Designing Employee Training Programs to Build Human Connections in Customer Service

This week’s guest is Sonia Rosario, director of operations at iQor in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Sonia oversees client programs in the insurance vertical. Known for delivering an amazing customer experience, Sonia and her team developed a unique training program to understand the customers’ needs on a personal level and provide empathetic and responsive customer service. In this episode, Sonia discusses the CX strategy her team took with their extraordinary customer service agent training program. She shares how they achieved incredible results, meeting customer needs through human connection and personalization which elevated the employee experience as well as every step of the customer journey.

Decades of Experience in Customer Relationship Building

Sonia’s career in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry began more than 20 years ago when she started as a customer service agent on an outbound dialer campaign. Over the years, she progressed through various leadership roles which ultimately landed her in her current position as director of operations. Today she is responsible for multiple insurance clients along with a client in the utilities vertical. She oversees hundreds of full-time work-at-home and work-in-office customer support employees across five centers in the United States and Trinidad and Tobago.

Customer relationship building through human interaction has been essential throughout all of her roles. Sonia has seen how connecting with employees fosters their individual growth, how partnering with clients leads to trust and success, and how understanding the customer with empathy leads to an exceptional customer experience.

Getting to Know the Customer

Sonia’s team specialized in providing customer service primarily through outbound calls in commercial verticals. In 2009, however, her team began supporting their first insurance client through friendly outbound reminder calls to elderly members. In order to best support the insurance client and the elderly customer base of their outbound Medicare program, Sonia’s team needed to truly understand the customer and their needs to provide the best customer experience. This level of understanding also elevated the customer support they were able to offer to elderly members during the annual Medicare open enrollment period.

To do this, they developed an innovative training program to create human connections with customers and understand their needs on a personal level. Drawing from iQorian values centered on customer dedication and giving back, the team learned all they could about the elderly customer base they were serving on the insurance program. Sonia and her fellow team leaders knew they had to engage the younger generation of agents to understand how speaking with customers on this program would be completely different from the interactions they had with a majority of the customers on their commercial programs.

Sensitivity Training to Strengthen Understanding

Sonia and the team developed a sensitivity training that put contact center agents in the shoes of the elderly members they were serving. They engaged all five senses to learn different aspects of how a member of the elderly community experiences the world—from potential hearing difficulties, to vision impairment, to challenges grasping a pen with arthritis, and more.

By better understanding the experiences of their customers, agents were more equipped to identify with them, be more patient, and offer more thoughtful solutions. Simple accommodations such as speaking loudly, clearly, and concisely could make a significant positive impact on the customer experience. This took on even more importance when agents knew their conversation with the customer may be the only human interaction the elderly customer had that day.

These accommodations aren’t typical intuitive solutions in contact centers when clients are generally focused on key performance indicators (KPIs) such as low average handle times (AHT). But customer satisfaction is always paramount and, on this program, moving slower and taking the time needed with each customer was essential to create a compassionate experience that fostered loyalty.

Building Relationships Through Community Service

In addition to the sensitivity training, Sonia and her team established connections with local area organizations that served the elderly community. They sought out volunteer opportunities at nursing homes and independent living centers so that each member of the customer support team could build human connections with individuals similar to those in their customer base. Everyone on the team embraced the opportunity to not only serve their community but also build relationships that would inform their approach to customer service and create experiences that made people smile.

Agents looked forward to their volunteer work with older members of their community, whether it was bingo, crafts, charity night, weekend dances or a range of other activities that supported understanding and human connection. They built real relationships with community members and looked forward to seeing them.

The sensitivity training and community service opened agents’ eyes to the lived experiences of others and generated positive results for the program. It enriched each interaction to best address customer needs and create a great customer experience that fostered brand loyalty.

The client loved the approach and was impressed by how it elevated the quality of service through personalization that made customers feel valued. They appreciated it so much that they began the same sensitivity training and community service approach with their own internal customer support agents.

Team leaders knew these proactive measures were important to promote patience and understanding with agents interacting for eight hours each day on calls with customers similar to their grandparents. Knowing that the agents may be the only person their customer spoke to that day set the tone for the kind of work they were doing. It made clear the need for agents to genuinely care about the end customer they served.

Finding Inspiration From Brave Women

In light of Women’s History Month, Sonia has reflected on the many women that have impacted her life and contributed to her focus on relationship building and human connection.

Helen Keller is one such inspiration. Sonia admires her determination to realize her dreams through hard work. Keller became the first deaf-blind person to earn a college degree when she graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1904.

Another woman she greatly admires is her grandmother. She emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland to the United States at the age of 17. She left her entire family to move to a new country where she didn’t know anyone, but she was determined to build a better life. With the courage and the will to succeed, she persevered and began her journey in the United States.

Both of these women have inspired Sonia to work hard, build human connections, and define her own path to success.

What Sonia Does for Fun

For Sonia, free time is all about her family. She is an all-out sports mom rooting for her two children. Whether taking her daughter to dance, cheer, or softball or supporting her son in football, baseball, and wrestling, Sonia wouldn’t have it any other way. She treasures these experiences and the memories they’re building together.

Sonia and her family are beach goers too. Living in Pennsylvania, they take every opportunity they can to make their way to the beach. Lots of good times ahead!

Learn more about iQor’s digital customer experience capabilities.