Every man knows the importance of securing a good barber. Your hair isn’t something to mess around with. Your barber has to be talented, know what you are looking for when you come in, and be someone you can get along with. So, upon moving to a new location recently, I ventured out to find a new barber last night. Acting on the advice of a few friends, I went down to the barber shop a few blocks away. The barber did an adequate job, but he just wouldn’t stop talking. I’m sure a lot of people can relate to this. I just wanted my hair cut, I didn’t come in to hear about his enthralling weekend shooting guns in New Hampshire. All I could do was to put on a fake smile and issue an even more fake laugh at his bad jokes.
Now, it’s important to know that I’m at the extreme side of the spectrum: I heavily dislike small talk, and it’s my downfall as well, especially working in the area of marketing. However, it’s also important to know that I am fairly good at it, and I fully understand the importance of small talk. Small talk is a huge part of our daily work lives - water-cooler chats, waiting for others to join a conference bridge, even just saying “how are you?” to the receptionist at the gym. Why do we have this urge to engage in small talk? Is it our constant desire for human connection? Perhaps it’s just engaging in common courtesy. Or as an extension of that, perhaps we just want to give reason for people to like us. We say things like, “How’s the weather down there in Florida?” just to create a rapport so they know we’re not “all business.”
This human connection, this small talk, is the difference between man and machine, no matter how great and high-tech the machine is. But is it? For instance, take an IVR programmed to ask “Hello, how are you today?” handle a grammar of emotional responses, and respond appropriately before continuing on to the routing or self-service application. Then, for instance, take a CSR (News - Alert) trained to ask “Hello, how are you today” and respond appropriately. Does it matter?! The CSR most likely does not really care about how your day is going any more than the programmed IVR does.
However, most, if not all CSRs begin a conversation by asking “how are you today” whereas IVRs rarely do. I’d have to imagine, common courtesy aside, that this phrase actually must enhance the relationship and the outcome of the call. It establishes that human connection, which makes people believe that the rep will be more understanding of the reason for their call. After all, if an agent on average cost $0.50 per minute, the cost of the dialogue is as follows:
“Hello, how are you today” - 2 seconds
“I’m doing well, thank you. How are you” - 3 seconds
“I’m doing very well, thanks for asking...” - 2 seconds
7 seconds of call time equates to $0.06. Now, if there are 100 people in a call center taking 100 calls per day, that’s $6,000 per day and $219,000 per year. Just to create a human connection. I realize it’s not that simple, but it just goes to show the importance of small talk. Would you be offended if a CSR picked up, and said “Hello, how can I help you?”
I believe that the Interactions case is a terrific example of a changing environment. Unlike traditional IVRs, we contain several complicated self-service calls, that agents have previously handled, such as password resets and tracking an order. I screen several calls per day that begin with the caller not listening to the opening prompt explaining that “I am an automated system that can handle full sentences” and just chime in when they hear “How can I help you?” Because our system sounds so authentic, those people often say “Hi, how are you?” and our system usually responds, “I’m good, thanks.” The caller usually chuckles once they realize it’s an automated system. However, at the end of the contained calls (Interactions jargon for calls that do not have to be transferred to an agent) often a connection is made. Many times people say “Thanks!” or “Thank you very much, goodbye” and I’ve even heard “Have a great day!” Why do callers say this? Is it because we are creating a human connection even if there is no human on the other end? Pretty sci-fi stuff, right?
From this I can conclude that small talk is here to stay and that it is definitely valued, although a struggle for many people. Even though most of us realize when frivolous small talk is happening, people are fine with it because they believe it will enhance their human connection. What are your thoughts? Do you see a value in the human connection?
Dan Fox is a Marketing Director at Interactions Corporation (@interactionsco)
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Edited by Juliana Kenny