James Rouse, an American real estate developer and philanthropist, is credited with saying, "Profit is not the legitimate purpose of business. The legitimate purpose of business is to provide a product or service that people need and do it so well that it's profitable."
This is a product-centric view of business and it makes a lot of sense. You don't have to look far to find examples of businesses that have thrived due to their products and services (Apple and Nike), as well as companies that have faltered when their products have fallen out of favor (Kodak and Blockbuster). Successful businesses are ones that fulfill an unmet need or desire. It's basic, Entrepreneurship 101 stuff, right?
Now, think about how the service agents who interact with your customers deliver on the promise and reputation of your products. Are they knowledgeable fans of your products? Or is their knowledge limited to what they (and your customers!) can read on your website? If it's the latter, you're likely shortchanging both your customers and your agents.
Customers want to be assisted by knowledgeable agents. According to the American Express 2017 Customer Service Barometer, 62% of the customers surveyed said that an agent's knowledge and resourcefulness were key to a positive experience. The stakes are high (and painful) when customers do not have a positive experience. The same American Express report shows that a single bad service experience will have 33% of customers thinking about switching companies. Knowledgeable agents are critical for customer retention and, therefore, the bottom line.
Making agents knowledgeable about products is important to another group of constituents - the agents themselves. Agents want to be able to help the customers that they interact with. For many agents, helping people is in their DNA and not being able to truthfully and helpfully answer questions like "which one do you think smells the best?" genuinely bothers them. Arming agents with sufficient product knowledge is bound to move the needle on agent satisfaction, engagement and retention.
What are some ways to do that?
First, make them feel good about your products. Jay Samit once said, "The strength of brand loyalty begins with how your product makes people feel." It's very likely the "people" he was talking about are consumers, but can't the same be said about employees? How do your products make your employees feel? Good, bad, indifferent?
Agents need to feel good about the products that customers are calling about. A good way to do that is by making sure agent training includes information about product benefits and endorsements by customers who are enthusiastic about the products. Play clips of phone calls or show comments from social media in which customers are praising the products. This will carry a lot of weight with agents.
Next, make sure they have product information at their fingertips. When agents are speaking to customers, they need to appear knowledgeable about products, even if you have such a large suite of products that complete product expertise is an impossibility. Agents need to be able to quickly access, from their desktops, information such as product colors, sizes, materials, dimensions, weight, laundering instructions, whether its vegan or organic or waterproof or recyclable. When you populate your knowledge base, think about everything a customer could ask about a product, and then update it frequently based on actual interactions. This is basic blocking and tackling.
Then, put the products in their hands. Some adults are kinesthetic learners, which is a fancy way of saying that they learn best in a hands-on environment. But really, all agents can benefit from being up close and personal with the products they support. Here are some methods I have seen be successful:
- Product cart on the contact center floor - If your product lends itself to this (in my situation, it was mobile phones, which have a small physical footprint), consider putting a rolling cart containing your products on the contact center floor, where they will be accessible to agents when they need it the most.
- Product "closet" - Display your products (for example, clothing) in a spare room that is near the contact center floor. The product closet can be used for hands-on training, or really motivated agents can visit it during breaks.
- Product sampling - This works great with consumables like candy or skin care products. Throw periodic sampling parties to allow agents to experience your products firsthand. It's great for learning as well as a fun treat.
- Deep employee discounts - For companies that offer a service that can't be loaded on a cart or displayed in a closet, the best way for agents to get their hands on your services might just be by encouraging them to become customers. I have seen this work with online tax preparation, but really it could work with a variety of services - identity theft protection, auto insurance, and online gaming sites, just to name a few. Be generous with discounts or, if it makes sense, include free services as part of the benefits package.
Contact center agents need to know your products and they need to be proud to represent them. Invest in this area and the return will be realized quickly.