Teaching soft skills is hard – Do you give your team the right framework to succeed?

“Soft Skills” in the context of customer support are those skills designed to surround the hard technical support result (fixing the actual customer problem) with a cushion of care and politeness and comfort.

Teaching those soft skills is surprisingly hard – because the methods and behaviors associated with delivering that pleasant customer experience are closely connected with the way we normally interact with people in life. If you are an enthusiastic conversationalist and jump quickly into the tiniest conversational gaps with friends, they might forgive that. However a frustrated customer will not appreciate you cutting them off repeatedly. The ways we want our support folks to engage can run counter to the way they normally operate, so changing those kinds of behaviors can be difficult for them.

That’s why learning and applying new soft skills can be a real challenge for any support team. But there is one key way to make it smoother – give them the right framework.

Way too many soft skills training programs consist merely of a long list of tips, platitudes, and catch phrases followed by some agent role play. But without a framework that helps the support team members develop the right habits, these bullet-based training attempts will fail.  The framework needs to be concise, memorable, and actionable. It can be an acronym, a short mnemonic phrase, or a checklist, but it needs to be something that you can:

  • Teach to
    • In a way that each piece makes sense and flows the same way that the customer interaction flows.
  • Coach to
    • So that you can pull out distinct actions and behaviors that meet or do not meet the results you are driving towards.
  • Relate to the customer’s experience
    • Seems obvious, but a soft skills training that is organized around what the company wants, is going to have problems.  (e.g. say this because it gets the customer off the phone faster…)

I personally like the idea of an acronym that is chronological. In other words, one that highlights the key behavior you want to see at each step of the customer transaction beginning, middle, and end. That is probably the easiest for folks to remember and remember to apply in the heat of the transaction.  I won’t suggest one for you because it really needs to be unique for your business and support model. But they are not hard to come up with.

It is still hard to change behavior, but with the right framework supporting your efforts, you can improve the human touches of the customer experience you deliver

photo credit: just.Luc via photopin cc

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