Everyone takes emotional intelligence for granted, and many people have different definitions of it in their heads. Some are under the impression that emotional intelligence means being so in control of your emotions that you can completely shut them off while you are at work. I’ve met a few people with this skill, and it doesn’t serve anyone particularly well.
What it really means is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. So emotional intelligence in customer service is crucial. When it comes to customer service, it means a variety of things, from managing your own frustration to deciphering a customer’s feelings, to orchestrating a customer experience that will leave your customer happy.
Let’s consider some of the ways in which emotional intelligence in customer service can improve the experience of customers and agents alike. Here are some examples:
1. Customer hangs up or insults the agent
An agent who lacks emotional intelligence may immediately get angry. If the customer hung up, this same agent might feel demotivated and their efforts undermined. As a result, they might take their customer interactions personally and not feel like they need to perform as well.
An emotionally intelligent agent is able to distance themselves from the situation because they know the customer is upset with the company, NOT with the individual.
They may even try to call the customer back and approach the conversation with a different solution.
2. It’s an agent’s first week on the job and they’re not doing so well on the phone
An agent who isn’t doing well might get flustered when interacting with customers, feel unsure of their proposed solutions and make even more mistakes.
An emotionally intelligent agent might recognize their own mistakes and explain to customers that they are new to the job. As a result, they’ll ask the client if it’s okay that they take a little extra time, or have to double check with a colleague or their manager. They’ll thank the client for being extra patient.
3. A customer is angry or upset
The common sense reaction for most agents here will be to try and calm the customer down. Those who do well will try to do so with the common “I understand your frustration…”. And those who take it personally will get defensive by trying to reason with the customer.
An emotionally intelligent agent will know that this is useless, and only serves to further upset and alienate the customer. They will empathize and demonstrate understanding to the best of their abilities before offering solutions that will not only solve the problem but also satisfy the customer, retaining their business and making them happy.
4. An agent is fed up after a day of hearing customer complaints
Employee burnout is a real problem, especially when it comes to customer service. Customers who take out their frustrations on agents can heavily weigh them down at the end of the day. A “work through it” attitude can be detrimental here, because your agent may choose to keep working and carry their frustration and anger through the rest of their customer interactions.
An emotionally intelligent agent knows when to step away to recharge their battery. It is far better to spend 10-15 minutes decompressing or work on another channel rather than to create a negative experience for more customers.
5. A customer doesn’t understand the explanation or solution offered
People call customer service because they are confused or frustrated. This almost always means that there was a miscommunication of some kind and they were expecting something other than what they thought they would receive.
In the midst of confusion, customers might not understand the explanation given to them.
Emotional intelligence in customer service means taking the time to communicate effectively with customers by identifying the disconnect.
It is an agent’s job to figure out why, to take another approach to better explain, and find a way to make the customer understand in a friendly way.
6. An agent doesn’t understand the customer’s issue
On the flip side of the previous point, sometimes customers have a hard time explaining their issues, making them hard to solve for agents. Resist the urge to say “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
Emotionally intelligent agents will opt for phrases like “I’m going to need some more information in order to help,” or “I want to ensure that I’m understanding correctly, do you mean…”. They understand that it’s up to them to decipher customer’s needs. Their mentality is more like, “I want to help the customer to the best of my ability.”
7. A customer asks to speak to a manager
No doubt, agents will be annoyed by this. It can feel demeaning to have the customer ask for someone else’s assistance when you are trying your best to help them. Agents might feel insulted. Some may even refuse to comply, stating that a manager is not available.
Emotional intelligence means understanding that the request is not an attack, but an implication that the customer feels that what they need is beyond your scope of responsibilities and/or knowledge.
Agents can choose to rethink their strategy, but often the best choice is to give the customer what they ask for without taking it to heart as an insult. Separate the comment from your self-worth and move on.
Your entire demeanor while interacting with a customer will set the tone for the experience. Smile behind the phone as you speak, brighten up your workspace and put yourself in a positive state of mind.
Always keep in mind that you are driving the conversation. Your language and tone will elicit responses from customers. Think about your word choice. Think about your inflection. Think about what you may or may not be accusing customers of before you speak. Anticipating the emotional response to your (sometimes emotional) assistance can change everything.