Let’s be honest for a moment. As with any job, there are days when working the phones can feel like a slog. And sometimes, even the most patient contact center agents get irritated. Even the most empathetic ones get bored. And even your top top performers get worn down eventually.

They might not totally snap and scream at a customer, but one way or another, those frustrations come out. That’s a problem, because although different customers reach out for different reasons, the one thing they all want on every call is what I affectionately refer to as TEC: 

“Please agent, I need to feel that I can trust you.”

“Please agent, I need to feel empathy.”

“Please agent, I need to feel cared about.”

In other words, every customer wants to be heard. And if agents aren’t objectively committed to that — even if they’re saying all the right things — the customer doesn’t feel heard. They don’t feel that TEC. 

If you’ve ever watched your significant other or roommate rolling their eyes while stuck on the phone with their parents, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Maybe they’re mimicking a pleasant tone, but in reality, they’re checked out — perhaps even dismissive, impatient or annoyed — and more often than not, you can easily tell. 

The same is true with our customers. Maybe it’s just an awkward pause or a crack in the voice, but even the most disciplined, veteran agent in the world can’t help but let those negative emotions show somehow.

This has presented an age-old problem for contact center leaders, but believe it or not, there’s a pretty simple solution. And if you’re reading this on a device with a webcam or a built-in camera, that solution is quite literally staring you in the face.

Promotion for Customer Experience in the Cloud live stream with Valur Svansson

Beyond the days of ‘smile and dial’

Back when I was a call center agent, the phrase “smile and dial” wasn’t just a cliche; it was (and in many places, still is) a tactic. Our managers directed us to put on our happy face before taking a call, hoping it would come through in our vocal inflection. Even though some of us thought it was silly, there turned out to be something to it.

As psychologist Albert Mehrabian showed with his “7-38-55 Rule” (named after his famous study revealing that approximately 55 percent of human communication is body language, 38 percent is tone of voice, and just 7 percent is actual verbal speech), people communicate more visually than verbally — and more verbally than linguistically. 

So when I became a call center supervisor, I too told my agents, “Let the customer hear you smile!” And it worked! By improving our vocal inflection, we were able to calibrate that 38 percent chunk of emotional information being communicated through tone of voice to better connect with the customer.

Of course, we were talking over the phone, so that even larger 55 percent chunk (body language) was still missing. But today it doesn’t have to be — now we have video. 

Visual communication is emotive communication

A little later in my career, when I became a quality manager, I kicked off an initiative where agents could volunteer to be videotaped (yes, with VHS and everything) during their calls. They would then get feedback specifically on their tone of voice, not from the quality police, but from fellow agents. What we found was that when agents started improving their body language and facial expressions — knowing they were on camera — their calls really did sound more genuine and empathetic. 

That was when I first began to recognize the power of video in the contact center. It creates a kind of positive feedback loop because it keeps the agent in the moment and emotionally engaged, thanks to a direct connection to a living, breathing human being. In turn, it allows greater levels of trust, empathy and care (TEC) to come through to the customer not only via words or even tone of voice, but through those all-important facial expressions and gestures, and TEC directly impacts business success.

So here’s the question: If everybody’s using video now (for board meetings and first dates, family catch-ups and congressional hearings), then why aren’t contact centers? 

The ROI of TEC

Today’s cloud contact center (CCaaS) platforms offer a range of invaluable tools, such as AI chatbots and next-gen IVRs, to handle simple transactional calls like changing an address or checking the balance of an account. What’s left for live agents, then, are the most complex and emotionally demanding calls — the interactions that can really make or break customer relationships and, ultimately, your brand image and business success. 

Therein lies the importance of sounding (and being) genuinely engaged. As was shown in reporting from the most chaotic days of pandemic lockdown, customers in crisis are, more than ever, relying on customer support as “free psychological counseling centers,” with significant interaction volume shifting from digital channels to phone as people reached out “trying to get certainty, assurances [and] empathy.”

With video, you can give it to them. Here are just a few examples of how video can make all the difference in the most critical contact center interactions:

  • Retail Support — Reduce customer effort and provide emotional reassurance. 
  • Telehealth — Show empathy and care through facial expressions; enable doctors to examine visual symptoms and make more informed diagnoses.
  • Field Support — Give clearer visual instructions where verbal ones might be confusing. 
  • Financial Services — Build trust to support high-stakes transactions through face-to-face communication. 

These are all use cases where video boosts TEC in the customer experience, and TEC boosts customer retention and brand loyalty.

The 3 key takeaways

With video, you can show and act on that TEC factor — trust, empathy and care — by keeping agents emotionally engaged and helping them express their genuine concern for the customer. So ask yourself: What value could you add to your business and brand, by simply turning on that camera? Here are some pointers to help you decide:

  1. Focus on use cases that will measurably impact CX — Video is perfect for high-value, high-touch, high-complexity customer interactions, but it’s not right for everything. Ensure you’re implementing it strategically in the places where it will make a difference.
  2. Help agents pivot to video seamlessly — If agents are fumbling between several different tabs or apps, they’re not engaged with the customer, and that defeats the whole purpose. Make sure to keep the process intuitive not only for the customer, but for the agent, with a single-pane-of-glass video solution integrated seamlessly within your CCaaS platform. 
  3. Start small by leveraging CCaaS — Part of the beauty of the cloud is that it makes spinning up and testing new features and channels fast, easy and feasible. And if you need help getting started, our experts here at Lifesize are always on call. 

For more insights on the topic, watch the full LinkedIn live stream episode, “Turn On That D*mn Camera!”

And for discussion of similar topics, tune in for the “Customer Experience in the Cloud” live stream series with Valur Svansson, every Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. CT on the Lifesize LinkedIn page. To watch past episodes on-demand, visit our YouTube channel.