Is emotional intelligence the key to customer service training?

A positive customer experience is key to a successful business, but if you aren’t training and coaching your employees on emotional intelligence, you may be losing sales and customers.

While studying at MIT, Josh Feast, founder and CEO of Cogito, worked with MIT Professor Alex "Sandy" Pentland, founder and director of Human Dynamics Research within the MIT Media Laboratory, to develop emotional intelligence software. The software was originally implemented within the healthcare industry and the military to help diagnose veterans with PTSD and the company eventually broke off from MIT and opened up shop in downtown Boston.

Now, Cogito is focused on expanding its reach in the business world -- starting with the millions of workers who spend their days on the phone. Cogito's software promises to improve customer relationships by delivering real-time emotional intelligence feedback for customer service professionals and sales representatives, to help them navigate any call smoothly.

Whether you're trying to close a sale, coach a customer through some troubleshooting or remedy a complaint from an unsatisfied customer, you want the overall experience to be positive. But there are limitations to communicating over the phone -- such as the inability to read someone's facial cues or to get a sense of their body language.

Cogito's software gets around that by listening in on the conversation, noting each person's tone - whether they're tense, or relaxed -- and delivers critiques to improve the call. For example, if a sales representative is repeatedly talking over a client, the software will pick upon that and alert them to the faux-pas.

Meanwhile, throughout the call, the software rates the call on a scale of one to 10 to let them know how they're performing. As the call goes on, the score may rise or fall depending on that employee's performance.

When integrating any new software into the corporate structure -- be it emotional intelligence software or otherwise -- it's important to consider the impact on IT and productivity. Feast states Cogito's software shouldn't be a burden on IT in terms of deployment, scale or training.

The software is cloud based, so it's easy to retrieve recordings or analytics as needed -- and there's no need to store hours upon hours of phone calls on the employer's end. There are a number of tools built into the software to help companies pull statistics out to track changes, improvements and other trends within their call centers.

He says the training involved with emotional intelligence software is more about getting employees to see the value in the software and to help them understand it's being implemented to make it easier for them to figure out how to improve each phone call.

Customer engagement and digital transformation

Donna Peeples has worked as a Customer Experience Executive for over 25 years at companies like AIG and Motivated. She's currently the chief customer officer at Pypestream. As an expert on the customer experience, she says that companies are moving towards a trend where they want to make the process more personal and "human."

Call centers are an overlooked part of the tech. Nearly every major tech company has some form of customer service and Peeples stresses that your call center deserves its place in a comprehensive business strategy. Just compare Amazon and Comcast -- one is well-known for its customer service, while the other was recently sued by the Attorney General of Washington State for $100 million for misrepresenting its service plan. A strong approach to customer service can make or break your public image, which can hurt sales as well as customer satisfaction and retention.

According to Peeples, customer engagement begins with your employee engagement. She says business leaders need to engage employees by "measuring what matters." This includes "establishing a baseline that everyone can agree to" of what's expected from the company, and then "align the organization around those goals".

Adopting emotional intelligence software isn't just about employee engagement either; it's also a way for businesses to embrace digital transformation and stay competitive. "To date [this software] has largely been adopted by the innovation groups within companies. Those forward looking organizations that have been looking to technology for a competitive advantage," says Feast.

You don't want your company to get left behind as technology quickly becomes the cornerstone of modern business. Part of staying relevant and competitive involves embracing innovative technology, whether that means implementing emotional intelligence software, eradicating redundancies with automation or equipping your office with the latest and greatest in hardware.

Emotional intelligence and management

Another area where emotional intelligence software can improve productivity and efficiency is within management. Feast points out that, traditionally, to assess a sales or customer service representative's phone abilities, managers and supervisors would have to take a small sampling of phone calls and judge based off that sample size. With this software, however, the computer can unbiasedly keep a running score of the employee's performance, limiting the time spent on manually evaluating calls, and avoiding any potential bias from the manager or supervisor.

Peeples says that by delivering this unbiased information in real time employees have more autonomy over their work. It empowers them to be more self-aware in their job and gives them the opportunity to improve their performance without hearing it from a superior. She says this will not only help improve morale and productivity, but that companies will see less customer and employee turnover.

And managers and executives alike can learn from the software because emotional intelligence, and knowing how to communicate with your employees are two crucial skills in the business world.

"Emotionally intelligent leaders are far more in tune with the overall feelings and motivation levels of their teams and individuals on their team, based on this recognition they can adjust their management and communication style to ensure they achieve the highest overall performance. They can be empathetic towards the needs of their staff while still being firm and goals-driven," says Feast.

This platform and others in this next breed of emotional intelligence software can help give managers a better way to evaluate performance and create plans for improvements if necessary. "It provides middle managers a scalable way to teach their teams how to be more emotionally intelligent in their interactions. Before emotional intelligent software it was hard for middle managers to train every person through manual subjective evaluations," he says.

Ultimately, the software is less about the customer on the phone, and more about the employee on the other end. Using unbiased software to measure the emotional intelligence of employees can help managers guide training and identify commonalities or ineffective workers. It also gives the employee a chance to get real-time feedback on how they're doing from an unbiased source -- a computer program.

"Friendly, effective service is incredibly important. We live in an experience economy. All decisions are based on emotion at some level. Cost center executives today have a very unique challenge; they're being asked to deliver better experience for customers and become more efficient all at the same time -- I think customers want a combination of a very knowledgeable person who can address their issue, and one they can trust, one they can build a relationship with. At the end of the day, it's all about moving transactions to relationships," says Peeples.

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