The client, a large multinational FMCG business, offers 24-hour IT support through a service portal that is accessible to its employees. The support service addresses all IT issues that occur during the working day via three hubs located across three time zones. The staff deals with a range of hardware and software technical issues as well as system specific questions relating to SAP, the company’s chosen ERP system. I was contracted to the main hub where there are approximately 40 support staff and 10 managers all reporting to its director.
Support engineers within the hubs are expected to possess a number of key qualifications and qualities, including a high level of technical knowledge, good written and spoken English and an in-depth understanding of IT processes and systems. They also need to be communicative and constructive as well as being able to work under pressure.
Yet despite the high calibre of the support engineers recruited to the hubs, the volume of complaints received by the service was higher than deemed acceptable.
My initial brief focused on improving service levels in order to decrease the number of complaints the hubs received. I was asked to achieve this by:
increasing call effectiveness through structured communication
decreasing the time needed to process both call and email incidents
increasing proactive communication through building the assertiveness of the support engineers
I put a range of measurements in place to track results. They included feedback loops, tracking incident processing times and volumes of complaints.
The Training Process
1) Promoting active listening using the Transactional Analysis model
I began by requesting call recordings and listened to over 45 calls. This allowed me to gain a thorough understanding of the current situation and how I could best address the challenge; in particular, how I could help improve communication effectiveness and decrease incident processing times.
It became clear from the calls that the support engineers were not actively listening. They were attempting to provide solutions before fully understanding the user needs.
Consequently, it would take longer to solve the issue as the solutions offered in the first instance were not addressing the whole issue. Users of the support hub were left feeling frustrated, inconvenienced and dissatisfied with the interaction and its outcome.
Once I had identified the training need, I developed a programme to address it which covered:
the basics of communication, highlighting the need to listen
levels of listening
how to structure communication within the call
how to lead and control the call
how to generate trust between service engineer and user
how to gain information needed to solve the actual issue
I based the training on the communication model called Transactional Analysis by Dr Eric Berne.
I chose this model as it shows clearly and immediately how effective the service engineer is at communicating with the end user and ultimately how effective the conversation was overall.
The cornerstone of Transactional Analysis is that we all communicate in one of three ego states: Adult, Parent, Child. To be effective when communicating it is important to use the complimentary ego state.
In support service situations such as this one, the aim is for the service engineers to quickly identify how the caller is communicating by actively listening to them, then responding in the appropriate way using the complementary ego state. For example, if they identify the caller as being in the adult ego state, they respond in the same ego state. By doing this, the call and the issue will be resolved quickly.
However, if they identify that the caller is in the Controlling Parent ego state, they should respond using the Adapted Child ego state. A caller in Controlling Parent ego state will be focusing on the emotional aspect of the issue and therefore needs reassurance and an understanding that the service engineer is listening and interested in the depth of this situation which is being caused by the actual technical issue. By listening and providing reassurance the service engineer will move the caller into the adult state following which they can jointly resolve the issue.
In summary this training allowed the service engineers to quickly identify their callers’ ego state and respond appropriately. This would, where necessary, involve correcting the communication before it spiraled out of control as a result of the caller escalating the emotional aspect of the issue – something that would typically result from a lack of listening and acknowledgement of the impact of the whole situation.
The training took 3 days in total, divided into 1.5 days for verbal communication by telephone and 1.5 days for written communication via email.
All the support engineers responded well to this model and began quickly applying it both in writing and verbally.
2) Successfully applying tested principals to new technology
Over the years, I have continued to provide training to up-skill and develop new team members, as well as to meet the changing needs of the business.
In one case, I was tasked with improving performance by further decreasing process times through existing and new technology, including an internal “chat” platform.
I addressed this challenge by asking all the managers and team leads to provide their input and feedback via a questionnaire as well as providing examples of communication from the chat platform.
The resulting insight highlighted changes in the way customers were structuring their communication – just like on any chat platform the information was limited and often abbreviated.
This often created a situation where the support engineer had to spend time clarifying what was required and deciding with the customer how best to address it.
Ironically, rather than speeding up communication, the chat platform was actually slowing it down.
However, the fundamental principles that I had introduced through the Transactional Analysis training remained the same: use of effective listening to clarify what the service engineer has understood as the issue and gauging the ego state of the user before going on to suggesting and or finding the relevant solution. The latter being more difficult due to limited information, however still possible in the majority of cases.
This department has consistently improved over the years that I have been working with them. Highlights include:
A decrease in process times
Less escalation to team leads of incidents where the user has insisted on talking to a manager
An increase in the overall customer satisfaction rating from a monthly average of 82% to an average of 98%.
A 5% increase in productivity.
An additional benefit as a result of this training is that team members are able to handle more work volume without an increase in stress.
The department is happier and team members enjoy their jobs despite each day being faced with a high volume of issues that require solving.
For more information on how to improve performance in your call centre, please call on 07880634819 and speak to Rachel, or send an email to Rachel@greenkeypersonaldevelopment.com