In the contact center, your customer service agents are your most important asset -- it’s the agents who represent the company when a customer makes contact. The care and handling of agents isn’t always an easy task, but investing in proper care and feeding of these front-line employees will help them provide a superior customer experience, according to experts in the field.
While there is no single set of guidelines that will work for all businesses, industry pundits agree that providing a good tool set, offering education and training and giving agents leeway to use their own judgment will empower them to meet customer experience management (CEM) demands.
Give agents the right CEM technology and tools
A typical contact center agent might use 20 or more disconnected applications. This creates a problem for agents when they have duplicate records or incorrect customer information to sort through when communicating with customers.
Companies should look at the agent’s CEM technology tool set and make sure it is usable -- meaning the right information is pushed to the agent at the right time.
Kate Leggett, senior analyst for Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., and leading expert on customer service strategies, said that companies need to empower agents -- something they can do by providing the agents with the right culture and technology that has been tested and proven.
“What you don’t want is for agents to go back and forth between systems trying to find what they need,” Leggett said. “All that customer information should be readily available to agents, along with a repository of curated answers, like a knowledge base.”
It is critical for agents to know the answers they find are the right ones. Leggett said that agents feel prepared when they know an answer is correct and that it is company-sanctioned.
Knowledge helps agents reach the expected customer service level
Some companies, such as New York-based TransPerfect, empower agents through knowledge and ongoing guidance. TransPerfect provides translation and interpretation services to its customers, and agents meet customer experience demands through education and on-site job training.
TransPerfect’s senior vice president of global sales, Brooke Christian, said that the company operates 70 offices worldwide and employs more than 300 client service agents. All client service people go through a two-week training program, learning the company’s background, corporate values and prime service techniques.
Christian said that following initial training, supervisors from local offices manage additional two or more weeks of on-job training for customer agents. Nearly all senior staff is involved with agent training.
“It’s a pretty centralized experience in terms of what people will take away from the training. There are a lot of materials devoted to keeping things consistent so the end-customer experience is consistent,” Christian said.
Let agents exercise judgment and deviate from scripts
Client service groups often have more opportunity for agent training and guidance compared with call centers where thousands of agents typically use process and resolution scripts when assisting customers.
For example, in the telecommunications industry, companies provide agents the initial training and general guidelines. However, the real-time guidance and freedom companies can give to agents through tools, apps and experience is even more significant.
“It’s important to ensure that agents are allowed to exercise judgment to provide the customer with resolution,” said James Kobielus, senior analyst at Forrester.
You want agents to all speak a common dialect regardless of the communication channel (for example, call center, retail store or online support), said Kobielus A company should structure those interactions so everyone is working from a broad set of parameters, but agents should be allowed to exercise judgment and vary interactions to engage with the customer.
“The agents -- the human beings in all these channels -- are doing their very best to do their best job, but if the company hasn't built a customer experience management capability into its application you risk alienating customers because agents make the wrong offer or decision," Kobielus explained.
Contact centers should also invest in optimization tools to monitor agents and let them know how they are doing, but make sure you are using the right metrics, Leggett said.
“In some cases, making sure the customer gets the right answer may be more important than speed of answer,” she said. “Using the right metrics to measure an agent is important, but so is giving agents the leeway to do the right thing for the customer.”
If there is downtime, Leggett said that companies should push appropriate training to maximize agents’ value and help them make the right customer-service decisions.