The Agent Experience Imperative


The Agent Experience Imperative

Contact center attrition rates have risen to new heights during the COVID-19 pandemic, and there’s no sign of that turnover slowing down.

But if contact center leaders don’t act swiftly, they risk alienating their agents and seeing them walk out the door.

That turnover impacts customers, too — 65% of customers say they’ve switched from a brand because of a bad experience. As agents are often the first touchpoints for customers, there’s a waterfall effect from agent attrition.

Though digital technology offers contact centers new opportunities to improve employee performance and morale, many leaders rely on antiquated methods to enhance employee retention.

While these strategies, such as increasing pay and benefits, can work as short-term solutions, they don’t address the underlying issues of employee attrition.

What Causes Employee Attrition?

The Great Resignation, the Great Reshuffling, the Big Quit — whatever you want to call it, there’s a growing number of workers looking to move careers.

Per CNBC, 44% of people are seeking new jobs, with contact center workers especially at risk. QATC reports their average attrition rates are two times that of other occupations.

…if contact center leaders don’t act
swiftly, they risk alienating their agents and seeing them walk out the door.

Of course, addressing any potential issues requires an understanding of what causes them in the first place.

There are numerous reasons why employees, particularly contact center agents, may lose morale and seek other options, but here are a few of the most common.

  • High stress. Contact center jobs have always held some levels of stress, but the past two years have introduced more demands from customers. They expect quick and easy resolution of their issues, and to complicate matters, they’re already on edge because of the state of the world. Sometimes that frustration lashes out at agents.
  • Low job satisfaction. If you don’t value the work you do, it’s tough to maintain a high level of interest.
  • Poor user experience and training. Introducing digital tools can help contact center agents excel at their jobs — but only if they’re properly trained. If tools are clunky to use and agents feel unprepared to handle them, their morale will drop quickly.
  • Lack of coaching and career opportunities. Most people want to advance roles throughout their careers. If that seems like it won’t happen, they’ll start looking elsewhere.

While it’s impossible to eliminate turnover completely, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation can address many of these pain points and keep agents happy.

When you alleviate workloads, improve efficiency, and open the door to innovative and strategic thinking, you’re on a solid path.

The Growing Need for Automation

Automated channels save contact centers significant money. And these amounts quickly add up over time.

According to Gartner, live channels including phone, live chat, and email cost an average of $8.01 per contact. Self-service channels, such as brand-owned communities, company-run websites, and mobile apps, only cost $0.10 per contact.

While AI can’t — and shouldn’t — fully replace human agents, contact center leaders can help their agents save time and frustration by focusing on digital customer service channels.

Not sure where to start? Try a few of these options:

–Automated Interactions

Automated interactions such as IVR, online knowledge bases, and chatbots offer easy access to the information customers need. When a customer is searching for an answer, they want to find it quickly, and if an automated resource can provide that answer, they’ll leave happy.

These types of interactions reduce average handle time and customer frustration. They allow agents to focus on solving more complex issues without wasting effort on simple, easy-to-find solutions.

–Automated Forecasting and Scheduling

Contact centers take in a staggering amount of data every day.

But many organizations don’t take action on that data. If they did, they could set up automated forecasting, which looks at existing datasets and analyzes the best workflow improvements moving forward.

With this information, you can easily predict total inbound calls, projected spikes in volume, and the number of staffed agents required to handle any changes.

Similarly, automated scheduling eliminates many headaches that come with staffing.

Instead of manually sifting through schedules to see holidays, vacation time, and seasonal peaks — not to mention unexpected issues like sick days or vet visits — you can automatically build and update worker schedules through insights on availability, hours, workload, and more.

–Workflow Automation

Agents are already under a lot of pressure, and their workflows aren’t doing them any favors. They have to interact with customers across several channels, enter data from those conversations, learn how to use different applications and tools, and seamlessly manage the information within all of them.

It’s more complicated than a game of Calvinball.

But by automating even a portion of that workflow, you free up time agents previously dedicated to handling mundane and repetitive tasks.

Follow-up emails, inputting customer data, and sorting customers can all be automated. Your agents will feel less stressed, and you reduce the likelihood of human error potentially impacting a customer relationship.

–Automated Agent Support

Just like customers can benefit from AI support, so too can agents. During a conversation with a customer, an agent is juggling multiple things. They’re taking notes, pulling up files, capturing contact or payment information, and paying attention to other details. It’s easy to miss something along the way.

Automated agent guidance includes tools that feature sentiment analysis or natural language processing, chatbots with next-step recommendations, and easily sortable data analysis.

–Sales Automation

Contact center agents have moved beyond a solitary focus on customer support. They’ve become brand ambassadors, incorporating marketing and sales elements into their roles.

To keep those conversations going, agents can leverage automated text messages or emails. These messages can include company announcements or use personal data (such as a birthday or anniversary) to deliver more unique offers for customers.

Though automation provides many benefits, leaders must implement it in tactful ways. For example, outbound dialing of sales calls can be automated, but the call itself should always be handled by a human for a personal touch.

Contact center leaders should also gather input from all different roles and departments, including agents, customers, supervisors, sales, support, and other stakeholders, before implementing any AI or automation changes.

By ensuring alignment across different company functions, you’re setting yourself up for success.

Enhancing Employee Retention Through Professional Development

Beyond the technology that improves their daily work, contact center agents crave professional development opportunities.

Below are some areas for contact center leaders to focus on.

  • Better compensation and incentives. While this isn’t the only major factor for contact center agents, it’s a big one. Offering higher base-level compensation and unique perks can quickly increase employee engagement. Incentives can range from strong call performance to sharing knowledge within the company.
  • More complete training. An agent can quickly feel overwhelmed during a stressful call. If their training hasn’t provided background or advice on how to handle it, things can go south in a hurry.
  • More flexible work schedules. Feeling overworked and burnt out is a primary cause for employees to look for other options. Try offering flexible work schedules, which can include different hours or work-from-home options.
  • More seamless processes. A clunky workflow can quickly derail productivity. Offering streamlined experiences for agents gives them more time to focus on other areas of growth.
  • Opportunities to advance their careers. Getting stuck in your career is like a less interesting version of Groundhog Day (or Palm Springs for younger moviegoers). Organizations that provide career advancement opportunities — whether through coaching programs, mentorships, or clear growth paths — typically see happier employees.

Pairing digital tools with professional development works wonders in reducing agent attrition. When you show how you value their contributions and give them opportunities to shine, job satisfaction will rise.

Best Practices for Contact Center Leaders

You may feel overwhelmed as you implement new technology and processes for your employees. After all, there are a lot of tools out there, each claiming to be the saving grace for struggling teams.

Instead of throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks, develop a plan for your digital evolution. These five strategies are great places to start.

1. Empower Agents with an Omnichannel Hub

Digital interactions have let agents move beyond just phones and deliver a fuller experience for customers. However, with information coming in through phone, email, chat, social media, or other digital options, it’s easy for data to get siloed within a single channel.

The solution? Omnichannel engagement hubs, which offer a unified interface for agents to interact with customers. During conversations, agents can easily see previous interactions, customer notes, and insights from team leaders all on one screen.

…there are a lot
of tools…each claiming to be the saving grace for struggling teams.

2. Use AI-Powered Self-Service

Think about all the repetitive tasks you have in a given day. How much more could you get done if those were eliminated or automated? For contact center agents, 60% of customer service calls ask for help with common, uncomplicated requests.

AI-powered self-service tools such as chatbots let agents work on more diverse tasks while also cutting costs. They act as a resource for customers, providing answers to simpler asks.

3. Reward Agents with an AI Knowledge Base

For frequently asked customer questions that AI can’t handle, a digital contact center knowledge base is a must. This resource is searchable, editable, and an opportunity for agents to share tips and advice with each other.

A knowledge base also offers career growth pathways for both veteran and new hires, providing opportunities for coaching, and leveling up skill sets. As a bonus, offer incentives to agents that add to the knowledge base.

4. Introduce a Unified Agent Desktop to Minimize Post-Call Work

Typically, agents have to juggle several applications during and after a call. And they often do them manually, one at a time, entering data in the right place. That process leads to agent frustration, inconsistent data entries, and decreased customer satisfaction as calls run long.

Pair a unified agent desktop with robotic processing automation (RPA), using AI and bots to collect data and distribute it among multiple applications. These tools help reduce repetitive tasks while creating a more streamlined workflow for agents to be more effective.

5. Define New KPIs That Encourage Agents

Developing metrics is a good way to measure individual and company success, but those metrics must track what matters most. KPIs, such as customer satisfaction ratings and Net Promoter Score (NPS), can offer real-time views into agent performance.

Because this feedback is delivered as it arrives, agents don’t need to wait for annual performance reviews. They can see areas for improvement and make adjustments as needed.

Contact centers have never been more important than they are right now. Don’t risk losing your most valuable assets — your agents — because of frustrating, antiquated measures. With the right game plan, you’ll deliver the best experience for both your agents and customers.

Chris Tranquill

Chris Tranquill is Chief Strategy Officer at Khoros where he is responsible for product strategy and business development. Chris has spent over 25 years in leadership roles focusing on the customer experience and helping companies gain insights from their customer data.