Building Human Connection and Why Sentiment is the Core

How do you build meaningful emotional bonds and a human connection with your customers? How do you understand the status of your relationship?

To accomplish this and become a real advisor to your customers you have to make customer intent and sentiment priorities of your organization.

The outcome of your entire organization is visible in the contact center. And contact centers expose everything that’s going well and not so well to your customers across every department of the organization.

When your agents are empowered to build human connections, you can deliver the brand experience you want to put into the marketplace and create a powerful feedback loop across all teams.

Why does customer sentiment lead to human connection?

The ultimate goal of all the metrics you invest time and energy into tracking is to understand whether or not you’re meeting the needs of your customers. There has been a long evolution of contact center metrics. From the simple measurement of handle time, accuracy, resolution to customer satisfaction (CSAT) and net promoter score (NPS), for instance.  None of these metrics can be ignored or avoided. However, they are all giving you generalized, rear view mirror feedback on how your customers feel about you.

Sentiment is entirely different, mainly if you can capture it in real-time. And customer sentiment is the only metric that is about them!

Beyond Measurement

To create a real human connection you have to go beyond measurement and metrics. And sentiment gives agents a different kind of power if they hear it as it unfolds.

To get there, you need a different approach to probing – this puts empathy on the table. It starts with listening. Are you determining the spoken and unspoken questions and concerns they’re expressing? What is happening in the course of the conversation? It’s not transactional. It’s a two-way dialogue. You’ll never become an advisor to your customer if you’re transacting.

Human Connections are based on Emp-A-ThyInvestigation is the final component. Now the agent has listened, conversed, and connected. Next, they must know enough about the subject matter to answer the spoken and unspoken questions of your customer. When an agent can deliver this experience, with empathy, your customer will have established a human connection. They will believe that you are capable of advising them and completing the story.

Come back next week to read part two of this post where we’ll dive into journey mapping and building your training programs around customer intent. If you don’t want to wait a week, check out a recorded session that Jenny led here or learn more about our PACE program here.

Top 5 Traits of an Exemplary Trainer

Are you looking to hire or become an exemplary trainer? Top training professionals are in high demand and are critical for successful projects or rollouts.  Being an exemplary trainer is not rocket science. There is a formula used to become or select these elite training professionals.

When I look to hire trainers, I am selective (ok, super picky) and look beyond resume basics.   As a supporter of improving training efforts across the industry, I thought I’d share with you, the five traits that guide my process for hiring exemplary trainers.

  1. Rapid Command of the Material. Look for a trainer who has experience with learning new material quickly and can cite specific examples of how they infuse their own experience into the content during execution.  This promotes relatability, relevance, and absorption of the subject matter.  This allows trainers to be confident and have the freedom to adapt their teaching techniques.  This enables them to encourage participants to learn from themselves and the entire class; creating as many organic learning moments as possible. If they don’t know an answer, they don’t guess; they know where to get the correct response.  Trainers need to ensure that learners absorb the critical material and can adopt the positive changes to come.  Ask questions of the candidates and their references that help you determine this ability.
  2. Preparation & Practice. An exemplary trainer makes delivering a class look straightforward and seamless. Skilled trainers come with detailed and effective preparation strategies.  In the interview process, ask them their specific steps of their preparation for learning a curriculum. For example, an exemplary trainer may read through the material twice in its’ entirety to get an overall feel for the flow of the course.  They break down each module, highlighting and marking their instructors guide for crucial Next, they rehearse each module aloud in front of a mirror or by recording themselves to validate their timing.   Trainers should not practice on students. We suggest having them demonstrate their skill and ability through a structured Train-the-Trainer program and graded teach-back process. This is where you inspect what you expect regarding their preparation, session openings, transitions, questioning techniques, use of technology and creating an environment ripe for learning.
  3. Rhythm & Energy. There are ebbs and flows in energy during any training class. An exemplary trainer is in tune with their energy level and of their students. A quality trainer knows when dry or detailed content is coming up, and they adjust their delivery accordingly. A skilled trainer is keenly aware when learners are tuning out, restless, or distracted. They know purposeful engagement is critical. A talented trainer communicates the information in a way that ensures learners understand the material and can implement it immediately out on the floor.  Seek to understand how they use the latest adult learning methodologies to facilitate engaging learning experiences, even for seasoned attendees.
  4. Corporate Savvy, Strategic Thinkers.An exemplary trainer should possess strong business acumen and grasp how the training process affects the overall business. This understanding of the “Big Picture” of how their training ties in, will support the objectives of the project.  Exemplary trainers consider the greater vision of the firm and how their role affects the entire organization. Is your trainer experienced in quickly “crossing borders” by strategically partnering with counterparts from other departments within the organization like Operations, HR, and Marketing? These essential corporate relationships combined with strategic thinking, help to strengthen the bonds between departments and foster an environment of cooperation and unity within your project.  Get specific examples of how they have incorporated this mind set into their daily training activities during past projects.
  5. Trainers are Evaluators. Exemplary trainers must be skilled in evaluating learners and measuring understanding as they train. They do this deliberately through keen observation skills, analyzing student interaction and validating content absorption via knowledge checks. It is NOT about the grade on a test; it comes down to the trainees being able to understand and practically apply the material they have learned! Trainers need to ensure learners can effectively implement the training in their specific role. This is an indispensible and hard to find trait that comes only from experience and honing their craft in learning and development. Ask how your potential trainers assess skill levels before, during and after training. 

Do you see these five skills exhibited by your trainers? We do in ours! How do you gain insight into the behaviors of exemplary trainers? Be picky, observe, inspect and ask for specific, detailed examples of how these traits are demonstrated in and out of the classroom.

Zelus’ Certified Trainers are an elite group of the most experienced facilitation experts in the industry.   These five traits are a part of their DNA. When it comes to a seamless implementation of a call center roll-out or initiative, our trainers are handpicked to match our core beliefs when it comes to knowledge, expertise, and passion. We are discerning and only use the savviest, most experienced learning and development professionals in the industry.

 To learn more about our suite of services and the additional benefits of partnering with Zelus for your training needs, please contact us at (781) 738-3145 or


Mary Anne Polson is a Learning and Development professional with an extensive background of over 20 years as a Training Manager and Trainer at major multinational corporations. She follows her passion of helping others achieve success in Customer Service, Sales, & Call Centers through her work 

Instructional Design Restructure, A Case Study


A regional health care company that offers a broad spectrum of group and network-based health care products to over 3.6 million members.


The Instructional Design Team was under performing. The training material was outdated, the material lacked industry standard best practices and adult learning techniques and was often incomplete. The training resulted in contact center agents not being ready for their role.


Zelus used their extensive knowledge of the health care industry, contact centers and instructional design skills to complete a needs analysis of all the contact center teams; and reviewed all the training material in the department. From the needs analysis Zelus re-imaged and updated all training material for new hire classes, gap training classes, new system training and the company’s product training.


  • Redesigned the training material for all lines of business, including Medicare and Medicare Advantage; over 750 documents.
  • Increased speed to market for new and revised material. The Zelus team worked 3x faster than the industry standard across the entire engagement.
  • Incorporated robust hands-on exercises in training that spanned multiple systems.
  • Built assessments to predict the capability of the trainee to do the job.
  • Established the use of state of the art web-based training as a best practice for delivering awareness training to agents.
  • Implemented a training approach that resulted in floor-ready trainees that met quality and productivity goals.
  • Launched new contact channels, more than 10 software applications, and Healthcare Reform and Medicare Products.

Click here for a printer-friendly version of this case study.

Call Center Optimization & Technical Implementation, A Case Study


A nationally recognized and trusted consumer brand committed to helping members create and maintain a healthy lifestyle.


The company was preparing for a significant product change anticipating that membership would increase substantially. The contact center had long lacked the focus and attention required to infuse the brand experience across inbound calls, emails, and online chats. The contact center was preparing for a significant ramp up in volume while it lacked technology solutions to support its agents.


  • Developed a road map to achieve short-term launch efficiencies and long-term operational vision for the contact center. Created an operational launch plan to handle a large customer increase without creating excessive costs.
  • Based on organizational decision to build a proprietary CRM system, the client used Zelus’ extensive contact center expertise and skilled staff to define business and functional requirements, manage prioritization, lead UAT efforts, train staff, and provide application deployment and launch support.
  • Developed comprehensive blended learning, virtual and classroom program with WBT at its core; resulting in a quick, accurate, and consistent training for over 400 agents.
  • Created RFI requests for contact center voice, chat and knowledge management solutions defining best practice needs within each channel. Key member of the selection process for all three solutions.
  • Created operational improvements to shift the nature of contact center contacts from largely administrative to a more value-added support model.
  • Comprehensively reviewed all content in organizational content management system to align to new system launches and reflect the brand


Since the effort started, the contact center:

  • Reduced contacts per member by 29%
  • Reduced cost per contact by more than 35%
  • Delivered more than $20M in savings to the organization
  • Achieved a 4-point gain in first contact resolution
  • Supported at 25% membership increase while improving performance

Click here for a printer-friendly version of this case study.

Your Company’s Brand is heard in the Contact Center

Health insurance plans are more focused than ever on evaluating and maintaining their brand. Most plans are working to be more than simply a low-cost provider of healthcare or the plan with the biggest network.  For years now, we’ve seen that singularly focused strategies like that don’t work.  One of the biggest opportunities plans have is to emerge as the health plan of choice for members by choosing to deliver a personal connection in every member interaction.

This personal connection starts in your contact center.  What’s interesting though, is that the push for Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) to take over customer service entirely isn’t what members really want. Members want our Contact Centers to be MORE human! And for those humans to be enabled by technology. We’re seeing this desire for a human touch in every industry but especially in healthcare. It’s one of the main reasons we created a proprietary training program to assist health plan contact centers.  When Zelus trains contact center agents we always incorporate empathy, we use a simple, yet comprehensive, approach:

I’m looking forward to speaking more about this at the upcoming 9th Annual Medicare Market Innovations Forum in San Diego, CA. on a distinguished panel.  The panel will be focused building a year-round branding strategy that extends beyond Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period (“AEP”).  Zelus will also be in the Exhibit Hall at the Conference, so stop by and see us.  We’d love to talk about your challenges and what’s working in your organization to deliver that consistent brand experience! If you need a push in the right direction talk to us about our PACE program.  We built a comprehensive healthcare contact center program to marry proficiency, accuracy, confidence, and empathy seamlessly. There is nothing like it in the marketplace.

We’re working on an upcoming webinar with Contact Center Week about connecting with customers on a human level, learn more and register here.

To learn more about our suite of services and the additional benefits of partnering with Zelus for your call center training needs, please contact us at (617) 821-1061 or

Jenny Graham, co-founder of Zelus LLC, is an expert in operational performance and excellence with over 15 years of experience developing and implementing innovative operational strategies to improve overall business performance and utilization.