When you invest in customer experience, you have a clear competitive advantage. This can be particularly important during a crisis when customer emotions run high, and there’s even more competition for less business.
How your organization responds to a crisis will result in positive or negative consequences for your bottom line, and it’s often decided based on the emotional intelligence of your employees.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to identify and manage emotions, both your own and others. Specifically, this means demonstrating three skills:
- Emotional Awareness: The skill of identifying and naming emotions.
- Harnessing Emotions: The capacity to apply emotions in problem-solving situations.
- Managing Emotions: The ability to regulate emotions—your own and others.
Someone who demonstrates emotional intelligence is someone who is likely to be successful and satisfied with their work, because they do not let their emotions or the emotions of others get the best of them. And this ability is especially critical when it comes to call center performance and providing excellent customer service.
Why is it Important to Customer Experience?
Companies that commit to making emotional intelligence an essential part of their culture have more success and outshine the competition. That’s because an emphasis on emotional intelligence, encourages the importance of customer experience into every aspect of your business. It also helps to create a more collaborative and productive environment based on quality communication and personal development.
As for empathy and customer experience:
- 95 percent of purchasing decisions are made based on emotions.
- A positive emotional connection encourages 86 percent of customers to do business with you again.
- Dissatisfied customers are more likely to complain, switch brands, and discuss their unhappiness.
So, it is no surprise that emotional intelligence and customer service are intrinsically linked. When empathy is at the heart of every customer interaction, your organization will receive top marks in service excellence. And that’s never been truer than during a crisis such as COVID-19.
The Importance of Emotional Intelligence During a Crisis
It is the responsibility of your business and the expectation of your customers that your leaders and agents show empathy during this unprecedented time. That includes being uncompromisingly optimistic and flexible despite business disruption and the highly volatile situation.
While there’s no doubt that we will get to the other side of the coronavirus—whether in a few weeks or a few months—right now, it’s essential that emotional intelligence and crisis management are the heart of your organization. That’s because calm during chaos is the only way to not just survive but thrive.
4 Tips for Using Emotional Intelligence to Improve Customer Experience During a Crisis
The question is: how can your call center demonstrate emotional intelligence in crisis situations? It’s not always easy, but it is possible with a few tips.
1. Be Empathetic
No one has dealt with something like the COVID-19 pandemic before. Every business, city, government, and customer is trying to comprehend and move forward into the unknown. So, when customers call confused, annoyed, angry, upset, and highly emotional, remind yourself and your team that they are struggling, just like you.
The key during this time is to have your agents be as generous, calm, and optimistic as possible. Remember that you’re not the only business receiving cancelations, postponements, or negative feedback. For example, airlines are having to adjust their travel policies daily and are flying with mostly empty airplanes—losing billions.
So, as stress, pessimism, and frustration abound, do what you can to empathize with your customers and lower heightened emotions in every interaction. The goal should be to solve your customer’s problems in a calm and helpful manner by letting them know you understand and are on their side.
2. Provide Crisis Context
Unless your agent understands the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic, including how it’s affecting your industry, business, and customers, they won’t be able to respond to customers properly. Emotional intelligence in crisis management means having the full picture and being fully informed.
Provide your call center agents with necessary crisis management resources, so they know how best to manage their relationships with their customers. They should be fully aware of what type of tricky situations they could find themselves in and how to handle them.
This means providing your agents with a crisis communication plan, which includes:
- Updated crisis policies
- Documentation of all critical processes and procedures
- Recommendations for dealing with common COVID-19 complaints
- Call center scripts for expected crisis questions
- An outline of who is involved in which actions and in charge of which functions during the crisis
The goal is to help increase call center agent productivity during the crisis by giving them a road map that makes it easier to do their job while avoiding long-term damage to your reputation.
3. Offer Flexibility
During the coronavirus pandemic, working remotely has become the way forward. If your state or city hasn’t already closed all but the most essential businesses and encouraged employers to allow their staff to work from home, it’s probably just a matter of time.
The good news is that technology allows your call center agents to work from anywhere. Through email, video conferencing, online chat, and other networking platforms, it’s possible to bridge the gap between office and home. And this flexibility will benefit the mindset of your staff. When your agents have less to worry about personally—they’re not worried about catching the virus working in a busy call center—they’ll be more at ease in their jobs and thus more willing to be empathetic to customers.
Just make sure that your agents have everything they need at home to work remotely effectively and without worry. This means setting up policies, procedures, and protocols for handling customer interactions from outside the office. In particular, you’ll want to ensure you have a branded omnichannel strategy so that your customers can reach you in whatever way they feel most comfortable
4. Display Optimism
During a crisis, it’s hard to be optimistic. Every day during COVID-19, the news seems to be getting worse. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s essential that your organization demonstrate optimism for continued business despite the panic.
Being resilient during a crisis and encouraging your company to focus on solutions and positive outcomes is critical to success. While there will be times of uncertainty and anxiety will inevitably spike, you must focus on gratitude for what’s being done and the work that will continue to be done.
To ensure that you remain optimistic, open communication is critical. The last thing you want is to spread misinformation and panic. Instead, focus on making educated decisions based on what offers the best results for your business, employees, and customers. Demonstrating emotional intelligence in such a way that you anticipate customer requests, build rapport, and provide emotional support is the best way forward.
The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in a Leader During a Crisis
According to the Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, “Emotional intelligence has been identified as the most important element that leads to effective leadership.” That’s why it’s not just your call center agents that need to focus on emotional intelligence; it’s also your leadership.
Your leaders determine the direction of your company. Their decisions not only directly impact employee satisfaction, but they are key to building meaningful relationships with your customers.
4 Tips for Call Center Leadership During the COVID-19 Global Crisis
Demonstrating emotional intelligence in your leadership team is particularly important during the COVID-19 global crisis because many call centers are working virtually. This presents quite a few challenges, including a lack of face-to-face contact, different time zones, and unreliable technology, all of which make establishing trust and building relationships more difficult.
The issue is that emotional intelligence relies highly on visual cues and observation, or you risk misunderstandings and miscommunication. When your call center leadership is remote, feeling isolated and disconnected is to be expected, but that doesn’t mean you can’t address issues as needed while also motivating team and individual performance.
To get started on improving the emotional intelligence of your leaders during a crisis, focus on relationships, accountability, motivation, and processes.
1. Focus on Relationships
The relationship between your leaders and your call center agents is critical to building trust, managing conflict, and enhancing collaboration, especially in a virtual environment. The key is how your leaders initiate and encourage interaction among the group as well as individuals.
There are a few ways that your leaders can better focus on building strong relationships by using emotional intelligence.
- Encourage collaboration by regularly and consistently initiating teamwork, partnering team members from different locations, or holding virtual group events.
- Allow all team members to express their individual perspectives and views. Invite collaboration in problem solving and decision-making.
- Constantly invite both work and non-work related conversations, taking an interest in the lifestyle of all team members to get to know them better.
- Use active listening skills to resolve conflicts, avoid misunderstandings, and build relationships. And coach your call center agents to do the same.
2. Establish Accountability
Virtual leaders need to consistently hold team members accountable for meeting their commitments and your company’s goals, regardless of their physical location. It’s all about accountability, which requires your leadership to establish clear goals that are distributed to the team regularly.
It’s not about micromanagement, but about developing a model where all team members take responsibility for their own actions and the consequences thereof. There are a few things your leaders can and should do to establish goals and accountability for those goals.
- Model Behavior: Your leaders must model the behavior they expect from others.
- Encourage Transparency: Make work visible to all team members by posting documents on shared sights, holding information sessions during team calls, and sharing about agent performance.
- Establish Trust: Do not micromanage and constantly follow up on tasks, instead trust team members to follow through on their commitments.
- Monitor Performance: Develop systems and processes, such as Scorebuddy quality assurance, to monitor agent and team performance.
- Track Result-Oriented Metrics: Track results-oriented metrics that clearly connect individual effort to company goals.
- Communicate Clearly: Set clear expectations with specific due dates so your call center agents know how, when, and why they will be held accountable.
- Schedule Reviews: Develop periodic check-ins to review work and initiate coaching. The goal is to identify problems early so they can be fixed, and deliverables are provided as expected.
3. Keep Motivation High
It’s especially difficult to motivate call enter agents when you can’t see them every day because they are working remotely. However, it’s essential that your leaders find a way to inspire, influence, and engage their team as individuals and as a whole.
The key to keeping motivation high is continually conveying optimism about the future while also providing meaning for the task at hand. This requires emotional intelligence and crisis management because you have to be able to recognize what type of enthusiasm is warranted and works best.
A few things your leaders can do to motivate your agents during COVID-19 and beyond, include:
- Using collaborative software to make communication a richer experience. For example, using video conferencing to host meetings instead of just voice calls.
- Identifying the values and ideals of each team member and connecting them to the company’s goals and mission.
- Allocating time for non-work related communication focused on building relationships.
- Making the agents’ contributions to the organization more visible by sharing client testimonials or bringing senior leadership into team meetings for a chat.
- Providing regular feedback and coaching focused on developing skills. Your leaders need to demonstrate that they are dedicated to helping your agents grow professionally and personally.
- Creating a psychologically safe environment where all agents feel free to share their ideas and constructively challenge each other without fear of retribution.
4. Create Clear Processes for Support
When running a call center remotely during a crisis, you need clear and effective processes in place to support your work. This means implementing technology, procedures, and protocols for running everything virtually.
The key is to not get stuck in one set of processes or one method of communication. Each situation should be handled in the most effective and appropriate way possible. For example, while face-to-face communication is the richest and provides the most immediate feedback, during COVID-19, it’s not possible except for the direst situations.
Instead, your leadership team will want to review all processes and communication methods to determine what works best for your complex interactions. There are a few things to consider.
- Video Communication: Offers one of the richest experiences and works best for managing conflicts and building relationships. Consider software such as Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, or me, to replicate face-to-face interactions and gain access to tools such as screen sharing, whiteboard, and file/document sharing.
- Telephone Communication: Lacks visual cues to aid in understanding, but can be effective in problem-solving and decision-making discussions. However, it is highly reliant on active listening skills.
- Email Communication: Best used for follow-up, summaries, and basic information sharing where input from the receiver is not needed.
- Instant Messaging: An effective form of communication when information needs to be disseminated quickly but without interrupting productivity.
Once your leaders have established how best to communicate in any given situation, the next step is to support the team’s work by ensuring the necessary processes are in place. Focus on:
- Providing adequate technological resources such as video conferencing, instant messaging, and collaborative software (e.g., Basecamp, Asana, Huddle).
- Agreeing on which technology is used for which situation based on the multiple platforms available.
- Conducting virtual meetings that keep team members engaged by assigning everyone a role or agenda item and rotating meeting times to accommodate all employees.
- Implementing shared processes for problem solving and decision-making.
- Clarifying expectations around accessibility and response time for team member interaction.
By creating consistent processes for remote communication and support, your leaders will be able to ensure that the team is as effective and productive as possible. As needed, training should be provided to help accelerate learning about the functionality and tools available on every platform.
Emotional intelligence in crisis situations is not just about empathy; it’s about creating a sense of purpose and community among your team members and customers in spite of working virtually. The key is putting the appropriate systems in place to keep communication personal and to monitor and recognize performance.
How your organization responds to the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-term consequences for your bottom line. By leveraging technology to connect your virtual team and improve the quality of communication, you’ll provide a foundation for strong emotional intelligence, which will lead to success.