Soft skills are the heart and soul of great customer service. The ability to listen closely, empathize, and respond in a friendly, helpful manner is the mark of an outstanding agent.
But soft skills aren’t enough—especially when the news is bad.
Suppose a customer calls into the contact center and asks for something that goes against company policy.
- Agent A acknowledges the customer’s issue, explains the policy, and rejects the customer’s request in the nicest possible way.
- Agent B neutralizes the policy issue by offering a better solution than the one the customer originally wanted—thus turning a potential negative into a strong positive.
Both agents showed compassion and concern for the customer. But only Agent B engineered the experience by focusing on what she could do, removing a big obstacle, and guiding the customer toward the best solution for both the customer and the brand.
Imagine you’re the customer on both these calls. Would you rather have a friend who tries (but fails) to ease the pain of hearing “no,” or an advocate who works with you toward a better result? Which agent would you rate higher? Which would make you feel more loyal to the brand?
Now, imagine what you could achieve with an entire army of experience engineers on your front line.
Experience Engineering Produces Measurable Benefits
Soft skills are important for nurturing the customer relationship, but they don’t do much to reduce customer effort. Experience engineering is focused on the outcome of the service experience, and it’s designed to reduce customer effort (both perceived and real) by actively guiding customers through potentially difficult interactions to ensure their needs are met.
Research has shown that experience engineering can reduce customer effort by 75% and raise first call resolution (FCR) rates 10%. Lower customer effort and higher FCR rates are two of the biggest drivers of customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, and customer lifetime value.
What Does an Engineered Experience Look Like?
Experience engineering is a simple approach that has the power to turn even the prickliest situations into big brand wins. The engineered experience boils down to three basic elements:
1. Customer Advocacy
Experience engineers aren’t just accessible and ready to help. They align with the customer and makes solving the customer’s problem priority #1.
2. Affirmative Language
Saying “no” or “I can’t” could stop the service encounter in its tracks and alienate the customer. Experience engineers use positive language to keep things moving forward.
3. Anchoring/Alternative Positioning
When presenting options, experience engineers put them in context. First, they introduce a less desirable option, which creates a “mental anchor”. Then they use alternative positioning to cast a positive light on the best option. This technique not only speeds resolution but also drives sales.
Here’s a great example of all three experience engineering components in action:
Customer: “Do you have this jacket in black in a small?”
Agent: “It looks like we’ve got the blue jacket in small available right now, or I can put you on the waitlist for when the black jacket is back in stock next week.”
What Your Team Needs to Engineer Experiences Consistently and Well
To take charge of every customer service encounter and head off potential problems, experience engineers rely on a potent mix of knowledge, skills, and tools. Here’s how you can ensure your agents are well prepared.
Role playing common scenarios, and brainstorming possible approaches to tricky encounters, are the most effective ways to help agents grow into the experience engineer role. In every training session, be sure to recognize and reward great performance to encourage and inspire your team.
When it comes to coaching in the contact center, timeliness is as important as substance. Deliver on-the-spot micro-coaching between training sessions to offer meaningful support and ensure steady progress. Real-time VoC data on the front line will help you identify the most relevant, valuable coaching opportunities.
The QA metrics you’re using should reflect your specific priorities for the service experience and how you define success (e.g., average star rating, FCR rates). If you rely too heavily on efficiency-based metrics such as average handle time, agents will be more focused on ending calls quickly than on guiding customers toward a successful conclusion.
A CRM system that puts customer histories at agents’ fingertips will allow agents to see and acknowledge each customer’s “baggage,” or past brand experiences that have shaped expectations for the current one. This single act can reduce customer effort by 14%.
An internal communication platform (Slack, for example) can empower agents as well, giving them a direct line to managers and an open channel for mutual support, encouragement, and advice.
“Notice, the technology (tools) and process are there in the background to serve your people. Your people become real-time, flexible, experience engineers—treating different customers differently and even the same customer differently depending on the context.”
As Customer Service Grows More Complex, Brands Must Adapt
Consumers are more empowered, savvy, and demanding than ever before. When they reach out to customer service, they’ve reached a dead end—meaning the issue is a complicated one—or they want to connect with someone who can guide them through a tough process or decision.
Experience engineers are the “brand superheroes” your customers hope to encounter every time they reach out. If you want to make a deep impression, and be their go-to brand in the future, you have to consider and plan for every contingency and make sure your team is engaged and ready.