Customers who reach out to service teams have specific emotional needs—and a study that we recently conducted online with 5,500 global consumers confirmed that customers expect service employees to display a specific emotion in response to their issues. For example, an upset customer may expect the service rep on the other end of the line to respond urgently and with concern; a confused customer may expect a technical support rep to be patient and kind.

But what happens when employees do not feel the emotions that customers expect? In a world where what matters most to customers is the emotional impact of their interactions with front-line employees, authentic emotional connections are essential. Faking it till you make it is a recipe for subpar customer experience.

The Concept of Emotional Effort

 Customer service reps often don’t feel an emotion that matches how their customers feel. For example, it may be hard for a field service rep to feel empathy for a customer who dropped their laptop in their pool while sunbathing. Or it may be hard for a rep who is experiencing personal challenges, such as a divorce, to muster the upbeat attitude and enthusiasm needed to handle customer complaints. Nonetheless, reps are told that they must always present a positive and empathetic attitude to their customers, causing them to expend what we call “emotional effort.”

Employees who must regulate their own emotions and display certain emotions to meet employer and customer expectations engage in emotional effort. There are two types of emotional effort: surface acting and deep acting.

With surface acting, employees pretend to feel an expected emotion. When customer service employees must separate what they feel from what they express to customers, their stress levels increase. Customers on the receiving end may feel that a rep who is surface acting is delivering responses that are “scripted” or “canned.”

But with deep acting, employees scan their emotional memories for a situation that evokes an emotion similar to what the customer is experiencing. When service reps channel that emotion as they respond to the customer, what they feel and express is aligned, reducing the stress of emotional effort. And, because deep acting is based on genuine emotions, it is much more likely to lead to a positive defining moment that builds customer loyalty.

Coaching Can Teach Employees Critical Emotional Skills

Deep acting relies on a set of soft skills that employees can learn. Employees who are capable of looking at situations from the customer’s perspective, empathizing with them and understanding how their emotions play a role in the customer experience are best able to adjust their internal feelings to the customer’s expressed emotion.

Service Ready customer service training teaches sales reps how to match their customers’ emotional energy. Attendees learn customer experience best practices, such as how to use the right language (written and spoken), tone of voice, body language and more to convey the appropriate feeling with their message.

But training alone is not enough to ensure an exceptional customer experience. Leading organizations improve their customer experience strategy by reinforcing their training with coaching. In our Customer Experience Best Practices Study, we found that 81% of Leader organizations—those whose customer satisfaction scores had increased in the last year—used at least an informal coaching process; 35% used a formal coaching process. In contrast, 56% of Laggard organizations—those whose customer satisfaction scores declined or stagnated—left coaching up to the individual manager, meaning that some employees likely were not coached at all. A comparison of the hours spent coaching bears this out: managers in Leading organizations are nearly twice as likely to spend at least one hour per week coaching their employees than managers in Laggard organizations.

Coaches work interactively with service reps, reviewing specific customer interactions, customer satisfaction scores and other customer experience metrics to help service teams target and remedy weaknesses. By doing so, not only do they improve individual performance, but they are also able to advance the customer experience metrics of the organization as a whole.

Give a New Meaning to Service With A Smile

Service Ready training, including Coaching to Be Service Ready, prepares customer service reps and their managers to form emotional connections with customers. If you’re ready for your service reps to start connecting with customers on a more authentic level, contact us to learn more about Service Ready today.

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