We used to pick up the phone and call for whatever we needed. Find a flight, book a hotel, check our bank accounts, check on a product ordered, order food, delivery, flowers, you name it. Most times now, we use a computer or smart phone. Even when we call into a customer support center, we’ve likely already checked on pricing, looked at available options, ordered a product, know we want to cancel, extend, initiate, or place an order, etc.
Typically, when an agent on the other end picks up, they have no idea a client has been bouncing around, doing research, and is educated, ready to do something, or potentially angry because they have gotten the run around. You see, client contacts are and should be DIGITAL FIRST, phone second. However, when a client does choose to interact with a brand, many times the brands are not prepared for the interaction.
Low Engagement Levels of Service Representatives
Levels of engagement are low in a contact center. According to Gartner, only 34% of representatives are actively engaged in their job, the remaining 66% are either neutral or disengaged. In the same study, 84% of the disengaged reps were more likely to look for a new job. Customer service levels depend on both tools available to the end client AND the people tasked with helping resolve issues.
Gartner recommends the following actions to mitigate rep disengagement:
Assess the current level of disengagement among their service reps through rep surveys.
Align rep metrics with business objectives to help reps understand how to prioritize when dealing with conflicting goals.
Educate reps on their specific role in achieving these business objectives to help them better understand what is in and out of scope for their role.
Support rep well-being, not just performance, by giving reps the opportunity to take a break from their work after emotionally draining situations.
These actions are important, however providing a faster ramp and enabling agents to be more effective is a glaring omission. While culture is important, it doesn’t help a new agent ramp from new to high performing. Additionally, while engagement is low, turnover is HIGH! Most pundits agree post covid churn rates have increased and clients are reporting 75-100%+ rates of churn. Call volumes are up, new agents are needed, ramp time has increased. Organizations spend millions on weeks or months of training only to see continued agent turn over. Trainer’s time, salaries, rental space; the whole process is a resource and financial drain on a contact center and overall client satisfaction.
Closing the Gap
While there are many technologies, some of which we will touch on in future discussions, to help close the gap, here are some suggestions utilizing technology in addition to the care and feeding of agents.
Most contact centers look at deflection as a way to help reduce low hanging fruit questions like “what are the hours of operation”, “where are you located,” etc. We’ll visit that in detail in the next discussion specifically around deflection. However, organizations can build interactive decision trees without coding or IT work. Almost like the old “choose your own adventure” books, a website can guide a client to ensure proper categorization as well as resolution (think welcome– product or account issue—trees go from there and can be multiple queries and endpoints)
Depending on the amount of deflection an organization has, agent assist can be very valuable. Many of these types of offerings will remind an agent how to find information to solve a problem. For example, if a client wants to know where their product is, agent assist can help an agent identify how to lookup a shipping tracker in a CRM and provide that detail to a client. The more sophisticated the deflection a contact center has implemented, the less value of the agent assist. Many of these answers are more complicated. Knowledge articles and AI can help with the more complex questions, assuming there is a base of information available to help agents. Agent assist is great for firms who do not have a base of clients who use self-service, or who prefer to have an agent handle an inquiry as part of a brand strategy.
This is a very tough investment. With the high rates of churn one might suggest only certain agents are good candidates for coaching and potentially completing the sessions comes with a bonus, additional day of time off, or some type of carrot. Gamification in the contact center can help identify who is a better investment and those who may be falling flat. Moreover, gamification can help contact center supervisors identify “team leads” who may be able to coach internally vs. hiring external support.
This is the $$ part of the discussion as it relates to agent churn and disengagement. Like deflection, contact center leaders can use technology to guide agents through workflows, call scripting, and decision trees. Agents get exact words to say combined with conditional if/then logic which helps a new agent look like one who has years of experience. Imagine if the time investment for a new agent went from months to weeks? Handle times decrease and there are fewer escalations or transfers. With agent workflow, organizations can use AI to anticipate answers to questions enabling agents to better solve problems. “Whisper” was once a big part of a contact center where a supervisor would literally whisper in the agent’s ear (unbeknownst to the caller) with suggestions. Those days are over, that function is now automated and intelligent, so we have one agent fielding calls while the “whisper-er” of the past is doing the same.
Pulling it all together
3 main things to consider when looking at increasing agent engagement and time to resolution for clients.
Intelligent knowledge and scripting- It is more than a suggestion engine for what to say. Contact Center leaders can build scripts and guides, so knowledge and process are activated by delivering the right content in the context of the conversation.
Automation workflows- Auto-fill CRM fields based on customer answers or agent actions. Initiate actions like emails, SMS, webhooks and escalations based on triggers and responses within the workflows created.
Integrations- Embed these technologies in your CRM or Contact Center platform to dynamically pull/push data between the two from a single screen.
No code, no need for reliance on the IT or engineering team. Reporting allows supervisors and managers to leverage analytics to optimize flows and manage team performance. Like setting up email used to require servers, security, hardware, software integrations, archiving etc., it’s now as easy as creating a user and tagging them to an account. With Software as a Service for the contact center, high quality interactions can be as easy as setting up email.
Engagement and retention run hand in hand with customer satisfaction and loyalty. 2 birds—one stone so to speak. Technology is the key to enable agent ramp as well as answer questions more accurately and efficiently, leading to faster resolution with happier clients PLUS more engaged contact center coworkers.