The percentage of difficult customer service calls more than doubled during the pandemic, according to a 2020 artificial intelligence (AI) analysis of more than 1million customer service calls, by Harvard Business Review. Additionally, a recent study published by Mursion and Future Workplace, The Human Edge in an AI World, revealed that among the top impacts of COVID-19 on frontline workers – in customer service and sales – is that “customers are more emotional and sensitive.”
Before I go on, I must confess. I am among the droves of customers who were hard on a customer service representative. My harshness was over the phone, not face-to-face. A flimsy excuse, I know. In my defense, I was buying a new piece of furniture in preparation for my dad’s visit. It’s been almost two years since I saw him last and I wanted everything to be perfect. I had less than zero tolerance for delays. Apparently, I’m not alone. A simple online search will produce a startling number of stories about customers behaving badly. In stores. In restaurants. On planes. On the phone. We’ve emerged from lockdown angrier and meaner; and those in customer service and sales are bearing the brunt.
For the Human Edge study, there were more than 600 respondents across a wide range of industries including retail, healthcare, financial services, technology, and manufacturing. The respondents were in two main categories: learning leaders and sales and service workers. We asked questions designed to reveal the biggest challenges that sales and customer service professionals face today. We sought to identify how learning and development could build capabilities and contribute to success.
While I sit and reflect on how to rehab myself from being a misbehaving customer, consider the following when you evaluate training modalities for sales and service.
They are personalized to create customized practice scenarios — at scale. Simulations can be customized to fit particular scenarios by role or industry, whether empathizing with an upset call center customer or building rapport with a high-value prospect.
Sessions often offer more honest and productive feedback than with managers. Often our managers know their team members too well, or hold back on their critique. Simulations deliver feedback in a balanced and direct way every time.
Playback allows examination of how to improve and the sharing of best examples. There is great power in replaying scenarios to see what worked and what didn’t. Top sales and service teams can level up faster with the right tools.
Simulations are designed to evoke emotional responses that help learning stick. For busy sales and service reps to build complex customer-facing skills, learning experiences must stand out. Virtual simulations evoke an instinctual emotional response for powerful learning.
Frontline workers can access, on their preferred devices, at times that work for them. In today’s always-on, hybrid workplace, sales and service professionals need to be able to practice and learn in the flow of their day, even when time is limited.
If you’re a service and sales leader, the challenge before you is to train for emotional resilience and mental fortitude. These are “muscles” that can be strengthened by practicing to go beyond the script to meet humans, especially the angry customer variety, with humanity.
Using simulation training provides an approximation of reality to make it feel real and challenging while mitigating the risk of a confrontation with an actual difficult customer.