Let’s imagine, for one moment, that you’re casting your agents and customers in a movie. What roles would they play? Would your agents make their screen debut as wise sages, imparting knowledge and truth to help spur your customers to a glorious conclusion in their customer service journey? Or would your agents be more like sword-wielding fighters, battling to defeat angry customer ogres before they burn your contact center to the ground?
Fantastical tales aside, stories about our businesses carry a lot of meaning. The narratives weaved by ourselves, our agents and our customers can communicate common values, elicit emotion, develop trust and understanding, and communicate knowledge and wisdom that can allow us all to grow.
The exercise above might seem silly. But thinking about your agents and customers as people in a story often paints a more vibrant picture of the type of service your business gives than a lot of the ‘hard’ information we calculate, classify and analyze in our contact centers. Stories are a great way to make communicating complex information simpler, they provoke thought and learning, and they can often guide our actions in a way that’s clearer than cold NPS or CSat figures.
Some stories have persisted for thousands of years – and many people have produced theories that help to explain why storytelling is still such a useful form of information transfer. Communication scholar Walter Fisher argues that storytelling is one of the most persuasive forms of communication. And in Chip and Dan Heath’s book “Made to Stick”, they argue that storytelling is a key ingredient of ideas that are compelling and produce action. I certainly agree with them – as a professional trainer, I can confirm a story told during training sessions often gives people a lot more to analyze than a basic “show and tell” type of learning.
Given that storytelling can be such a powerful way to share learning, what does that mean for your contact center? In this article, I’ll explore some of the ways you can help your agents to become “Customer Storytellers” to help everyone in your organization benefit from the stories your customers tell, and to learn from the ways that your agents helped them.
Agents as Listeners
Every day, your agents are in the privileged position of being let into the stories and lives of your customers. Agents act as the ‘ears’ of an organization, and it’s listening and perspective-taking that allows successful agents to understand and find meaning in the stories your customers tell.
It’s been said that the contact center is one of the most data-rich departments within an organization, and that’s true. What’s also true is it’s the department most rich in narrative!
Given all of the information that flows through your center, why should we pay extra attention to trying to capture customer stories in particular? Well, we all know that customer expectations are on the rise. The stories your customers tell every day are an authentic and real-time source of information to allow you to keep meeting those expectations. While customers might not have the time or want to go to the effort of providing feedback via formal channels, your agents can help to fill that gap.
While we’re all used to capturing CSat data and the like to measure how we’re doing, few organizations consider how best to capture the customer stories that your agents hear every day. Because stories come to life when we tell them, asking your agents to listen carefully to customer stories with a view to sharing and understanding them is a pretext for helping them become true customer storytellers.
Agents as Storytellers
Listening to customer stories is just the first step, as it’s the sharing of stories that holds the most potential for growth and change in our organizations.
Ask any of your agents for stories about their customers, and the tales they tell will say a lot about the roles that customers and agents play in the big story of your organization. Do they talk about customers so angry that they threatened to call every newspaper or politician that they thought might be able to swing things their way? Or do they talk about those stories where they laughed or cried with customers, and connected with them in a way that goes beyond a simple phone call? The morals and learnings we can gain from those stories are significant, and whether they’re good or bad, it’s through sharing them that we can start all to understand and to do better.
Your contact center staff have the potential to be the ‘voice’ of your organization just as much as they’re also the ‘ears.’ Customer advocacy can start within your agent team, and encouraging them to communicate stories allows more people access to information that’s rich with learning opportunities. Developing processes for agents to share customer stories (with the rest of your team, or even with your entire organization) helps us not just to better understand our customers, but also to better appreciate the personalities of our agent team.
And it’s through a better understanding of each other that we can begin to affect significant changes in our work. While we will never all agree all of the time, if we can approach more interactions with our customers and each other with a view to hear and consider different perspectives, it opens up possibilities for reasoning and action that would have never been there had we simply viewed situations from our point of view.
When teams can use a variety of perspectives to develop a fair and balanced comprehension of what’s important and what they should strive for, this allows them to be better equipped to deliver a service that provides fair and balanced experiences for customers. Not to mention that encouraging the telling of stories, whether good or bad, makes for workplaces where we can be more comfortable with telling our own stories – the ones that help others to understand more about our authentic selves.
Agents as Heroes
A danger inherent in customer storytelling is asking your agents to tell stories about situations they’re powerless to control, making them little more than a bit-part character in the tales of others. Often, this results in stories that show the frustration of agents who want to do the right thing, but are consistently unable to.
If you’re interested in using storytelling within your organization, think about how you can empower your agents to become the heroes in your customer’s stories – the characters that save the day, subvert expectations, and provide hope.
It’s a lot easier for agents to ensure your customers’ stories have happy endings if they can themselves initiate the ‘plot twists’ that turn negative situations around. The ability to act autonomously in deciding the outcomes of customer stories means that the roles agents play, of the attentive listener or the customer advocate, can become genuinely lived rather than just acted out.
Being able to affect change in the lives and stories of your customers has profound benefits. Autonomy
in work has been shown to lead to increased levels of well-being and job satisfaction, and many of us should be able to recognize that when agents can affect change in their work, it turns it from being something that’s done to them, to something that they participate in.
If you’re wondering how you can give your agents more autonomy, just ask your agents themselves. They should be able to provide you with examples of an abundance of situations where they wished they could do more, but weren’t able to – and sometimes something as simple as a change in access permissions can open up new possibilities for issue resolution.
While agents won’t always be able to give customers everything they ask for, combining sensitivity to the stories of customers with the ability to turn situations around makes for better issue resolution that’s full of possibilities and fairer for all parties involved.
Not to mention, the bonus of giving your agents more freedom to become customer heroes is that it increases the chance of positive customer experiences occurring. And for most of us in customer service, it’s those positive customer stories which are much of the reason we’re in this industry in the first place – stories which show that we all have the capacity to listen, to understand, and to do even small things that can mean the world to others.
Kaye Chapman is Comm100’s Customer Experience & Training Specialist, an internationally-experienced writer and trainer, and an MA student at University College London, the world’s #1 center for Education and Social Science. Kaye has worked with Fortune 500, governmental and private firms across the globe to advance customer service operations and embed leading learning and development strategy. As a specialist in Contact Centers, Kaye is passionate about using technology and training to improve experiences for customers and employees alike.