Improving the Agent Experience

Improving the Agent Experience

/ Strategy, Culture, COVID-19, Agent Motivation
Improving the Agent Experience

Look beyond employee engagement to improve the overall experience.

Customer-centric brands have put considerable time and resources into honing their ability to track, understand, manage and differentiate the customer’s experience. Now business leaders are increasingly aware of just how much is at stake when there is a lack of corresponding investment in their workers and the work environment.

Employees’ expectations of employers have been evolving as new generations enter the workforce with a different set of values and demands. However, unlike previous generations, millennials and Gen Z workers have demonstrated a willingness to change jobs frequently if their needs aren’t met. Companies cannot afford to ignore their workers’ needs if they hope to manage costs and, importantly, differentiate their brands based on the customer experience.

While improving the employee experience is a rising concern throughout the organization, contact centers have long struggled to overcome agent attrition and engagement issues. In our recent Challenges & Priorities report, survey participants cited high attrition as their top challenge by a substantial margin, followed by the lack of or bad desktop tools, lack of understanding and respect for the contact center’s role, and not enough staff to handle the workload (see “Special Report: Contact Center Challenges & Priorities for 2020: The Year of the Agent,” Pipeline, January 2020).

What Is Employee Experience?

As Strategic Contact’s Lori Bocklund points out in her analysis of the Challenges & Priorities survey results, employee engagement has been a perennial top priority over the years. “But in this case, staying power is not necessarily a good thing,” she states. “If these priorities were being addressed, we might see more movement [among the top-priority spots].”

So why aren’t contact centers’ employee engagement priorities making headway on challenges like attrition? Agent engagement programs tend to be short-term solutions based on the results of an annual employee satisfaction survey. What is needed is a longer-term approach that focuses on how agents experience the organization on a day-to-day basis.

Gallup defines the employee experience (EX) as a journey: “It is the sum of all interactions an employee has with an employer, from prerecruitment to post-exit. It includes everything from major milestones and personal relationships to technology use and the physical work environment. ... All of the individual moments of an employee’s experience play a role in how a worker feels about an employer’s purpose, brand and culture. These feelings directly affect employee retention, engagement, performance and development.”

The ROI of investing in EX can be substantial. Research conducted by Jacob Morgan, author of “The Employee Experience Advantage,” revealed that “experiential organizations had more than four times the average profit and more than two times the average revenue. They were also about 25% smaller, which suggests higher levels of productivity and innovation” (Harvard Business Review, March 2017). In addition, companies that invested in EX consistently topped “best of” lists, such as Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies (listed 28 times more often than other companies), Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work (11.5 times more often), and Linkedin’s list of North America’s Most In-Demand Employers (4.4 times).

Apply CX Best Practices to Improving EX

As with the customer experience, EX isn’t something that just happens; it must be intentionally designed. Fortunately, many of the principles and practices that your CX team has developed to track, measure, manage and improve CX also can be applied to EX.

Below are a few pointers to keep in mind:

Listen more.According to CX expert Annette Franz, CCXP, it is essential to listen to your employees to understand their needs, pain points and the problems that they’re trying to solve in their daily work lives—and to act upon their feedback. “Focus on those elements—making sure that employees have the tools and resources to do the job, that they’re not having to work around broken processes or outdated policies and that they have what they need to serve customers the way they deserve to be served,” she says. “Employees want to do a great job, so help them to do that.”

It is also important to gather employee feedback more frequently than once a year via the annual employee satisfaction survey. Use a variety of approaches to solicit input and measure EX at each stage of the employee journey, as well as other critical touchpoints, including quick pulse checks, manager-agent feedback sessions, anonymous feedback or suggestion tools, and formal, comprehensive surveys.

Map the agent journey.Start with the key milestones in the employee lifecycle (e.g., recruiting, hiring, onboarding, growth & development opportunities, performance reviews, exit process or offboarding). Delve deeper into each stage to understand the company’s existing assumptions about the current process compared to how agents navigate each stage and, importantly, how they view the experience, whether they feel that it meets their individual needs, and how it could be improved.

Moments matter.Keep in mind that the agent experience is not solely comprised of the career milestones listed above. “Employees experience critical moments on a continual basis, across physical, human and digital dimensions,” according to the Accenture Strategy Report, “Employee Experience Reimagined.” A significant moment might include the introduction of an app that provides agents with more control over their schedules, getting standing workstations in the center, or external factors that allow employees to improve work-life balance such as providing remote-work options. “Each is important, and combined, they can have a marked effect on an employee’s engagement and productivity,” the report states.

Provide agents with the right technology and tools.Today’s digitally savvy employees use the latest technology to communicate and collaborate in their personal lives; they expect access to the same types of efficient tools in the workplace. Respondents to the Challenges & Priorities survey cited the lack of or having bad desktop tools as their No. 2 challenge (after agent attrition), so upgrading the tools that your agents use may provide one of the previously mentioned significant moments. In addition, providing mobile apps that allow agents to self-manage parts of the scheduling process not only provides them with more control over their work-life balance, it gives them the consumer-style experience that they’ve come to expect.

Personalize the experience.Employees, like customers, want their experience to be tailored to their individual wants and needs. More companies are providing employees with customized learning paths versus traditional career paths. Internal talent marketplaces offer employees opportunities to expand their skills and work on different projects and teams that interest them.

At long last, companies are beginning to realize that they cannot compete on the basis of CX without first prioritizing EX. Hopefully, 2020 will be the year that more companies turn an eye to satisfying the needs of their most valuable asset—their employees. For solid advice on how to deliver the type of EX that creates a superior CX, be sure to read the sidebar (below) from industry veteran Candace Sheitelman.

Power to the People: 5 Ways to Elevate the Agent Experience
By Candace Sheitelman, Edify

Candace Sheitelman
Candace Sheitelman, Edify

According to Gallup’s recent polls, 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged. Think about that for a moment—that’s a staggeringly high number. If 50 people work in your contact center, that’s like saying only 6.5 of them actually care about what’s going on in your business. And yet all 50 are TALKING TO CUSTOMERS! Yes, you should be freaking out. Because, yes, this is impacting your bottom line.

Contact center work is tough. Churn is higher in this industry than in almost any other. We’ve seen documentation (not naming names) of attrition rates as high as 150%—as in agent positions being hired for more than once a year EACH. I get it, it’s hard to always interact with unhappy customers or deal with people complaining about a product or service they disliked. But most contact center leaders also don’t help the matter because they’re not that great at training people to handle these interactions with grace, and supervisors often don’t even have the data and insight to help agents do better.

So, we find ourselves in the ugly circular dilemma: which comes first, the employees or the customers?

I’m OK with old cliches like the customer is king (queen!), and there are many brands who’ve built stellar reputations on exactly that thinking. However, most agents aren’t supported with the right training, knowledge, coaching (and so on), hence they are incapable of delivering their best.

So I say this with certainty: unless we start putting the employee experience at the top of the list, the customer experience will never reach its potential. Here are 5 things you can start doing right now to give power to your people in the name of creating extraordinary customer experiences:

1. Define your organization’s higher purpose.Why should people come to work for you? How does that connect to the roles inside your organization? What goals are you trying to achieve? Revenue, sure. But what else? Show and tell what’s at stake for your team when they do their thing. Paint a picture of your WHY not just the WHAT and HOW.

2. Lead with transparency and empathy.It’s impossible to have all the answers all the time and if you pretend to, it’s obvious. When you don’t know, say that. Open up to ideas and suggestions. Being honest and vulnerable goes much further with employees than just putting on a happy face. Agents need to see and believe you’re for real and you’re invested in their success. Their success = yours, after all.

3. Arm agents to achieve the heights they desire.This means training, skill-building, opportunity, and tools. Are your agents prepared with the right technology? Have they been adequately trained? Do they feel empowered to make on-the-spot decisions in the customer’s interest? Do they feel secure in taking calculated risks on your watch? Start with one. Test. Refine. Repeat.

4. Call out wins, early and often.Celebration begets motivation. Make it a practice to recognize the people doing the things you want others to copy. Whether that means creating a leaderboard, gamifying by shift, or having an old-school employee of the month program, focus on what you want more of. That is how you scale winning habits and make success contagious.

5. Study the stand-outs.What are those award-winners doing that everyone else isn’t? It could be so small you miss it, so take the time to really dig into their work. Whatever they’ve got is making an impact. Find out what it is, bottle it up and hand it out to everyone through role-playing, incentive programs, trainings, and new KPIs.

Research tells us that a 5% increase in employee engagement can lead to a 3% jump in revenue. With no math at all, we already know this is worth it. When agents feel valued, heard, prepared, and integral to a team striving to achieve big goals, nothing can come between them and your customers. A top-notch employee experience must lie at the heart of any hope or plan for a top-notch customer experience.

Hence, the employee comes first. There, I said it.

Candace Sheitelman brings more than two decades of marketing expertise to Edify, much of it focused on CX and the contact center. She’s responsible for Edify’s go-to-market strategy and execution. Sheitelman previously ran her own marketing communications firm and global marketing at Aspect. She earned her B.S. in Public Relations from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. (

Susan Hash

Susan Hash

Susan Hash served as Editorial Director of Contact Center Pipeline magazine and the Pipeline blog from 2009-2021. She is a veteran business journalist with over 30 years of specialized experience writing about customer care and contact centers.
Twitter: @susanhash

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