News & Insight

Building Rapport – Is it an Art Form?

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. While the average first impression is typically created within half a minute, in the engagement (contact) center, that timeframe is dwindled to mere seconds. Something as seemingly trivial as the pitch, volume and rate of the engagement specialist’s (agent’s) voice, collectively referred to as “vocal prosody”, can impact the customer’s mood and determine whether or not they are likely to engage in the conversation. Regardless of how or why a customer chooses to interact with your brand, the only thing that stands between a positive or negative experience is making a human connection. So how can you create a unique and memorable customer experience? Start by building rapport.

Small Talk – It’s Not Just Chit Chat.

Building rapport is defined as offering appropriate, gradual, and personal disclosures that create a sense of spontaneity, personalization, and connectedness. One of the most important ways we build rapport with people and get to know them in a safe, easy, and non-threatening manner is through small talk. Despite its diminutive name, small talk serves a big purpose when interacting with others. Moreover, small talk is an effective way to fill those awkward moments of silence that often occur during conversations. And contrary to popular belief – it’s not idle chit chat and doesn’t increase handle time in the contact center. As with any other communication process, small talk is a complex practice that requires the mastery of key skills, including knowing when to initiate small talk, identifying topics that are safe yet interesting to both you and the other person, and guiding the conversation in competent ways so it remains appropriate for the situation. Finally, small talk requires one to listen carefully to the reactions of others so you know when to make the transition away from small talk and back to the task at hand. Follow these three key tips to start building rapport the right way:

  • Engage in the conversation by responding to disclosures made by the other person.
  • Build rapport by engaging in or initiating skillful small-talk.
  • Communicate a positive image of the other person and, when a vulnerability is voiced, protect face.

Obstacles to Building Rapport

While building rapport may sound easy, in the engagement center, there are many variables that can make it very difficult. For starters, rapport building is always the choice of the customer – not the engagement specialist. Lack of interest, time, and external distractions on the customer’s side can all interfere when attempting to build rapport. For an engagement specialist to overcome these obstacles, he or she needs to pay close attention to the needs of the customer and have a genuine interest in the person and what they are saying and doing.

At STARTEK, we coach our engagement specialists to build rapport by noticing the little things in the conversation. For example, the customer may have disclosed that they are preparing to take a trip or that they have a new grandchild on the way. Responding to such disclosures in a genuine and authentic manner is one step to connecting with the customer. We also coach our engagement specialists to notice external factors such as children playing or a dog barking in the background. While some may view these as distractions, they can serve as the foundation for building rapport, which ultimately results in a positive brand experience.

To learn more about how to build rapport with your customers, visit our website at and fill out the Contact Us form.