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From Olympic Medals to Smiling Customers: Why Well-Practiced Agents Do Better Work

Olivia Schwan

Think of someone who you could confidently say has mastered a skill. Maybe you have a friend who shreds on guitar. Or you might know someone who bakes like it’s nobody else’s business. Do you know a seasoned counselor? A time-tested plumber? These people are experienced and exceptional at what they do. They’re the Serenas, Michaelangelos, and Bobby Flays of the world. They’re experts. But, the Sistine Chapel wasn’t painted in a day. (In case you’re wondering, it took four years.)

Over time, with hours of practice, experts harness their natural talents and challenge themselves to become better. By honing their strengths and working on their weaknesses, they continuously improve. Through deliberate, focused practice, they become great at what they do. And while practice will never make perfect, it certainly makes progress.

Here’s why all of this matters—the emerging tech that’s transforming the way we create customer care and support experts is digital practice. 

Customer care is an area of expertise that’s brimming with potential. The skills required to be great with customers—patience, problem solving, communication, active listening, negotiation, efficiency, compassion—are developed with time, practice, and effort. When we treat customer service like a sport, where teams practice hard before game day, agents walk into their customer interactions fully prepared and confident in their abilities. They become leaders, and their teams go from good to great. 

Thankfully today, digital practice tools are ready to train up the next customer support experts. When managers prioritize digital practice for their teams with online training software, here’s what we’re noticing:

1. Empathy

People rarely contact customer support because everything is going smoothly in their lives. They’re reaching out because they have questions—they need help solving a problem. We’re all human, and we need other people. This is particularly evident in customer support.

The best agents feel the pain of their customers and understand that no one likes being put on hold in their moment of need. While automation, AI, and bots provide transactionality and quick solutions for simpler issues, sometimes all a customer with a more complex problem needs is a real human on the other side of the screen, line, or counter saying, “I’ve seen this before—let’s handle it together.” Practice prepares reps to be empathetic agents of change.

Digital practice allows agents to rehearse and test out different approaches to their day-to-day interactions. With practice tickets, chat, calls, emails, screen sharing, role play videos, and more, there’s never a need to “wing it” in a customer interaction anymore—they should have practiced it. And the pressures of high CSAT and NPS aren’t weighing as heavily on agents’ shoulders because they’ve all seen the most common customer scenarios before in the practice software. 

Practice that’s built on real-life scenarios helps agents better understand who they’ll be supporting and what genuine help looks like. Freshdesk explored the value of empathetic customer service, and they found customers most dislike the following:

  • Unmatched tone of voice, where an agent seems robotic and callous to their customer’s clear frustration.
  • “Somebody else’s problem” syndrome, where customers feel like they’re being juggled from person to person, but no one will actually solve their issue.
  • Discouragement from getting future support or help, where customers feel like they inconvenienced an agent this time, and they will again if they need more support.

Practice lets managers watch for these three customer care red flags before any actual damage is done with real customers. And digital practice makes this scalable for teams of five agents to 50,000.

2. Engagement

Practice engages agents and gives them ownership of their jobs. The job of tech isn’t to replace the need for human labor—it’s to amplify it. This holds true with practice tools in customer support. 

NewVoiceMedia’s 2018 “Serial Switchers” report found that businesses lost $75 billion last year due to poor customer service alone. Why? Because disengaged agents provide lackluster customer service, and 67% of customers are “serial switchers”—people willing to switch brands as a direct result of a negative customer support interaction. Customers feel frustrated and switch brands, and agents feel frustrated with their jobs and switch companies. There’s little retention on both sides of the equation, and so much room for improvement with practice.

With interactive digital practice, agents feel like their managers are investing in their professional progress and careers—because they are. When managers prepare their teams for situations they’ll face and thoroughly support their support teams, their teams reciprocate this behavior with customers.

Engagement and enablement are byproducts of great practice. Leaders in the customer service world should spend more time thinking about maximizing every customer interaction and continuously training their teams well—as opposed to frantically trying to keep AHT low and CSAT high. When agents are well-enabled and well-practiced, they’re able to delight more customers because they’re delighted themselves. To steal the words of tennis expert Serena Williams, “I think in life you should work on yourself until the day you die.” The best way to make this happen for agents in the customer care world is through practice. You might not end up with Olympic medals, but you will end up with smiling customers.

Schwan_OliviaOlivia Schwan is a marketing specialist and Orr Fellow at Lessonly. Lessonly is powerfully simple training software that helps customer service teams train, practice, and do better. She spends her time diving into customer support best practices, studying service trends, and researching customer experiences to create content for Lessonly’s blog. To connect with Olivia or learn more about Lessonly, email olivia.schwan@lessonly.com and follow Lessonly on LinkedIn.