Last week, my team and I put together a proposal for a potential client. And as we always do, we got down and dirty in the trenches, designing our test call use cases and making lots of investigatory calls to their current customer service team.
HigherRing was particularly interested in this client as we have good experience in the excursions and tours space. This organization - a provider of day and dinner cruises - competes head to head with several companies just down the waterfront. Their boats are similar, their prices are competitive, and an exceptional customer experience from beginning to end is a key differentiator. Their customer service team is in the enviable sales position of often having a motivated caller on the other end of the line. People are excited about getting out on the water with friends and family. In our experience with similar clients, we know that a well-trained customer service team should be able to convert at a rate of just under 30%.
I settled in with my coffee to make the first test call. I had done my research and noted the information I expected to receive.
The first agent answered.
Agent: ABC Tours, can I get your phone number in case we’re disconnected?
Me: Ummmm sure… 415-222-2354
Agent: Okay and where did you hear about us?
Me: The internet.
Agent: Okay and what is your name?
Me: Wait… I just wanted to get some information about the tour options.
Agent: Sure. But first, I need your name and zip code.
Okay, not engaging and no personal connection, but I stick with it. After gathering the information he needed, I got ready to ask typical visitor questions about weather, parking and the various tour types. But no. The agent gathered his breath and was off running. He talked for almost three minutes straight without coming up for air or checking to see if I was still on the line. The five tours were all described at 60 MPH.
When he took his next breath I wondered aloud about the basic tour.
It was as if none of the more elaborate or expensive tours existed and he quickly switched to booking mode, asking me for my credit card details.
I made my notes and redialed.
The next agent went through the exact same steps to gather information. And then through the same speech about options at the same rocket-ship speed. Again, no attempts were made to upsell me to the more valuable offering.
Obviously, these poor agents were hamstrung by a script meant to standardize the information given. This experience is common in call centers where agents handle multiple clients’ calls. Scripts alleviate costly training (especially when turnover is high), make grading the quality of a call easier, and in general, keep costs low.
I slacked my testing partner to ask if she was experiencing the same disengaged and graceless calls. She was.
We made the rest of the test calls, made some educated guesses about the potential ROI of our team, and put together our proposal. We recommended a more fluid, emotionally-connected conversational approach involving active listening with the goal of selling the client’s top cruise. In this case, it was a no-brainer. The client’s top offering was a dinner cruise with live music and the experience of returning to the dock in the evening light among the twinkling lights of the city. It was a longer experience and consistently got rave reviews from cruisers. It was also twice as expensive with an enviable profit margin.
Our recommendation included doing away with the stilted script and instead using a real conversation, where the agent could quickly react to the customer’s own excitement, concerns and logistical questions to effectively book them on the most suitable tour product. Our agents would also focus every conversation on the most elaborate offering asking questions and using phrasing like...
“Do you have time for our popular dinner cruise experience or are you just trying to get out on the water?”
“My favorite cruise, hands down, is the dinner cruise with the live music. It gets rave reviews from our guests.”
“We’re known for our relaxing and fun dinner cruise. Which day were you hoping to come and I can check availability.”
If they were unsuccessful in booking the dinner cruise, then we would work our way down through the day cruises.
This type of strategy doesn’t work well with scripts. Scripts make calls awkward, and at HigherRing, a boutique, white-glove service, we don’t use them. We have confidence that our team members are perfectly capable, once they understand the client’s goals, of authentically interacting with the customer — listening, addressing concerns, and otherwise enthusiastically representing our client’s offerings. Our team management spends a great deal of time capturing or creating examples of successful calls for training purposes. We cover effective sales techniques specific to the client and spend time roleplaying the answers to possible questions. We test our agents to ensure that their answers are consistent and that they know where to quickly find the information that is less commonly asked. And then we set our agents free to efficiently and gracefully handle customer interactions.
Of course we work with our agents to optimize calls, but our quality assurance team doesn’t bother with long grading sheets picking apart the calls. Instead, team members are mentored and scored on:
Overall interaction with the customer -- we value truly connected conversation made possible by undistracted active listening.
Alignment with our client’s goals.
Familiarity with our client’s product offerings or common call reasons.
Next issue avoidance -- what type of information can we give so that the customer will not need to call back.
We believe scripts limit the ability to create a real connection with customers. We have faith in our people and know their thoughtful and creative approaches to conversations are key to building customer loyalty, positive buzz and great sales outcomes.