How to Improve the Call Center Agent Experience
The Top 5 Methods
- The call center agent experience creates a ripple effect. An improved experience decreases agent churn, increases customer satisfaction and improves business performance.
- 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.
- There are five methods that most improve the call center agent's experience. These techniques further improve operational performance, create immediate and sustained cost savings, and increase customer satisfaction.
A Customer Service Representative (CSR) or contact center agent role has never been an easy job. But new challenges such as more demanding customers and more channels to support, often with antiquated and fragmented technologies make it even tougher.
The easiest customer questions and problems are now often answered with customer self-service portals, leaving agents to deal with the weightier challenges.
And as more agents are working remote, a lack of collaboration and team-based problem solving can leave agents feeling isolated.
Countering these challenges and achieving business imperatives such as customer satisfaction and retention starts with improving the experience of your agents.
Agent Experience Defined
First some context. You must be able to define something before you can achieve it.
We define the agent experience as 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 heavily impacted by factors such as corporate culture, employee engagement, recognition and value, and tools and technology. But it's also influenced by more tactical activities such as schedules, supervisors, training and customer interactions.
It's the sum of many contributing factors and it's cumulative.
It's to your agents what the customer experience is to your customers.
It's important because it directly impacts staff performance, including productivity, absenteeism and attrition. Equally important, it directly impacts the customer experience and effects customer lifetime value and customer retention.
The Link Between the Agent and Customer Experience
That last point is strategically important.
Contact center agent experience research found that the agent's experience is inextricably linked to the customer experience. You cannot succeed in one without the other.
Customer Experience Management (CXM) is a business imperative for companies seeking to deliver differentiated customer experiences. It's proven to improve customer and company objectives. But there's a potential problem with customer experience in the call center. If it applies a myopic focus on the customer, it can create a tunnel vision that ignores the experience of agents.
That's why it's so important to recognize the satisfying agents is a prerequisite to satisfying customers. Overlooking what's important to agents will delay or deteriorate customer experience and other business goals.
Putting customers first should not mean putting agents second.
It's a not so secret formula that happy and engaged agents create happy and engaged customers. But while it's a simple formula to understand, it's more complex to achieve.
The Top 5 Methods to Improve the Agent Experience
Every customer service operation has an employee experience. It's developed over time either by design or happenstance.
When formed by happenstance it almost always fails to motivate the staff and deliver superior customer experiences. In contrast, an intentional employee experience carefully defines, measures, and reinforces behaviors and values that drive targeted agent and business objectives.
Achieving a successful employee experience is intentional, proactively designed and in a constant state of awareness and improvement.
Here's a 5-step framework built from research and proven many times over to achieve a successful work experience and the downstream company and customer benefits.
Start by Measuring the Experience
If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.
There are a few measures you might want to consider. Adopting a standardized metric such as Employee Satisfaction (ESAT) or Employee NPS (eNPS) leverages a proven methodology, uses a standardized calculation and permits benchmark comparison to other contact centers.
Alternatively, you may want to define your own employee experience calculation and metric. We've seen many customer support managers do this with a metric defined by HR measures such as absenteeism, performance measures such as average time in queue, average speed of answer, average handle time, FCR and abandonment rate, and customer measures such as customer satisfaction (CSAT) or Net Promoter Score (NPS). Using a custom calculation allows you to assign weighting to influence areas of importance.
Go Big on Corporate Culture
Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, a rising culture lifts all agents.
For most companies, corporate culture is the single biggest untapped asset to boost staff productivity, agent tenure and contact center performance.
That’s why it's disappointing to see managers put more time and planning into selecting a new headset than designing a high-performance culture.
The most common reason for this is they don't fully comprehend the impact and payback of a high-performance culture. Fortunately, the research is available and unequivocal.
For example, Harvard professor Dr. James Heskett and Dr. John Kotter measured cultures over an 11-year period and found that when compared to lower culture peers, higher performance culture companies achieved an average 516% higher revenues, 246% higher net income growth, 827% higher employment growth and 755% higher stock price growth. These types of triple digit figures should not go unnoticed. If you are unsure how to develop a high-performance culture, check out our Corporate Culture design framework.
Follow with Agent Engagement
Employee engagement directly correlates to the employee experience.
Engaged agents make better CSRs that deliver superior customer experiences.
Disengaged agents subtly degrade most customer calls and customer experiences. They are responsible for the high turnover that erodes institutional knowledge and drives the excessive costs that accompany employee churn.
Employee engagement research from Gallup shows that only 36% of U.S. employees are engaged in their work and workplace. They also report that over one-third of staff give the minimum level of effort and will quickly leave for even a slightly better offer.
On the flip side, engaged staff are more productive and deliver greater contributions to company culture, customer satisfaction and operational goals.
In fact, research published by IBM, in The Employee Experience Research Report, found that 95% of staff reporting a positive employee experience said they engage in activities which are not part of their job but are beneficial to customers and their company. That figure fell to 55% for staff reporting a poor experience with their employer.
Agent engagement is improved with frequent communication and collaboration.
Simplify and Streamline Processes
Laborious, convoluted, or non-sensical business processes are one of the two most frustrating factors for CSRs and quickly degrade the employee experience (the other factor is antiquated technology.)
There are many customer service processes that can be simplified, streamlined and automated. But a boil the ocean strategy creates too much change too quickly and doesn't work.
So, when working with clients we categorize and prioritize. For example, we create business process categories for talent management processes (i.e., recruiting, hiring, onboarding, training, performance management, compensation management, etc.) and operational processes (queue management, call routing, case prioritization, service level agreements, etc.)
We can then identify the processes most in need of improvement or that deliver the biggest uplift.
If you are unsure how to improve business processes, consider a proven method such as Agile Value Stream mapping.
This process improvement technique supports the shift from doing things right (efficiency) to doing the right things (effectiveness). It's often the most effective technique because it doesn't just improve your existing processes, it measures the value of what you do. Measuring value, or many times demonstrating processes with little value, helps eliminate non-valued added steps and activities and redefine processes to be directly mapped to higher value customer outcomes.
This method is especially helpful if you want to improve the customer experience. Agile Value Stream mapping can assign a customer value to each step (using the 4 Customer Experience Trust elements of being reliable, relevant, convenient and responsive) to eliminate processes customers don't care about or are not willing to pay for. And that's important because if your processes don't create value that customers care about or are willing to pay for, it may not matter how efficient, fast or cheap they are.
Automate with Technology
Our motto at Johnny Grow is everything that gets repeated gets automated.
Unfortunately, that is not the norm at many contact centers.
A CSR is no easy job that is made that much tougher when struggling with antiquated technology.
Fortunately, customer service cloud platforms are reducing the number of disintegrated systems, improving the user experience and delivering real-time analytics that aid agents.
We've written how contact center technologies improve the agent experience elsewhere so won't repeat that here.
The Proof is in the Payback
From our experience, the top three benefits from the five collective efforts to improve the agent experience include the following:
- Improved operational measures. Our experience parallels the research and shows that elevated agent satisfaction improves handle time, speed of answer, first call resolution and a slew of other downstream operational measures. And as each of these operational metrics has a cost, achieving even small improvements yields big cost savings.
- Decreased costs. Increasing the employee experience decreases absenteeism and attrition, and as labor accounts for three-quarters of the customer service operational cost, this creates a significant short-term cost savings.
It also creates a long-term cost savings in the form of cost avoidance. When you realize reduced staff churn, you avoid the related costs for recruiting, hiring and training. You also avoid understaffing which puts more pressure on existing staff and threatens quality service.
- Improved customer satisfaction and customer experiences. We all know that in many industries about half of customers will churn after a single bad experience, and about half of those share their negative experiences online.
But happy and engaged agents create happy and engaged customers. The link between the agent and customer experience is direct and undeniable.