How to empower your customer service agents
Whatever industry you are in, great customer service leads to success. And with more and more routine customer queries now handled through self-service and chatbots, this increases the importance of your agents dealing with the remaining, more complex questions. So how do you go engage with and empower customer service agents?
That’s the theme of The UK Inner Circle Guide to Agent Engagement & Empowerment from ContactBabel. Sponsored by Enghouse Interactive, the guide is based on interviews with contact centre leaders in over 200 UK organisations. It covers engagement, empowerment and the impact this has on customer service performance.
A highly engaged and empowered customer service team delivers multiple benefits:
- Higher First Contact Resolution, a key metric for customer satisfaction
- A better customer experience and improved service levels
- Higher agent productivity and greater discretionary effort from employees
- Greater agent morale, lower absenteeism and overall higher staff retention
3 areas to focus on to empower your agents
Successful agent empowerment relies on a combination of technology, skills and business processes and culture. ContactBabel’s report identified three factors that contact centre leaders agreed hold back empowerment:
- Technology: Systems provided to agents did not deliver the right functionality or information (56%)
- Skills: Agents lacked the experience to go the extra mile (26%)
- Process/culture: Too great a focus on cost-based metrics in the contact centre (24%)
To overcome these issues 82% of companies are increasing technology spending to empower agents while 80% are increasing soft skills training. 77% are improving quality assurance (QA) measurement and coaching.
1. Using technology to better empower agents
When it comes to implementing technology to better empower customer service agents, there are some key areas to focus on:
- Knowledge management technology to give agents instant access to up-to-date information to address customers’ queries. Solutions can also automatically provide suggested answers based on analysing the customer conversation.
- Unified omnichannel applications that deliver access to everything an agent needs in a single interface. This means there’s no need to switch between applications which takes up time and creates delays and frustrations for agents and customers.
- Systems that provide agents with a single 360-degree view of the customer and all their interactions across every channel. This gives agents a full picture of the customer when they make contact, allowing them to provide a seamless, unified experience.
- Software that automates admin tasks such as post-call wrap up logging. This frees agents from mundane jobs, allowing them to spend more time on the most valuable parts of the job – interacting with customers.
- Automation of quality assurance to highlight areas for training and improvement
2. Improve skills and training
Respondents in the ContactBabel study agreed that relevant training and coaching is central to improving agent empowerment and performance. Particularly, as the nature of the job changes. Agents now need different skills, particularly empathy, which 42% rated as the most valued characteristic. While for some people empathy comes naturally, contact centre leaders believe that it is something that can be improved with the right coaching.
As well as 80% increasing their focus on soft skills training, 66% were increasing product/technical knowledge training, with 59% also focusing on improving how agents handled digital interactions.
Identifying individual skills gaps can be difficult in a busy contact centre, particularly if agents are working remotely. Technology can help – by using AI supervisors can automate listening to call recordings in order to highlight areas for improvement or best practice that can be shared with the wider team.
3. Culture and Processes
Empowering agents often requires a change in the working environment and culture. For example, how agents are measured and rewarded will have a significant impact on how they work. If they are judged solely on the speed with which they answer queries, it prevents them from focusing on in-depth requests which – by their nature – will take longer to resolve.
That means organisations need to focus on measurement KPIs that support the outcomes they want to see, such as NPS or customer retention and reward agents so that they feel empowered to support its business goals. The aim should be on achieving quality outcomes, rather than just the speed or quantity of interactions handled. However, only 55% of respondents believe that measurement and rewards for agents currently actively align with the business strategy, showing a need for improvement
Helping agents feel empowered requires creating a culture that is based on trust, with agents feeling that they have the freedom and responsibility to handle customer queries in the way they think will best resolve the customer’s issue – without excessive pressure to meet internal metrics. 41% of ContactBabel respondents rated feeling empowered to make the right decisions to help customers amongst the top three reasons that generated greater agent morale.
Empower customer service agents
Empowerment also comes from giving agents greater control over their working environment. This can include for example allowing agents to work remotely or in a hybrid way, as well as giving them the flexibility to book their own shift times (and holidays) using self-service workforce management applications. Similarly, empowerment can be increased by allowing agents to blend the different types of interactions they handle. For example having a mix of calls and digital interactions in order to provide variety in their working day.
Importantly if you want to empower agents, you need to ensure they feel acknowledged and listened to by management. Give them a voice and create a Voice of the Employee programme. Use this to understand and act on their feedback to improve processes, culture and working environment.
Having agents that feel empowered is key to delivering improved customer service. It can lead to a more productive workforce, better, more efficient outcomes and ultimately happier and more loyal customers. Empowering agents relies on a combination of the technology you provide, the training and development programmes you deliver. As important, is the working culture and environment you create. It is therefore time to refocus on empowering agents to deliver success – find out more by downloading The UK Inner Circle Guide to Agent Engagement & Empowerment from ContactBabel, sponsored by Enghouse Interactive.