Compassion, the beating heart of contact centres – Philip Rushton Director of Contact Centre Business Development at SSCL
Contact centre staff have long been at the forefront of dealing with customer emotions. Whether calming angry callers, or helping people through life-changing situations, compassion has always been a core part of the agent’s role.
Often, people using contact centre services are in a desperate situation. It’s their last hope when all other forms of support fail. Business service provider SSCL, for example, works with Child Bereavement UK in supporting bereaved families organise and fund funerals for their young, loved ones, as well as the prison service, helping families who aren’t physically together stay in touch. Being a call agent is a demanding job. They have the responsibility to quickly spot vulnerability, provide support, and signpost callers to extra aid where necessary, while protecting their own mental health.
There is power in the contact centre. Agents want to help, and people need the services and support they provide.
In recent years, there is an industry-wide focus on SLAs and outcomes. It was an understandable switch during the peak of the pandemic where getting things done was paramount. Contact centres though, are still being led with this SLA mindset, and as the world we operate in continues to shift, the industry isn’t moving with it.
Change management must start from the top. Leadership styles need to evolve with the current tide. Now, contact centre leaders must adapt to a more compassion-based approach. Here are four considerations for leaders to enact change.
Tech has a role in compassionate contact centres
The role of generative AI and chatbots has divided opinion in the contact centre world. Many see the value in using tech to bring cost and operational efficiencies. However, technology also has an important role in improving compassion for both the agent and the caller. At a basic level, using this technology to help with simple queries, such as yes/no questions, will reduce the number of calls agents have to take. This, frees up the time of trained agents, allowing them to take on the calls which matter and provide more impact for those who use the service.
Alongside this, AI technology with natural language processing capabilities has been developed which can detect how a person is feeling and the emotional intent of a conversation within seconds. This information can allow agents to better prepare for their next call, ensuring they are meeting the client with the right tone.
But it’s important that business leaders don’t just implement this new technology for the sake of it, or because they think it will improve profitability. Instead, implementation needs to be well thought out, ensuring any new technology helps teams provide more compassionate services.
Get help from strategic partners
There is a lot of value for private and public organisations to work with each other. Regardless of which sector the contact centre serves, be it governmental services, utilities or a bank, the role of the call agent is to build rapport with the caller and provide the support they need. The better they can understand the challenges the caller faces, the better the outcome. Showing compassion and empathy is a key part of the conversation.
This is why SSCL is working with the Samaritans to provide training for contact centre staff. The non-profit charity helps call agents learn to provide an expert ear to customers in need of emotional help and be ready to respond and provide the right level of support.
It’s vital for contact centre leaders to understand their staff aren’t experts in everything. There is strength in doing so. It’s about sharing expertise and giving agents the confidence to know when to escalate matters if people sound like they may need extra help. Empowering staff to do so also helps to protect their mental wellbeing while ensuring customers get what they need at the right time.
Placing values at the heart of the organisation
Contact centres, as with most organisations, often have core values at the centre of their business. The issue? It seems as though many aren’t living these values or delivering them – something which comes from profitability focus.
The compassionate side of leadership is linked to an organisation’s culture and values. Business leaders living these values not only gives agents a focus and greater sense of purpose but will reinforce compassion as values and goals feed into everyday decisions and work. Values are also the foundations of an organisation’s culture, especially in times of change and hardship.
There needs to be a better balance between profit and compassion. To ensure this, contact centre leaders must implement values both they and their employees believe in and want to work towards.
Align with every part of the business
Contact centres who want to realise the benefits of compassionate leadership will be required to go through change. While an internal shift is the more obvious, leaders will also need to ensure procurement methodologies are changed accordingly, encouraging those they partner to do the same.
Procurement plays a key part in any purchasing decision. Typically, procurement uses a scoring system to focus on improving efficiencies in spending, delivery and operational gains. It’s a process-driven function that intends to give an unbiased decision, which often lacks the human compassion required to make the right decision.
Business leaders have a key role to play in building better partnerships with procurement teams, ensuring they are brought along on the journey of building a compassionate culture across every aspect of an organisation. This may mean reevaluating the purpose and structure of the scoring system to focus more on the benefits to the end user, or how it helps to better cultivate a compassionate, employee-led culture, all while achieving the efficiency goals set out in the first place.
Contact centres, as with any customer facing organisation, are more than just profits and services. At their heart needs to behaviour that recognises vulnerability and supports it.
The market is changing. Digital transformation and a wider business focus on implementing and living brand values is seeing the need for these organisations to put people first. Given the current economic climate, this support will be more important than ever to more people. In the here and now though, government contracts, many of which have been extended due to the pandemic, need to change. They are currently unfit for purpose, focusing only on who can deliver services at the best price.
Over the past few years, organisations have become more conscious of mental health and wellbeing. The industry must not lose sight of the lessons learned from that period. Instead, it needs to ensure kindness and empathy is a core part of any leadership, and that leaders have the right support through technology and partnerships to drive the business forward.
SSCL, the trading name for Shared Services Connected Ltd, are leading providers of business-critical support services to Government and the UK public sector.
We employ 2,500 people and our business focus is ‘Shared Purpose – Unique Solutions’. Together we play a vital role in transforming business support services, delivering digital solutions and developing innovations that make life easier for our customers and meet their unique requirements.
Our strong emphasis on improving customer experience has shown a substantial increase in our Net Promoter Scores in recent years.
For additional information on SSCL visit their Website