Improving Emotional Intelligence In Contact Centre Agents

Australian Contact Centres Want To Increase EQ, But How?

Increasing staff emotional intelligence (EQ) is one of the key areas of focus for Australian contact centres. In a recent study of contact centre managers and leaders, over 40% of respondents indicated that this was an area they needed to explore more and improve in the next 12 months.

The results have been released by SMAART Recruitment, who surveyed over 150 contact centre leaders and decision makers around Australia in its Contact Centre Leaders Survey.

While it is a term that many of us are familiar with, gaining a deep understanding– and then mastering – of EQ is a continual pursuit that is very much in its infancy. Popularised by Daniel Goleman (1996) in his book Emotional Intelligence (EI) the last 20 years have seen the business community and broader society discover and explore the concept. At its core, EI is the ability to recognise, understand and manage our emotions and to recognise, understand and influence the emotions of others.

The role EQ plays in contact centre success is now widely recognised. Justine La Roche is a Director of Leadership & Learning at Curve Group in Melbourne. Holding a Masters in Organisational Psychology and second Masters of Applied Positive Psychology she works closely with organisations wanting to improve staff and collective EQ, and has seen how it impacts on contact centres.

“With businesses applying a laser like focus to improving their customer experience, the role of a contact centre agent has never been more important or arguably, more difficult.” Says La Roche. “On each call, agents must communicate effectively and build a connection with a customer with whom they have never met. What’s more, these customers expect greater levels of choice, control and convenience than ever before and are often impatient and frustrated before the agent even begins talking.

The agent must then manage to have a productive and empathetic exchange with the customer, while at the same time navigating systems, drawing on their knowledge of products or services, entering data, complying with company policies and meeting performance targets. It then all starts again with the next call.”

It’s therefore not surprising, that having high levels of EQ sits amongst the top of the ‘most wanted’ lists of contact centre agent attributes.

To improve EQ can be seen daunting however La Roche knows it can be done. “The good news is, that many elements of EI can be taught and learned (while others can be carefully selected for) through targeted training and development. Promising data suggests that such an investment pays off in improved performance, with greater levels of EI mooted to positively impact word-of-mouth referrals, customer loyalty, sales, productivity and agent attrition.”

In Melbourne, Choosewell’s contact centre have realised the importance EQ plays in its centres success. We are a sales centre, so EQ is key,” said Rachel Bywater, General Manager Sales and Operations, “how we approach sales at Choosewell is by keeping customers at front of mind at all times – that requires EQ and empathetic listening skills. It is one of the most critical parts of being a really successful sales person.”

But how do you ensure your staff have high EQ?I think it has a lot to do with the way we recruit staff and train staff and the expectations we set them from early on. EQ is very personal, it comes down to the individual. We have great leaders that coach EQ into our agents. We feel like we have got that structure in place, but we are always looking to improve,” said Bywater.

Specifically, Choosewell coach their individuals and encourage them to learn about their own personality – who they are and how they relate to others. “We want to make our staff really self-aware, and that helps them be aware of others. By the end of our on-boarding process we know whether someone has the right level of EQ or whether it needs working on.”

Would you like to learn how to improve EQ within your contact centre or organisation? Justine La Roche will be presenting a seminar Improving Emotional Intelligence In Contact Centre Agents on July 20th in Melbourne. Click here to register (it’s free).

By James Witcombe

This article first appeared on