Training Agents to Be Empathic


Some of the hottest new buzzwords in the call center field include empathy, humanness, and emotional intelligence, often associated with Covid-19 and the tough conversations agents are now having with patients regarding it.

2020 has certainly been the year of the virus, but it is also when both the call center and software fields have begun to realize that years-long software industry efforts to produce programs able to improve the patient experience by improving agent performance have disappointed. Covid-19 seems to have helped trigger this reckoning, perhaps because much-needed empathy and humanness is where such training efforts most fell short.

And while software companies have recently stated that their new goal is to develop software able to train agents to connect on a more human level, what is new is their realization that connecting on a human level (with empathy and humanness) is indeed what most impacts the customer or patient experience, leaving software developers to now start over down a new path toward their original goal.

It is becoming clear in our industry that exceptional agent performance is predicated upon the ability to convey sincere empathy, humanness, and emotional intelligence more than any other consideration. But how to train agents to do this?

The first step is to pinpoint where they fail to, and only then can they be shown how to.

It is often thought that teaching agents to convey empathy means adding phrases on top of their current approach, such as I understand your frustration or I hope you feel better. But this only scratches the surface, because it does not account for the miscues agents commonly include in their entire-call approach that is most responsible for a conveyance of a lack of empathy. If these are not identified and fixed, little progress can be made.

Identifying and fixing an agent's less-than-professional or bad habits is the most critical piece to the empathy and overall patient experience puzzle.

And while empathy is often associated with attitude or voice pitch, it is much more about word choice, phrasing, and phone manners displayed throughout the entirety of a call, from moment to moment. When these are properly executed, empathy, humanness, and emotional IQ are naturally conveyed in an effortless and sincere manner. And when they are not, a lack of empathy, humanness, and emotional IQ is typically the perception.

The new focus on empathy is really a new reckoning of what has always been required of professional agent behavior. Empathy is not an add-on to otherwise acceptable behavior, rather agents convey or fail to convey empathy by their ability to perform as a professional call center agent. There is nothing difficult about it, and it requires no more time or effort than not being empathic. It just requires proper guidance from a knowledgeable source.

The BCI program produces agents whose empathy conveys naturally through the detailed warmth and politeness of their highly professional behavior. By ensuring they do not fail to convey empathy, we ensure they convey it.