I found an interesting piece of information in a study of the influence of service agents on customer satisfaction, done by Craig Froehle of the University of Cincinnati. Now this study was published in 2006, but I doubt that its relevance has changed.
Of six characteristics of a customer service agent, three have the most impact on customer satisfaction. However, it is not the three characteristics that have historically been thought to matter most in customer interactions.
It seems that people prefer agents who are:
These caused a much greater impact on customer satisfaction than courtesy, professionalism, or attentiveness, all of which were considered important in face-to-face encounters. But how many personal encounters will the agents of a call center have? Likely none. All interaction will come via telephone or internet. And that is where thoroughness, knowledgeableness, and preparedness paid off.
I still would want the agent I was dealing with to be courteous and professional. Attentiveness is also important, especially in today’s fast paced world where everyone you speak with tries to anticipate what you are going to say rather than listen through to the end. But no matter how courteous and professional someone is, if they do not know their product, if they are unprepared to answer questions, if they are lackadaisical about details, they are no good to me.
Courtesy may get you in the door but knowledge and the ability to use it will close the deal.