The Importance of Soft Skills Training Beyond the Pandemic


Even as local economies begin phases of reopening, COVID-19 is keeping most of us in our homes for the foreseeable future, and as a result, online shopping has become the go-to way Americans are getting essential (and non-essential) items. In fact, consumers spent $146.47 billion online shopping in the first quarter of 2020, up 14.5% from the first quarter of 2019. As a result of this increased demand, customers are being faced with challenges like online order delays, limited stock of items and difficulty getting delivery time slots for essential items like groceries. This, of course, brings a spike in customer service calls and interactions.

Albeit tumultuous, these past few months have provided many learning lessons to the customer service agents working in contact centers (and the brands that employ them). For example, empathy has been a hot topic during the pandemic, and is a critical skill for customer support agents to demonstrate. Despite this, 51% of employers don’t offer soft skills training or training that teaches essential communications skills. COVID-19 is giving businesses reason to ramp up this training.

Why Soft Skills Training Is Necessary to Provide a Positive CX

Before we discuss why soft skills are so important in the customer experience (CX), we need to define and understand what they are. Soft skills are a combination of communication skills, social skills, emotional intelligence, etc. As it relates to customer service agents at contact centers, some common soft skills that are necessary to provide a positive CX are:

  • The ability to listen,
  • Empathize,
  • Communicate,
  • De-escalate a situation, and
  • Problem-solve.

It is the responsibility of CX managers and leaders to help to develop these skills within contact center agents by providing adequate opportunities for training.

The customer experience is a continuous cycle that is directly impacted by the employee experience. In fact, the research linking employee experience to customer experience is irrefutable; happy employees mean happy customers. So, how can businesses keep employees happy to ensure their customers have a positive experience?

According to the 92% of employees who say that learning something new at work makes them more motivated and engaged, providing opportunities for training is a good place to start. And more than a third (36%) of employees identified soft skills as the type of training they think companies need to provide the most. While soft skills training for employees will positively impact customers by providing them with a better CX, it will also positively impact employees by fulfilling their desire to learn something new at work.

Using Data Analytics and the Human Touch to Enhance Soft Skills

With the majority of customers preferring to solve urgent issues by calling for support rather than using other channels in their customer service interactions, businesses have been pushed to determine what can be answered via AI/chatbots or directed to an online help center, versus which issues must be escalated to an agent.

Many brands grapple with the decision of using technology vs. human agents to provide a quality customer experience because call support is the initial channel preference of customers as it offers the ability to ask, explain, reason or negotiate with customer service. However, the answer is not to choose one over the other, but rather fuse technology and human elements together. While this concept may seem foreign at first glance, AI and data analytics have the power to put the human touch back into the CX—something that consumers have felt is lost in their experiences with brands (more on that below).

With the help of technology, contact center agents can take calls from customers and then immediately receive real-time coaching and feedback from their managers. This means that after receiving soft skills training, agents (and managers) have the ability to review how the training was applied (and received) in a real-life scenario with data and analytics around sentiments and emotions of the consumer. With real-time feedback, managers are better able to understand where improvements are needed and agents are able to continuously learn and improve.

Impact of Soft Skills Beyond the Pandemic

Developing soft skills, like empathy, is necessary not only during this time where emotions are running high with consumers, but also beyond the current global health crisis. Prior to the pandemic, three in five (59%) consumers felt companies had lost touch with the human element of the customer experience.

While COVID-19 is giving businesses a reason to invest in soft skills training, the data shows that this investment of time and resources must continue moving forward if brands want to leverage CX as a competitive driver to increase their bottom line.

If the pandemic has taught us anything about the customer experience, it is that COVID-19 is reshaping the future of how brands interact with consumers, and now is the time to plan to expect the unexpected. Who contact center agents are and how they communicate and empathize in times of hardship will leave ever-lasting impressions on customers. Brands that invest in soft skills training now will be better-equipped to succeed in any environment, good or bad, and will reap rewards in the long term.

Monti Becker Kelly is Global Head of Sales, BFSI at Sitel Group. She is a customer experience strategist with over 23 years of experience in business process outsourcing (BPO), business development, CX analytics and client relationship management. Monti currently manages a wide, global account portfolio at Sitel Group and is responsible for driving an enhanced digital customer experience strategy while leading account management, technology optimization and CX analytics for clients in the banking, insurance and fintech industries.