How to Create a Brighter Future for Agents


How to Create a Brighter Future for Agents

The customer experience (CX) world has been flipped on its head over the last two years.

What we saw happen within contact centers at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was simultaneously too much and too little of everything.

There were too many people trying to contact customer service and support agents to understand if they would get reimbursed for their canceled/changed flights, hotel rooms, or concert tickets.

There were also too few channels available and too few agents prepared to handle the influx in customer interactions. In some cases, this led to 10-hour wait times before customers could connect with human agents.

Agents, in turn, had to deal with uncertain situations and customers who were frustrated and angry before they even started their interactions.

Brands were forced to quickly adapt, with many adopting omnichannel approaches to reduce the wait and/or response times for customers, implementing more chat, email, and even self-service options for customers.

Rethinking the Contact Center

Approximately 45% of respondents in a survey of independent businesses said they added new channels to their businesses during the pandemic, and, very significantly, 80% said they plan to keep them. This means there are now more channels than ever before for contact centers and their agents to manage and maintain with customers.

The contact center has changed, and we need to change with it. We need to rethink how we’re supporting our contact centers, both from a workforce and infrastructure perspective.

It means we need to reprioritize the contact center and shift how we view it—not just as a CX avenue—but the CX champion.

What if we equipped CX agents with the same tools and training we do salespeople? What if the contact center was treated as the rightful brand guardian?

What does the contact center look like with better, modern technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and automated analytics, and how would this approach benefit organizations and agents at large?

It is time to ask and answer these questions, and it is time for leaders to act on them.

When they do, they not only stand to build stronger businesses, but to better lead and support brighter futures for the workforce.

That is, the people behind the phone, behind the emails, and behind the direct messages, who are tasked with providing top-of-the-line experiences for customers.

Growing Complexity

With the number of channels brands are now expected to offer, it can be overwhelming for agents to manage all interactions effectively.

They have more screens and platforms to learn, monitor, and navigate, and they are expected to capture more information from every interaction, so organizations can have a holistic understanding of the customer journey. But it can feel like agents are being tasked with the impossible.

From a technology perspective, it can seem like leaders are helping. Managers are providing great tools and tips, enabling agents to receive real-time alerts and other notifications. But each one of those is yet another input to manage.

The typical agent has a handful of screens open at any time. And while they may be sitting in front of a goldmine of insightful data, it is easy to miss these signals.

Agents miss the signals because they are stressed with juggling too much, and it can fog their view of the information most helpful for the business. Notably, the increasing number of channels agents need to manage also means a customer is behind each one, waiting to engage.

This is the definition of complexity, and it introduces room for error. Neither of which companies can afford in a successful business.

Reducing complexity for agents should be the goal. We need to consolidate screens and give CX agents a single pane of glass to work from.

This requires aggregating points of entry and associated data and offering everything up on one screen, in a way that makes sense so agents can answer questions and solve complex problems quickly.

This is how we reduce agent stress, and how we improve the CX and journey.

Three Guiding Principles for Improvements

Prioritizing the CX – and supporting agents – starts with leaders who are willing to show up. It is that straightforward.

Showing up, however, can mean a variety of things. Those who follow these three guiding principles – who pay attention, embrace technology, and create environments of continuous learning – can create positive change within their contact centers, for their agents and ultimately for their customers.

1. Lean in and pay attention

Contact center supervisors and managers – and their managers – should take time to truly understand what agents are dealing with. To see the screens they toggle between, the types of information they listen for, how they capture it, and so on.

Understanding how the software works is one thing but understanding how the software and agents work together is another. The leader who takes the time to see how agents are working will immediately understand the complexity and what needs to change.

So, lean in, pay attention, listen, and learn. At the end of the day, agents are the ones interacting with customers; they’re the first and the last touchpoints, so understanding their world will lead to taking better care of them, which leads to taking better care of customers.

2. Adopt the right tools and technology

Give the workforce the tools they need to alleviate stress. Our research found that 96% of contact center agents are stressed out to a high degree at least once a week, and nearly 40% of agents say that “lack of tools” is the most common reason they are unable to solve a customer’s problem.

This is unacceptable. Leaders need to provide the appropriate technology platforms and solutions to better support agents, to reduce or eliminate stressors, and to enable them to drive better customer interactions.

Think of the customers who show up angry, frustrated, and stressed out because they were accidentally dropped on a different channel. They then direct those negative feelings at the agents.

It’s a lot for agents to take on. But when we create elegant, seamless experiences for them to handle interactions with confidence and ease, both parties benefit.

For example, when dashboards are consolidated, it reduces the number of screens and the number of interactions per screen for the agent, which helps to reduce stress. Self-service scheduling applications for the agent also help by enabling more flexibility and control over their working time and priorities.

These small changes can make a big impact.

3. Create a feedback loop

Leaders need to adequately train their workforce and create an environment of continuous learning and growth.

This requires implementing a feedback loop—one that captures data on the employee experience and helps identify challenges and opportunities for each individual. Leaders must then act on these insights and regularly check in with employees to review and discuss the learnings.

People inherently want to feel supported and valued, and they want to learn and grow. The leaders who pay attention and catch patterns early – both the good and bad – are better set up to help create the best paths forward for everyone.

When leaders follow these principles, they can reduce the complexity felt across the contact center: and in today’s often-overwhelming world, maintaining a semblance of simplicity despite unavoidable complexity is critical.

It is time to look forward and have a hand in creating the future of the contact center and the future of customer service, and it all starts with creating brighter futures for agents.

Tom Goodmanson

Tom Goodmanson is President and CEO of Calabrio, the global customer experience intelligence company that builds software to enrich human interactions. Since 2008, Tom has led Calabrio’s vision, culture and growth to 700 employees today, helping more than 6,000 customers around the world engage with and understand their customers.