A happy customer service agent isn’t an oxymoron. At least it doesn’t have to be. But even as employee happiness and retention efforts have entered the spotlight in recent months—under pressure from the Great Resignation—a group of all-too-worthy participants has been overlooked…
After spending time with hundreds of customer service managers and agents in organizations all over the world, a clear pattern has emerged. Organizations with a high agent churn rate (a sure sign of agent dissatisfaction) are failing to offer their employees something very fundamental: the right tools to thrive in a job that can be, quite frankly, really hard.
By implementing the following three pillars, you can improve your agent experience, reduce your employee churn rate, and improve your customer satisfaction while you’re at it. Before we jump in, let’s start with what every good pillar needs—a strong foundation.
Build a Strong Foundation by Empowering Your Agents
No matter how much money you spend on marketing, optimizing your user journey, or refreshing your brand identity, when it comes down to it, your frontline agents are the true face of your company—their interactions with customers shape your customer experience. Treat them like the partners they are, rather than just pawns you’re moving around on a chess board.
Implement a Schedule & Stick to It
Let your agents know in advance which channels they’re scheduled to work on and during which time periods. And no last-minute changes! Having access to a clearly-defined plan they can trust lets them know what to expect out of the day. You can even take this one step further and allow them to control which contact channels they are available on and when.
The Proof is in the Pudding
An employee survey at a large meal kit company in the US showed that changing agents’ work schedules on short notice was a cause of great frustration, making agents feel powerless and contributing to employee churn. After adjusting the process so agents could expect to stay on the channels they were scheduled to work on, employee satisfaction increased significantly. Agents felt much more empowered and in control of their work which is critical to job satisfaction.
Once you’ve got your foundation in place, you can start by building the first pillar.
Pillar #1: What
Give your agents much-needed context with a clear overview of customer interactions across all channels.
The first pillar of agent happiness is also the most obvious: What is the customer contacting you about? What have they contacted you about in the past, on what channels, and what was the outcome? Having an easy-to-access overview of all contacts across every channel gives agents an understanding of what the customer’s current issue is as well as how it relates to previous questions.
In the excellent book, The Effortless Experience by Matthew Dixon, having to repeat basic information is a key driver of customer disloyalty. This was confirmed by recent research conducted by Dixa. You can avoid this by giving your agents access to context for previous conversations and interactions. This helps your agents deliver a better customer experience and saves them from dealing with frustrated customers.
And there’s an added benefit: customers feel comfortable reaching out to you on different channels and are empowered to switch from channel to channel without fear of needing to repeat themselves each time. This flexibility should be par for the course in 2022, and offering channel equality in your customer service solution will help you do this.
Pillar #2: Who
Make sure your agents have the information they need to offer personal experiences at scale.
Pillar two covers the customer. Who are they? How much money have they spent with you in the past? What’s their delivery address? Pull this information in from your backend system and show it to your agents. Key information like whether or not the customer is a VIP, or the last item they ordered and its shipment status will allow your agents to deliver personalized, conversational service, and quickly turn a negative situation into a positive one.
Customers want to feel heard and understood when they reach out with a problem. Giving your agents proper context will allow them to deliver “plus one service” as my friend, CX consultant Micah Solomon calls it. If the customer is a VIP, give your agents the autonomy to offer full refunds, discount codes, or new items on the spot, if there’s a problem.
Even small gestures can go a long way. If the customer’s last order was a pair of sneakers, it’s easy to start a conversation about that item. “Did the sneakers fit or were they a gift for someone?”. It can also eliminate the need for customers to express what the issue is about, as the contact reason can often be found in the available data—as long as your agents can access it!
Pillar #3: How
Give your agents access to the knowledge they need to solve customer questions—right at their fingertips.
Asking your agents to solve customer questions without easy access to a knowledge base is like asking a marathon runner to wear running shoes that don’t fit: a waste of time and also a little painful. With a trusted knowledge base, agents can rest easy knowing the information they’re providing to customers is 100% accurate. And customers will always get a consistent answer regardless of the agent they’re connected with. Not to mention all the time saved not having to search through messy shared documents, or even worse, spent googling answers to commonly asked questions.
An integrated knowledge base driven by machine learning is ideal, as it will send automatic prompts to agents based on the context of the customer question. So the correct support article will automatically be shown to agents based on the customer’s inquiry.
Knowledge also ties into the other two pillars: if the customer has a question about the delivery status of their order, the system can use AI to determine that the issue type is “delivery.” Once this has been determined, it can add a tag to the conversation, allowing the agent to see what the issue is about immediately.
It should also be possible for agents to interact with this contextual knowledge, marking an article as useful once it’s helped to solve an issue, prompting updates if something needs to be edited, adding comments, and even adding drafts for new articles when they encounter a new issue.
Happy Agents Make Happy Customers
There’s a reason that ancient Greek columns from antiquity can still be found today: when you build something the right way, on a strong foundation, it tends to stick around! If you take the time to build a lasting foundation and ensure these three pillars are in place, your agents will know what the customer’s issue is about, who the customer is, and how to solve the customer’s problem. You’ll see a remarkable transformation in your agent experience, a reduction in handling and response times, and even an increased CSAT because happy agents make happy customers.