The Top 5 Customer Service Technologies to Improve the Agent Experience
- The agent experience is the agent’s perception of their role and company based on their daily interactions and cumulative impressions. It starts during recruiting and continues through the exit interview but its most impacted by their daily job fulfillment.
- The experience is important because it directly impacts staff performance, including productivity, absenteeism, and attrition. It also directly impacts the customer experience and effects customer lifetime value and retention.
- Research shows there are five customer support software technologies that most improve the experience for agents. They also improve operational performance and customer outcomes.
In a Gartner contact center study of 2,024 customer service representatives, the analyst firm found that only 16 percent of reps reported having the systems and tools to effectively help them handle customer issues. Only 12 percent said they had the software to simplify their day-to-day work.
And it's a problem that is becoming a bigger issue as millennials now occupy much of the call center. These younger agents have grown up in a digital first world of social technologies, consumer devices and always-on connectivity. They become instantly frustrated when the company's tools cannot keep up with their personal computing.
The simple truth is that when customer service representatives are expected to deliver superior customer experiences with inferior technologies, it just doesn't work.
Fortunately, it's a challenge with a big upside.
Customer service agent experience research found that improving contact center software systems was one of the top three factors to motivate customer service representatives (CSR). It also found that improving the CSR experience lowered absenteeism and attrition and raised customer satisfaction. The net takeaway was that happy and engaged agents create happy and engaged customers.
And the payoff goes beyond more satisfied customers.
Labor is the top cost so using modern customer support technologies to improve the experience of agents drives big savings right to the bottom line.
But which modern technologies are most effective?
Research performed for the Customer Service Excellence report ranked the five most effective contact center technologies.
For this article, we took the data a step further and ranked the top technologies according to their ability to improve the agent experience, as ranked by the agents.
Here are the results.
CRM Case Management
68 percent of agents cited CRM software as the most helpful technology. But as you might expect not all agents have effective CRM systems or use them in the same ways.
Basic CRM software is most often used when the support organization is a cost center and goals are based primarily on efficiency. This level of CRM technology may be sufficient for small, simple and reactive customer support processes.
Advanced CRM software expands the application to achieve more significant business impact. Getting to this level makes sense when technology is needed to support more strategic objectives such as the shift from cost center to profit center, call center to contact center, and product-centric to customer-centric focus. Advanced technology is needed if customer support is to deliver a performance advantage. Only at this level of CRM software utilization did the agent experience begin to improve.
The best CRM software is needed to deliver differentiation and competitive advantage. These support organizations are social, proactive and proficient at converting their budgets into company profits. Their business impact is measured by increases to customer satisfaction, customer lifetime value, customer retention and referrals. They align their goals with company priorities and adopt customer strategies such as Customer Experience Management. They achieve the highest customer satisfaction scores and lowest cost to serve. This level of CRM application utilization correlated with the highest agent satisfaction scores.
Call Routing Systems
According to Harris Interactive, 77% of customers said it took too long to reach a live agent. Nothing increases a customer's temperature like long or disconnected call routing or finally getting to the right person and having to repeat already provided information. Call center routing systems reduce hold time and prevent that increase in customer frustration, which also improves the agent satisfaction.
The customer and the CSR benefit when customers are quickly routed to an agent suited to resolve their issue. Performance is further improved when the agent is greeted with a screen pop showing the customer provided information and the customer 360 degree view.
Call routing programs use rules-based decision engines or algorithms to forward each caller to the best agent. Call routing technologies manage the interaction between the telephone network and the agent's desktop. When call centers apply the best combinations of call routing methods and technologies, they increase agent productivity by 5 to 7 percent and lower costs by 2 to 4 percent.
Customer Self-service Technologies
Most customers now prefer to access self-service channels as their first point of contact for many types of questions or cases. Most CSRs prefer to offload remedial work and focus on more meaningful cases. Customer self-service support channels create a win for both.
Achieving self-service success starts by using the right tool for the job. The four most used self-service technologies are FAQs, knowledgebases, chatbots and communities.
The top challenge with customer self-service technologies is customer adoption.
Self-service tools satisfy customers when they are purpose built for specific customer support scenarios and deliver expected results.
However, these technologies fail when they are more interested in reducing costs than satisfying customers and not maintained or kept current. Keeping self-service content up to date is the biggest ongoing challenge. If customers cannot quickly find what they are looking for or must sift through volumes of irrelevant or obsolete content the self-service effort fails.
Workforce Management Systems
The high ranking of this technology came as a surprise. Perhaps naively, we expected managers to rank workforce management systems high as they are effective in controlling operational processes such as staff workload allocation and payroll costs. But we didn't expect agents to rank them this high.
But what we found was that agents recognize these same systems help management grant them scheduling flexibility, online tools to switch shifts with colleagues or quickly request time off.
Agents identified scheduling as a top stress factor and more flexible scheduling was shown to improve job satisfaction.
Workforce management systems also help schedule agents with the right skills for the right job at the right time, which prevents understaffing that creates stress because agents are unable to keep up with customer demand.
Contact Center Analytics
Customer support dashboards and artificial intelligence (AI) are the top two analytics to aid the CSR performance.
Customer service dashboards make agents smarter. They show what's working and not working and when to intervene or escalate.
They aid time management and staff productivity by showing what should be done first, then next and so on. They rank key activities and metrics to prioritize action. Tasks and activities are not all equal and should not be acted upon in random order.
Customer service AI allows agents to better solve for the customer. AI can automatically apply customer transaction or case history, and even customer segments or personas, to deliver more personalized and contextual customer support.
The technology can optimize process flows, deliver push-based coaching, and quickly determine next-best-actions or ranked responses.
AI can be extended to customer-service chatbots or virtual agents to deliver these advanced capabilities without agent or human intervention. AI chatbots are especially well suited for the high volume of routine questions that bore agents and lower job satisfaction.
Our experience in implementing AI in the contact center is that clients achieve an average payback period of 6 months and an average ROI of 39 percent at the end of the first year.