Your call center could be the single most important touchpoint for your customers. A survey by Forrester showed that close to 80 percent of the general public still prefers to contact customer service by phone, making it a highly strategic business component. Customer service agents are often the face of a company, and provide tremendous opportunity to deliver satisfaction and build loyalty.

Yet, according the a report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 68 percent of customers say they have gone to a competitor because of the treatment they received while speaking to a service agent.  The lesson here? As fall approaches, think back-to-school. It’s prime time to provide your call center staff the training it needs to deliver the best possible customer experience.

Here are five reasons to hit the books:

Brush up on soft skills: Best-in-class call centers are those where staff is well versed in the skills of listening, respect, positive attitude, communication, creativity, and the ability to ask the questions that get to the heart of the customer inquiry. In fact, if your service team goes back-to-school for no other reason, it would be to remember the universal truths of what the customer really wants!

  • Treat me like a person, not an issue. Listen carefully and take time to understand what I really need.
  • Work with me to solve MY problem. You may have a script, but one size does not fit all!
  • Give me someone who is well trained and knowledgeable. If YOU can’t help me, quickly and graciously give me someone who can.
  • Give me a real live person! Voice response programs aren’t empathetic and can even be irritating.
  • Give me even more than I ask for. Surprise me with excellent service!

Perfect new channels of communication: Many companies have added email, SMS, live chats, Facebook and other social media channels to their service options.  It’s important, however, to remember that just because an agent is skilled on the phone, doesn’t mean they are prepared to deliver effective email, live chat or Twitter solutions. While these trends are a response to customer demand, they won’t serve the customer or build loyalty if staff is clumsy in their execution. Provide the training needed to deliver service with each channel, and to be proficient on the associated technology.

Review processes and technology: How is customer information collected, shared and stored? Are follow-up emails expected? Are service reps expected to cross-sell and up-sell? How is a hand-off managed? Are updated metrics being applied? And what about the most recent software updates? Customer satisfaction depends on a seamless experience at every level, so keep staff up-to-date and practiced on policies and processes.

Best practices 101:  Each of your employees has acquired experience for handling different on-the-job situations. Create opportunities for staff to share with and learn from each other. Supervisors will probably learn a thing or two.

Technical support isn’t all technical: Quality tech support can be the hook that keeps customers loyal. However, it’s not necessarily the technical know-how of a support team but rather how they communicate what they know that makes the difference. For this reason, make soft-skills a component of all tech support training.

Consumers have almost unlimited choices. And while price and value play a role in purchasing decisions, a Harris Interactive Customer Experience Impact Report finds that, even in a negative economy, 60 percent of consumers are often or always willing to pay more for excellent customer experience.

The lesson? An ongoing, strategic training program can create a call center team poised to deliver stellar service and develop long-term, customer loyalty.