Why emotional intelligence needs to be better utilised in customer service interactions

Why emotional intelligence needs to be better utilised in customer service interactions
Adam Wilkinson is head of technology at Experience Assist. He has extensive experience working with high-profile brands such as Xerox and National Rail, helping them discover how to improve services to boost customer satisfaction.

Daniel Goleman, the psychologist who popularised the term ‘emotional intelligence’ (the ability to read, understand and respond to human emotions appropriately) argued that Emotional Intelligence (EI) was just as important as IQ when it comes to leadership and achieving success at work.

He suggested that decision makers should look beyond the typical skillsets required for customer service work, and instead find ways to measure the EI of potential new employees.

Today, despite the importance of EI skills in customer service interactions, it still doesn’t have the workplace profile that it perhaps deserves.

Why do customers care about EI?

A key tenet of customer service is recognising that customer satisfaction is driven by an ability to meet their needs; these varying from person to person. Keeping service users satisfied through a consistently friendly and empathetic manner should be a standard for customer-facing teams. Indeed, initial points of contact are frequently scripted or even played as a message in order to uphold this standard.

However, where EI differs from basic interactions is in its emphasis on feelings and measured responses.

How a customer feels about a customer service interaction will often be influential in how they feel about a company. If their service experience is positive, proactive and reassuring, then this will most likely be reflected positively in their brand perceptions.

Customer retention needs to inspire loyalty build upon a foundation of a trusted relationship. Whilst it is unrealistic to expect a customer service representative to develop a personal relationship with every customer, if every employee is encouraged to work on their EI, the chances of this happening are greatly increased.

Significantly, interactions between customers and businesses are now increasingly across digital communication platforms; transactions taking place over email, social media, or via automated systems. While this steady move towards a more efficient model saves time and money, so phone or face-to-face interactions are becoming increasingly important – a conversation building greater brand equity if delivered with the requisite social skills, empathy and to a positive outcome.

So how can you improve EI within your teams?

Building EI skills isn’t always a key component of customer service training, but perhaps it should be.

Employees usually possess the key skills for emotional intelligence, such as self-awareness and empathy, but putting these into practice within a working context requires direction and insight from their managers and team leaders.

A diverse workforce that incorporates different levels of experience and backgrounds is a great foundation for building an emotionally intelligent team; encouraging employees to share their experiences and help others to expand their knowledge and way of thinking.

Using case studies and reference points as examples of both positive and negative customer exchanges can also help employees to deepen their understanding of how to apply emotional intelligence to customer service.

Text-based information such as emails, surveys and social media interactions can hold vital information about the customer experience.

Agile methodologies such as Customer Experience Journey Mapping are also useful in examining critical customer journeys and identifying high impact points where customer emotions are pivotal. Their output can quickly identify where changes are needed to better meet customer needs and facilitate the building of stronger relationships.

With the influence of ‘digital-shift’ across customer services phone and face-to-face interactions are becoming rarer and therefore more important in building customer loyalty and retention.

Ensuring that your customer-facing workforce understands the need to use EI in every customer interaction has never been more important to upholding and improving your company image.

Although these skills may vary from individual to individual, progression and improvement is possible through regular case study focused training, shared experience and a strong emphasis on personal communication skills development.

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