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Customer engagement gets a bad rep. Some entrepreneurs may see customer service as divorced from the “big think” aspects of their businesses and the contact center agent as a buffer between themselves and angry customers.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Customers are the lifeblood of a business. Serving them is the company’s most important function. In a sense, serving customers is the only function that really counts. Without customers to serve, there is no business.

Customer contact centers represent the front line. They are not there to keep the company executives away from negative feedback—they are there for customer engagement. In a sense, they are your brand’s most important ambassadors. When something breaks, when instruction manuals are not clear, when delivery expectations are not met, the contact center agent is the one who actually has to make it work with a customer on the phone, over live chat, through email exchanges, etc..

Customer interactions, even complaints, can end in one of two ways—the customer could feel positively about your brand, or negatively about your brand. According to the Harvard Business Review, a customer who has a negative phone support experience is 74% more likely to choose another company to do that same business with. The importance of positive customer engagement cannot be stressed enough.

If you are responsible for a customer contact center, start thinking now about how to improve customer engagement. It’s an ongoing process, and there is always room for improvement. Master customer engagement at your contact center, and your company is a long step closer to prosperity and sustainability.

Here are five customer engagement tips for contact center agents to consider:

1. Train Agents to Listen Empathically

Many of us don’t so much listening as we wait for our turns to talk. Listening well is a skill that must be learned, and it is especially important for customer contact center agents.

First, there was just plain listening. Then, there was active listening. Now, the gold standard is empathic listening. What is empathic listening?

Active listening is part of empathic listening, but empathic listening goes a step further by inducing the listener to step into the shoes of the speaker. By adopting the speaker’s point of view as best as they can, the listener can come to a better understanding of how best to fulfill the speaker’s needs.

There are three steps to empathic listening:

  • Listen Actively. Repeat points that the speaker makes back to them, either verbatim or paraphrased. Take notes, if necessary. Ask probing or clarifying questions that demonstrate you heard what they said.
  • Process What You Heard. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who would have to say what the speaker just said. How would you feel in the same scenario? How might you respond to different steps that might come next?
  • Respond with Affirmation. Tell the speaker you sympathize. You don’t have to point out that their feelings might be disproportionate (i.e. too angry about a small problem). The important thing is to acknowledge that their feelings are valid and important to you.

Learning to listen empathically helps contact center agents engage customers on a person-to-person level. Empathic listening acknowledges the humanity and the feelings of the customer by taking responsibility for them as if they were our own.

2. Reduce Reliance on Scripts and Acknowledge Individuality

Strong empathic listeners don’t need to rely as much on scripts to dictate their customer interactions. That’s good news because most customers have had it with scripted interactions.

When a contact center agent is adhering to a script, no matter how peppy the voice, it can be painfully obvious to a customer. The opposite of customer engagement is customer disengagement, and nothing causes a customer to check out faster than the feeling that they are just another cog in the company’s vision, to be disposed of by rote.

Scripts are important training tools, but as contact center agents get more seasoned, they should feel the freedom to ditch the script.

Some customer contact center managers try to script every interaction, failing to trust contact center agents to make even one autonomous choice. For every “if/then” scenario, there is another script.

There are two problems with this. First of all, it discourages empathic listening. What if the customer asks a question that the agent has no script to answer? The panicked agent will probably try to default to a different script, answering a question she knows how to answer … but not the question the customer actually asked.

This is a one-way ticket not only to disengaged customers but angry customers and lost brand cache. And it’s not the contact center agent’s fault—it’s the fault of the would-be Quentin Tarantino who had to script every line the agent speaks.

Second of all, if you’re going to treat your human agents like machines, you should know that there are actual machines for that. Artificially intelligent chatbots are cheaper than human resources and can follow “if/then” scripts in their own right.

But if you’re fortunate enough to have human resources in your customer contact center, you should rely on them to do things that only humans can do—listen empathically and treat each customer as the unique human being that they are.

3. Empower Agents to Actually Serve the Customers

Customers can tell if they’re being read a script, and they can also tell if the customer support agent’s main job is to keep them away from escalating the issue further.

Sometimes this comes in the form of “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do about that and I can’t refer you to my supervisor.”

Other customer care agents are trained to avoid saying “No” and twist every answer into some kind of “Yes,” even if it’s a “Yes” to a different question. This approach often angers customers instead of placating them.

Successful customer engagement means empowering contact center agents to actually serve the customers.

This means using empathic listening to accurately identify the problem—and then having the ability to solve the problem. Three things to keep in mind:

  • Invest in Expertise. It may be quick and easy to put someone on a headset and teach them how to search a knowledge database for the right answers, but it pays big dividends to instill your contact center agents with actual product expertise.

The better the agents understand the product, the better they can offer autonomous support. The better they understand who the customer is and why they purchased in the first place. The agents may even buy into the mission of the company and engage customers with a new sense of purpose.

  • Eliminate Dead Ends. Keep track of when customer interactions end with “I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t help you with that.” Not only do you win honesty points with the customer, but you have also identified a weakness that can be targeted.

Fire the recording of that call up the chain and say “How do we fix this customer’s problem? The contact center agent was stumped, so let’s solve this problem and add it to the knowledge base.” Just like that, your customer support center gets stronger. One less question that will stump them.

  • Allow Agents to Escalate. No one likes to hear “I’m sorry, but I can’t solve your problem and I can’t refer you to anyone else.” If an agent is stumped, he should always be able to escalate to a supervisor, even if it’s just to apologize for the inconvenience, assure them you are working on it, and/or process a refund.

4. Support Agents in Real-Time

As contact center agents get their feet wet, they will become more confident and autonomous. But early on, and periodically throughout their employment, they will need help. Contact center agents can’t just be turned loose on customers. They need a company expert on hand to help them in real-time.

This is true even if your contact center agents work from home. In this case, a cloud-based customer contact center is probably the way to go. This allows your agents to work from home, with supervisors able to listen in from anywhere in the world. The supervisor can advise the agent or surface silent recommendation cards on the agent’s screen to help guide the contact center agent through the interaction.

Advanced cloud-based customer contact centers may also have AI capabilities that surface recommendation cards on the contact agent’s screen when voice recognition software identifies keywords or phrases that come up in the conversation. A cloud-based customer contact center also gives the contact center agent a “one-stop-shop” to log into and start work. This makes them useful even for in-person call centers.

Make sure to choose a cloud-based customer contact center that integrates with your other software for easy process automation and data tracking.

5. Use Data to Build Customer Personas

The rise of big data has led to the building of “customer personas,” avatars of a typical customer based on aggregated customer data.

Many modern CRMs build customer personas automatically. A customer persona might include the customer’s age, occupation, marital status, location, and possibly an “archetype”—the “Maestro,” the “Frequent Flier,” etc. The customer persona might break down the customer’s potential motivations, fears, goals, and frustrations. It might break down the persona’s personality along Meyers-Briggs vectors, suggest technical proficiencies … even synthesize a bio.

A company will probably have multiple customer personas come out of the CRM. One of the most important consumers of that customer persona report within the organization is the contact center agent. After all, they will actually be talking to the customers. A customer persona can help them know who they are talking to and affect better customer engagement.


Contact center agents are too often the unsung heroes of an organization. By training them in effective customer engagement techniques, they can be your most effective brand ambassadors, communicating to the world your corporate values and your passion for excellence.

On that note, here’s a bonus tip—foster a supportive, respectful culture in your customer contact center. Celebrate successes, encourage teamwork, and foster partnerships rather than rivalries. Nothing creates engaged customers like engaged customer contact reps.

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