5 Call Center Agent Experience Best Practices
- The contact center agent experience is the agents perception of their role and company based on the totality of their interactions. It starts during recruiting and continues through the exit interview. It's the sum of many contributing factors and it's cumulative.
- It's important because it directly impacts agent performance, including productivity, absenteeism, and attrition. Equally important, it directly impacts the customer experience and effects customer lifetime value and customer retention.
- Contact Center agent experience best practices share lessons that save time, reduce risk and improve results. They show what actions deliver results and which don't, and that helps prioritize what to do and is equally helpful in determining what not to do.
Customer service leaders are under increased pressure to control costs while also delivering improved customer satisfaction. It's a tough journey made much easier when the agents or customer service representatives (CSR) are on board.
But too many times agents own expectations are passively ignored or not aligned with the company's objectives. They are treated as detached commodities expected to contribute to the company without regard to the company contributing to them.
We know from research that measures the agent experience that staff indifference contributes to low productivity and high absenteeism and attrition. These factors will derail most employee performance and financial objectives.
But there is a better way. Forward looking customer service leaders are adopting programs and best practices to improve agent satisfaction and in turn business performance.
These leaders know that running a successful call center is less of a command-and-control structure and more of a team-based program that requires coordinated input and effort from every role.
They also know the not so secret formula that happy and engaged agents create happy and engaged customers. It's a simple formula to understand, but more complex to achieve.
It this post, we'll share 5 best practices to achieve a successful employee experience program.
The Agent & Customer Experience Link
Analyst firm Gartner found that with increased competition and customer power, customer experience the new competitive battlefield and possibly the only sustainable source of competitive differentiation.
But despite wide scale Customer Experience adoption, many companies have not seen lasting improvements in customer satisfaction.
That is in large part because achieving an improved employee experience is a prerequisite to achieving an improved customer experience.
The agent and customer experience are symbiotic. Together they are effective in growing customer relationships, customer lifetime value and customer retention. Apart they delay and struggle to accomplish the simplest customer and company objectives.
Delivering better customer experiences begins by looking inward. If you want to improve the customer experience, start with the agent experience. The sequence is important.
The agent experience is a proxy for the customer experience.
The time, effort and investment made in agents pays dividends to customers.
According to a Gallup study, high staff engagement creates higher customer engagement, lower employee turnover, and 21 percent higher profitability.
Feedback and recognition are two methods to improve contact center representative engagement.
Direct and frequent feedback is the starting point to improve engagement. Creating a feedback loop lets agents know their opinion counts. Active listening can demonstrate empathy and when employees are heard and their feedback is welcome, they feel valued.
Performance feedback should be a part of the dialogue but areas for improvement should be accompanied with constructive conversations about professional development.
Feedback is most often given in performance reviews and informal catchups but there are many other options. For example, team huddles promote both supervisor and peer-to-peer engagement.
Creative programs such as gamification can improve individual engagement, team building and recognition. You can also link gamification activities to training objectives, knowledge sharing, short term goals or the behaviors and competencies that promote the contact center's objectives. Contact center agent satisfaction research found that programs such as gamification directly contribute to engagement when properly used.
Recognition is similarly important. Acknowledging good performance both privately and publicly creates more of that performance. Displaying top performers on visual boards for all to see can also motivate others to rise to similar performance levels.
Agent engagement not only improves satisfaction, but directly impacts retention and performance, as shown by a McKinsey survey of 320 contact-center agents in the United States that found engaged and satisfied call center employees were:
- 5x more likely to stay than leave within a year
- 4x more likely to stay than dissatisfied colleagues
- 16x more likely to refer friends to their company
- 3x more likely to feel extremely empowered to resolve customer issues
Many customers prefer self-service options for many types of questions or inquiries.
Online self-service portals and chatbots make sense for the high volume of low complexity inquiries.
But when self-service tools are designed purely for call deflection and to save agent labor, customers get frustrated and agents then get an earful.
When self-service channels are designed for specific use cases and intended to augment, not replace agents, they improve both customer and agent satisfaction.
Contact Center Technologies
Antiquated and fragmented systems heavily contribute to staff frustration.
Many agents will navigate between 5 to 12 systems throughout the day. They may struggle to initially acquire call data from the IVR, customer data from the CRM, previous cases that impact the current case, prior activities related to the case, scripts to diagnose the problem or solutions from a centralized knowledgebase.
The previously referenced research found that improving business software systems was one of the top three factors to improve agent satisfaction.
Intelligent call routing was one of the top 5 call center technologies to improve the agent experience. These systems help prevent sending complex cases to agents who not trained for them or sending menial cases to the fewer senior staff who should be reserved for complex inquiries. Skills-based call routing systems improve customer satisfaction, save time and money, and improve agent satisfaction by delivering cases suited to their training and skills.
Another technology that can help with the agent workload is speech analytics. While commonly used to detect customer dissatisfaction or rate agent performance, they can also be used to detect systems that are not working or training opportunities. When agents know that every word is being recorded, they also know they are protected in customer disputes.
Customer satisfaction is dependent upon how quickly and accurately customer service representatives can resolve their issues. And CSRs need the right software tools to handle more cases in less time and with less effort, maintain entitlements and SLAs, and deliver what customers expect. That in turn, improves the CSR experience.
Call Center Analytics
Customer service reporting helps agents or CSRs be more efficient, effective and empowered.
Agent dashboards aid time management, prioritize activities, and show where their performance is meeting objectives and where it's not.
Dashboards also display customer service representative performance in a fact-based and objective way that removes subjectivity and avoids feelings of personal or unwarranted criticism. This in turn, increases the likelihood the employee will accept and remedy subpar performance measurements more quickly. When performance measures permit drill-down to root cause analysis they further give staff advice on how to remedy variances.
Data becomes much more actionable when it advances from historical to predictive. Predictive analytics convert data to forward looking information such as next best answer, next best action or guided resolution recommendations. They can even be used to shift from reactive to proactive customer service. Helping reps stay ahead of customers, sharing information they did not know or delivering insights which aid their productivity improves agent performance and satisfaction.
Improving an experience starts by recognizing that agents are not just commoditized resources or cogs in the corporate wheel but the voice of the company to every customer in need.
It also helps to recognize the direct four stage sequence, from the agent experience – to agent productivity and retention – to customer satisfaction – to company business objectives.
And that's why employee experience programs are becoming a priority.