Where have all the soft skills gone?

Soft skills are now seen as essential to any customer-facing organisation.

Bundling the interaction and customer service skills under the banner of “soft skills” goes back to the beginning of the modern call centre when it was recognised that a particular set of communication skills were needed particularly when communicating remotely.

They are now seen as essential to any customer-facing organisation and a recent BBC article placed an economic value of £88bn on soft skills to the UK economy with the likes of McDonalds, Barclays and the CBI championing them.

Surprisingly despite this, within the modern multi-channel contact centre, soft skills appear to have fallen out of favour, with an increased priority on technical knowledge, template driven responses and ‘compliance-oriented’ scripting.

That is not to discount their importance just they are now viewed as the pre-requisite skills required before employing new staff. And to some extent this is true as basic vocal, listening and questioning skills can be easily assessed at interview.

However the needs of the modern contact centre have meant that a wider range of soft skills is required in order to meet ever-increasing customer experience expectations. The simple transactions are self-served now, making live interactions frequently more complex.

Therefore, advisors need to:

  • Understand and respond with empathy beyond a simple “I’m sorry” or “I understand”.
  • Put the customer at ease with relevant rapport beyond “how’s the weather with you”?
  • Handle emotions effectively instead of simply passing the customer to a supervisor.

Part of the problem is that most training time is allotted at induction and this is never ideal for covering soft skills as new recruits often don’t have the experience to relate the skills to and are almost always more focused on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of manoeuvring through new contacts, order capture and telephony systems.

Also as consumers become more technically competent there is an expectation that contact centre advisors will have this expert knowledge and so soft skills are quite often lost in the detail.

This issue is often aggravated by the fact that when new starters come out of induction and ‘hit’ the contact centre floor they simply adapt to the style and approach of the existing team so any memory of best practice from the classroom is drowned out by existing team norms.

So when do you address soft skills?

Taking existing advisors out of the contact centre for regular refresher training is often aspirational but rarely achieved due to service level pressures and a misconception that everyone already on the job fully understands the interaction skills required of them.

In reality contact centre advisers operate in a relatively isolated world – “a headset based silo focused entirely on the customer”. They may overhear those that surround them but that will be one-sided and they’ll be lucky if that represents best practice or a learning opportunity for them.

And, what can you do? – Our five key tips:

  1. Define Yourself: Be clear on the ‘soft’ skills needed that represent your brand values and customer experience aspirations.
  2. Don’t Overload: Train each skill individually so the message is clearly understood and to ensure that minimum amount of time is taken away from serving your customers.
  3. Support: Ensure your firstline managers have a full understanding of the skill requirements and can champion them in the same way as they would champion product or process knowledge.
  4. Reinforce: Check that your quality and coaching process is aligned to the skills you expect your team to demonstrate and reward this behaviour.
  5. Congratulate: People respond well to praise so catch them doing things right and share best practise.

How can we help?

At Ember Services we offer an approach to staff development closely aligned to our principles of offering solutions to our customers that are measured and impactful. We work with our clients to create solutions that are innovative and engaging for their teams. These are always focused on delivering an enhanced customer experience that drives value. Ember’s training and development services are built upon principles using operational performance reviews, benchmarking data and financial analytics for solutions meeting your commercial and operational demands.

Read our Training, Coaching and Mentoring services guide  and contact Darren Laskier for a chat about how we can help you support your teams.