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Ten years ago, it wouldn’t have been uncommon to see people switch off merely at the sound of ‘customer experience’ in conversation. Once considered an ephemeral buzzword that would fade away, these same organizations now boast of their CX-first culture that puts customer experience at the forefront of everything they do.
The reason for such a rapid and overwhelming change of heart is simple and unsurprising. They realized that customer experience could have a major – and measurable – impact on the bottom-line. 84% of companies that work to improve their customer experience report an increase in revenue.
While many organizations are profiting from their investment into CX, many are still failing to reap the full rewards from this strategy. This is because they are neglecting a critical area within it: the agent experience.
Customer service agents are the voice of a brand. They have a huge impact on every stage of the customer journey – whether a customer makes their first purchase, returns to make another, or recommends others to buy.
“Often something has gone wrong by the time a customer contacts a live agent”, Jeff Toister, author of ‘The Guaranteed Customer Experience’, explains. “A product didn’t work, a service fell short, or a delivery was delayed. That puts the agent at a moment of truth in the customer’s journey. They can either restore the customer’s faith in the brand or hasten the customer’s decision to try out a competitor.”
“Our agents on the front line are more than just customer support”, Shep Hyken, customer service and experience expert, agrees. “Perhaps another, better title might be customer retention expert, or revenue enhancement specialist. Maybe even brand evangelist. A good customer support agent is all of that, and more. They are the face of your brand. They may be the reason the customer comes back and spends more money with you.”
With such power at their fingertips, you’d expect organizations to be investing heavily in these employees and their day-to-day activities – and yet the agent experience continues to be overlooked by many. In fact, despite the recent movements by many organizations to improve their work life, average agent turnover stands at 30-45%, compared to an employee average of 12-15%.
“Let’s be real”, admits Jeff Toister. “For some employees, contact center agent isn’t the job they wanted. It was the job they were able to get. Many of us, myself included, started our contact center careers that way. That puts employers at an immediate disadvantage—our agents will always have their eye on another opportunity if we don’t make the contact center an amazing place to work.”
The 3 key tenets to positive agent experience
While the reasons for high employee turnover are varied and can be difficult to pinpoint, the effects of a poor agent experience on customer experience are clear. In Forrester’s latest 2021 report, ‘The ROI of CX Transformation’ report, they break down the three key tenets that create a positive customer experience, and how each of these can be delivered through a positive agent experience.
The first crucial tenet is effectiveness. A customer wants to receive accurate, relevant and complete answers so they don’t need to contact the company again. To deliver this, an agent needs to be productive, but to be so they need to feel that they can perform their role effectively.
To achieve this, agents need to feel empowered. They need to feel like they have the best technology, tools, and information to help them do their job well.
“Imagine what it is like to be an agent that is faced with dealing with the same sort of queries day in and day out”, Adrian Swinscoe, best-selling author and experience advisor, explains. “Imagine what it is like to work in an environment that is monitored and measured to within an inch of its life. Imagine how frustrated you would feel if you were keen to do a good job but were not properly equipped to do so. Imagine how you would feel if the company that you work for talks about valuing its customers and its employees but fails to invest in the tools that would help to make both customers and your life easier. Now, ask yourself… are you surprised that agent turnover is so high?”
Automation is key to improving agent experience as it helps to offload the repetitive work and allow agents to focus on more fulfilling work. For live chat and digital channels, canned messages that cover frequently asked questions, automatic follow-up messages, and triggered updates on open tickets all help towards this goal. Chatbots do so too on a larger and even more powerful scale. When built well, chatbots can manage a large portion of total queries, resolving the simple but very common questions that agents are otherwise bombarded with.
The second piece of the puzzle in delivering a positive customer experience is ease. A customer wants to connect with a company over any channel and get an answer with as little friction as possible. To provide this experience, the agent must be able to focus on their most important work, such as managing more important customers or queries. This can be achieved with intelligent customer service platforms that identify these higher-value customers when they visit their website or ask a question and alert the agent to them. Likewise, clear response and resolution SLAs should be set up (with visual cues) so agents know where to concentrate their time and efforts.
They also must feel like they have all the information they need to accurately answer customer queries. A robust knowledge base is key to this as it centralizes all knowledge resources into an accessible platform within the agent console so the agent can easily find all the information they need to provide quick and accurate responses. Automation comes into play again here, with agent-facing tools like Agent Assist listening in on conversations and automatically providing the best answer to the agent based on the customer’s question.
Finally, but certainly not least, emotion is key to a positive customer experience. A customer wants the company to understand who they are, show empathy toward their situation, and deliver a personalized experience so they leave the interaction feeling positive and believing that the company is doing the right thing for them.
“Ultimately, we all want to develop relationships with companies in the same way we do with other people”, Nate Brown, Chief Experience Officer at Officium Labs, explains. “We gravitate towards those we can trust and who act in a manner consistent with our own values. The agent is a powerful extension of your company and its personality. When agents can nurture that personal relationship with the customer in the right ways, it’s a galvanizing force for loyalty.”
For the agent to deliver this emotion, connection is critical. Firstly, they must feel connected with their colleagues. Internal communication and the tools to support it are key, especially while many employees continue to work from home. Secondly, they must feel connected with their work and understand the purpose and value of their role. Without this, agents can quickly become demotivated and lose a genuine interest in helping customers, which is the final and most important connection of them all.
Agents must also feel connected to their customers to be able to deliver the very best customer experience, but to do so they need data and insight. They need to know as much about each customer as possible. By integrating the CRM system with the customer service platform, the agent gets access to the customer’s detailed profile including purchase history, web page visits, demographic data, and much more. This insight gives them the context they need to personalize the communication and connect with the customer on a far deeper, genuine level.
Effectiveness, ease, and emotion. If an organization can deliver on each of these tenets, they will provide a far more positive agent experience, which will directly result in a far more positive customer experience. As Shep Hyken so rightly puts it; “Treat your agents well and they will treat your customers and your organization well. The investment in them can pay big dividends!”