The importance of emotional intelligence in customer retention

shutterstock_142591159Why the ability to understand and respond to human emotion is a crucial skill for customer service teams.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is a simple concept. It equates to the ability to read human emotions, understand them, and respond in an appropriate way. In every day life this is considered to be a compulsory element of human interaction, and certainly isn’t viewed as a learned skill that should be measured and assessed. Yet, as a vital component of customer service, it is rarely prioritised in the context of the workplace.

Daniel Goleman, the psychologist who popularised the term ‘emotional intelligence’ within the context of the workplace, argued that EI was just as important as IQ when it comes to leadership and achieving success at work. He suggested that decision makers should look beyond the key skillset required for customer service work, and instead find ways to measure emotional intelligence within potential new employees.

Why do customers care about EI?

We all know that different customers present different needs and expectations. Keeping service users happy through a consistently friendly and responsive manner is a basic required standard of customer-facing teams. In actual fact, many initial points of contact are often either automated or scripted in order to uphold this standard. However, where EI differs from basic interactions is in its emphasis on feelings and measured responses.

However a customer feels about an agent represents how they feel about the company or brand on the whole. If their experience is a positive, proactive and reassuring one, then they will feel good about the company. Customer retention needs to inspire loyalty, and loyalty comes from building a human and personal relationship. Of course, it is unrealistic to expect a customer to develop a personal relationship with every member of staff they interact with, but if every employee is encouraged to work on their EI, then the chances of this happening are greatly increased.

Most importantly however, the majority of interactions between customers and businesses are now digital. Transactions take place over email, social media, or via a completely automated system. While this steady move towards a more efficient and optimised way of working may save time and money, it means that the interactions that do happen over the phone or face-to-face are more important than ever. An email transaction may leave little impact on those involved, but a real conversation requires understanding, social skills and measured responses.

So how can you measure and improve EI within the workplace?

Building strong emotional intelligence isn’t necessarily a key component of customer service training, but it should be. Employees may possess the key skills for emotional intelligence, such as self-awareness and empathy, but putting these into practice within a working context requires direction and insight from managers and team leaders.

A diverse workforce that incorporates different levels of experience and backgrounds is a great foundation for building an emotionally intelligent team. Encourage employees to share their experiences and help others to expand their knowledge and way of thinking. Using case studies and reference points as examples of both positive and negative customer exchanges can help employees to improve their understanding of how to apply emotional intelligence to customer service.

shutterstock_176394722Collate as much customer feedback as you can, across all formats, to support employee training. Our previous blog on unstructured data highlights the importance of considering all information, beyond that collected via CRM systems, for understanding customer insight. Text-based information such as emails, surveys and social media interactions can hold vital information about the customer experience.

With a seismic shift towards automated and digital functions, human interactions are now more important and significant than ever when it comes to retaining customer loyalty. Ensuring that your customer-facing workforce understands the need to apply emotional intelligence to every phone call or face-to-face exchange is vital for upholding and improving your company image. Although these skills may vary from individual to individual, progression and improvement is possible through regular case study focused training and a strong emphasis on the value of personal development.

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