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There’s an old expression, “You never have a second chance to make a first impression.” In as little as 100ms we begin to shape our perception of whether or not we like and trust the person with whom we are interacting. As an interaction unfolds, our initial impression greatly influences how successful the overall interaction will be — in a tenth of a second, we reach powerful conclusions about who someone is, how they might behave, and whether or not we will be happy with the result.

Call center employees are on the front line of the customer experience. How they interact with customers has a major impact on retention and loyalty. Here are 3 steps to ensure each interaction with a customer starts with a good first impression.

Step 1:

Set a positive tone from the outset.

People tune into voice when judging emotions. How we speak provides a rich source of information for judging things like anger, joy, or sadness. Starting a conversation with a positive, energetic tone can influence a person’s impression of engagement as well as their perception of competence and trustability.

Tips:
Practice initial greetings for a variety of call types and customer personas with employees.
Empower employees to listen to previous calls to experience how their tone impacts the customer’s participation in and perception of the conversation. When appropriate enable employees to take a break after a particularly difficult call. This will help them reset their emotions and convey a positive first impression to the next customer they interact with.

Step 2:

Better recognize and respond to the customer’s emotions during the initial moments of each interaction.

Voice provides a very telling window into emotions, such as anxiety. If the customer’s first impression of the employee is they are apathetic or defensive, the customer is far less likely to participate in the conversation or trust the employee’s response. Help each employee better sense signs of distress in the customer’s voice and help them adapt their behavior to more effectively engage the customer.

Tips: According to a survey conducted by Cogito, across 75 U.S. call centers, 73% of agents believe it would be helpful to be made aware of the customer’s perception of their communication style during a call. Provide employees with training to help identify a customer’s emotional signals as soon as possible within a conversation. If an employee recognizes that the call is off to a challenging start, encourage them to quickly seek help. Provide employees with tools that help recognize customer signals and coach them in the moment as to how they can adjust behavior to build rapport and deescalate a situation.

Step 3:

Help employees manage their emotions.

If a customer expresses a heightened emotional state during an interaction, it can induce a strong emotional reaction in an employee, a concept referred to as emotional contagion. If an employee is equipped to recognize the signs of an anxious or upset customer, they can avoid mimicking these emotions in their own voice. If an employee continuously takes on the emotions of the customer, it can lead to unnecessary escalations, poor interactions, and potential employee burnout.

Tips:
Provide a tool that alerts employees to changes in the customer’s and their own emotional state as the call is happening.
Provide them with guidance as to how to express compassion without becoming defensive, angry or fatigued.
Help employees recognize when a customer’s emotional state changes, and coach them as to how to better manage the emotional situation. Managing emotions is critical to the success of an interaction and the well-being of the employee.

Since a customer forms an impression within the first 100ms of a conversation, it is important to develop a positive rapport. By setting a positive tone and expressing compassion throughout the call, an employee can ensure that each customer leaves a call feeling satisfied with the service received and has a positive impression of the company. A positive interaction will result in increased customer loyalty and result in a customer that will refer the company to friends and family.

Cogito helps enhance the emotional intelligence of call center employees through our behavioral change software. By applying validated behavioral science through artificial intelligence and machine learning, Cogito’s live guidance ensures employees are empowered to build rapport and develop an emotional connection from “hello”. Employees who leverage Cogito reduce handle time, increase first contact resolution and are more engaged in their jobs. Learn more by checking out this CNBC article or visit our website at http://www.cogitocorp.com/

This post was first published on CustomerThink.