From Transactions to Interactions

Workforce Strategies to Support Extraordinary Customer Experiences – Part 2

By Penny Reynolds

In the last quarterly issue of The Connection, we introduced the concept of getting beyond the basics of a transaction to a more effective customer interaction and a more memorable, loyalty-inspiring experience.

There are five categories (and a total of 25 ideas) of getting employees to give that “wow” brand of customer service:

  1. Hire the right people for the job.
  2. Train staff for the “interaction” as well as the “transaction” part of the customer contact.
  3. Coach regularly to fine-tune performance and reinforce desired behaviors.
  4. Develop individualized motivation programs that encourage each employee to excel.
  5. Assemble a system of quantitative and qualitative measures to ensure you’re getting the behaviors you want.

The last issue’s article addressed the first item and this article will review critical components of the next strategy area.

Training for Customer Interactions, Not Just Transactions

There are two components that contribute to customer perceptions of a call and their resulting attitude about your company, including overall loyalty, likelihood of future business, and willingness to recommend to others. One critical part is obviously the transaction part of the call and its basic resolution. Did the customer get his problem solved or question answered in an effective, efficient manner?

The other component contributing to customer satisfaction is the “softer side” of the call. Not only do customers want their problems resolved and questions answered, but they want to be treated well during the process. They want to hear enthusiasm about the new product they ordered, empathy about an order lost in the mail, and patience during a complicated returns process. Every single call represents an opportunity to deliver great service, show an interest in the customer, and present a caring, professional voice of the company.

However, when you look at most call centers’ new-hire training programs, the focus of the program is all about the transaction with very little time or content devoted to the interaction aspect of the call. There are weeks of training to cover products, company procedures, system navigation, order entry, etc., but sometimes only an hour or two set aside to fine-tune telephone manners, listening skills, vocal capabilities, or techniques for handling difficult calls. And it’s these little nuances that can make a difference in establishing trust and confidence and building rapport with the customer.

Particularly with a younger workforce that has fewer life experiences and less of a customer service background, it’s critical to allot some time to the basics of phone manners and how to address some common service and difficult call scenarios. Providing this kind of training helps to ensure that all staff are equipped for that next complaint call. Give them some tools to turn that raging mad customer ready to post his negative comments throughout social media land into a satisfied customer who is even more loyal than one without an original problem.

Here are five strategies to make sure you’re covering all the bases in your new-hire and ongoing training process:

  1. Weave customer service fundamentals throughout your training program.
    Customer service basics should be woven throughout the training class as well as into everyday training and coaching in the center. Frontline staff usually find this training much more enjoyable than the system training, so it will be a welcome part of the day. And they’ll appreciate learning something that’s pertinent not just to the current job, but also a valuable life skill.This customer service training is best delivered in small portions rather than crammed into one intense session. Make sure it’s interspersed throughout your product and system training and refer to it often so it becomes a constant element and part of the training culture.Customer service fundamentals should include the following topic areas:Customer service fundamentalsHelp each person understand the important role they play in serving as the “voice of the company” to the customer. Customers these days sometimes have limited in-person contact so their call center conversations may be the only interactions they have by which to judge your company. Teach agents about not just the value of a single call, but the lifetime value of a customer.Vocal techniquesIt’s not just what you say but how you say it. Assist agents in putting their best voices forward with some polishing of vocal skills. Help telephone staff identify and remove “verbal viruses” and other annoying voice mannerisms. Everyone will love learning how to make the most of their voice, fine-tuning voice tone, rhythm, pace, inflection, and volume.

    Telephone etiquette

    Everyone can benefit by brushing up on basic phone manners. Set standards for what your welcome and greeting will be, as well as how you want calls to be closed. Review friendly procedures for transferring calls or placing callers on hold, as well as techniques for making the most of voice messaging.

    Phrasing and word choices

    All conversations, even when the answer is no, should have a positive tone. Teach your telephone staff how to turn negative statements into more positive ones to keep conversations upbeat and friendly. Ensure they know how to provide instructions in a helpful way and can recognize communications styles to match to the customer’s style.

    Handling difficult calls

    Everyone will get a difficult call now and then and it’s important each person knows how to handle challenging calls. Outline techniques for handling talkative or confused callers, as well as those that may be emotional or upset. All staff should be equipped to turn around complaint calls effectively and know how to handle angry or even abusive callers.

  2. Incorporate adult learning techniques.
    Whether trainees are learning customer service skills, product knowledge, or how to navigate the system, it’s important to develop a training program that addresses the learning styles of all types of individuals. There are three different learning and communications styles and it’s important to incorporate each one into your training program so each person can participate in the way they learn best.The three learning styles are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Visual learners need to see content on paper and/or on screen. They process information by sight and will be ones that learn best by note-taking and reading information. Auditory learners need to hear the information in order to process it and will not benefit from reading the material as much as hearing someone tell about the subject. Kinesthetic learners don’t really process the information unless they’ve been able to get “hands on” with the information and practice it. Make sure you include all three learning styles so the needs of all students are covered in the training.
  3. Build in periodic testing to check knowledge and skill transfer. Make sure you’re testing the trainees’ new knowledge on a regular basis. Don’t wait until the training is complete to assess their new skills or test knowledge. Periodic tests along the way will help you gauge whether the day’s training has been effective and whether individuals and the group are ready to move on.Use a variety of mechanisms to test new knowledge and skills. Use traditional assessment methods such as fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice written tests, but also use some fun testing approaches such as games or television contest formats to make the testing process fun and less intimidating. Build in content tests into actual work simulations such as role-playing calls that use new information. Let students create quizzes and test each other as another testing possibility.
  4. Reward “above and beyond” in the classroom. If you’re trying to create a workforce that’s willing to give their all and go above and beyond for your customers, you’ll want to demonstrate these types of behaviors throughout the training. Your trainers should demonstrate some behaviors that go beyond the expected and should provide examples throughout the class where employees have exceeded customer expectations and been rewarded for doing so.Begin rewarding outstanding performance and giving beyond what’s just required in the classroom. You will want to regularly reward great scores on tests, as well as bright ideas for process improvements, outstanding performance on role plays, etc. Get them used to an environment where great performance is noticed, recognized, and rewarded from the first day of training and beyond.
  5. Plan for ongoing development. Training should not end when the new-hire training program is over. While orientation and new-hire training should be sufficient to get the new employees on the phones and performing at a satisfactory level, it should never be the end of their training.All staff will need regular, ongoing training and coaching to perform at their best. Many of the principles learned in the early days of training will need to be reinforced several times to take hold. Even if the staff learn customer service basics during new-hire training, they may not yet have enough of a context to fully understand how to apply it all yet. Therefore, it’s vitally important that once they’ve been on the phones for a while, you reinforce the critical elements and techniques of providing great service.Just as you would have refresher training for a new product development or upgrade, you’ll want to have refresher training and next step, more advanced training to support their interaction skills. Getting together with their peers to learn and share proven service and support techniques is an essential element in learning the “how to” part of service as well as to provide the motivation to want to apply these skills on the phones.


Getting a “wow” customer experience to happen requires two key ingredients – the transaction and the interaction. Much of the impression that is left after the call is molded by the “interaction” part of the exchange. Getting staff to deliver their end of great interactions requires that five essential elements be in place:

    1. Hire the right people for the job.
    2. Train staff for the “interaction” as well as the “transaction” part of the customer contact.
    3. Coach regularly to fine-tune performance and reinforce desired behaviors.
    4. Develop individualized motivation programs that encourage each employee to excel.
    5. Assemble a system of quantitative and qualitative measures to ensure you’re getting the behaviors you want.

However, the best of interactions can’t overcome a transaction that was handled poorly due to system or technology issues. Frontline staff giving their all won’t be able to erase customers’ transaction problems. Just as it’s important to get the right people in place, train them properly, coach for improved performance, and reward desired behaviors, it’s also critical to have the proper technology in place to support the transaction. Solutions that provide ease of use for both the customer and the agent are critical for seamless transactions where great interaction skills can shine through.

Penny Reynolds was Co-Founder of The Call Center School and is a popular speaker and writer in the area of call center operations. Recently retired, she serves as an Educational Advisor to QATC, continuing to provide thought leadership and training to the contact center community. She can be reached at or at 615-812-8410.