conclusive diagnosis based on the words alone. The words are one indication of the five. It’s always more than one indication or an accumulation of indicators that help you identify an emotion.  If you pair those words with a facial expression that seems wary or closed and body language that indicates they are leaning away from you or closing themselves off to you, then you can be more confident that they don’t trust the offer/company/you yet.

Skill #3: Managing Customers to an Improved Emotional Outcome

The next area to focus on is how to get customers to a different place emotionally based on the employee’s actions. The exciting thing here is that the employees use the same five areas that you used to assess the customer’s emotional state.

  1. Tell employees what words to use.
  2. Teach customer-facing individuals how to say the words.
  3. Give the team specifics about their facial expressions.
  4. Educate your people on the importance of body language in communication.
  5. Show the frontline team what action to take to resolve customer concerns and problems.

In the example I shared about a customer who does not trust the offer/company/you, you would say things that address their uncertainty like, “Let me assure you that…,” or “I guarantee that…,” or “I can promise you that…,” and other phrases along those lines.

However, on the subject of giving employee language that addresses a situation, I must share that I am not a fan of scripts. They are unnatural and lead to the idea that employees are just “checking boxes” rather than engaging in a real exchange with customers. In some cases, a script might be necessary, of course, especially when there are disclaimers or legal issues, and so on, but, generally, I prefer natural exchanges between your team and customers.

Why Training Is the Practical Application of Theory

When you combine giving your employees specific skills to recognize how customers feel and then the tools to manage the emotions of the situation, you have trained the team to get to the next level of customer engagement. When you have higher customer emotional engagement,  have a much better emotional outcome for your Customer Experience.

So, there are several benefits to training, too. First, your team recognizes the fact that customers have emotions because you are talking about it and training people on it. Second, you are giving people the tools to deal with somebody who is upset or frustrated. Finally, you are teaching the team how to be successful in their role. Most employees want to do well because people get a sense of enjoyment out of that rather than merely answering the phone or ringing up purchases, or whatever customer-facing task the employees are hired to do.

One of the prominent theories in behavioral economics is from Professor Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize for behavioral economics called the Peak-End rule. Kahneman’s rule says that what people remember is the most intense feeling they had and how they felt at the end.

For me, this rule is massively influential for creating Customer Loyalty. By training your team on these skills, you give people the tools to evoke the desired emotion that drives value at these pivotal moments. The methodology in which customer-facing employees evoke those emotions to create a memory is an example of applying the theory, the Peak-End rule, in practice.

Once you’ve designed your experience, it is essential to train your people. You should invest in the frontline people and get into the detail of identifying the customer’s feeling and convert them.

Training is where the rubber hits the road. It is where creating memories that enable customer emotional engagement, which is the starting point for customer loyalty.

Most of all, training shows you did not just listen to all this theory because it is interesting. You went beyond it and did something.

Customer loyalty is a function of customers’ memories. Customer Service excellence is an integral part of how people remember things, but too few organizations take the time to train their customer-facing employees to deliver it. Our Memory-Maker Training fills this gap with instruction in the soft-skills needed to produce a higher level of satisfaction that influences better experience memories as part of an overall Customer Experience strategy. Click here to learn more.

To hear more about the How Customer-Facing People Should Evoke Emotions in Customers for your CX in more detail, listen to the complete podcast here.

Hear the rest of the conversation on How Customer Facing People Should Evoke Emotions on The Intuitive Customer Podcast. These informative podcasts are designed to expand on the psychological ideas behind understanding customer behavior. To listen in,please click here.

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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX

Colin ShawThe Critical Skills that All Customer-Facing Teams Must Have