People tend to focus on the amount of time they spend on hold when they think about what’s wrong with customer service.
But I’m convinced that it is the agent—the person who answers the call we make to the contact center—who is the real linchpin of the customer service experience.
Therefore, lifting the capability and lowering the stress of the agent’s job goes a long way toward improving the customer experience (CX), service outcomes, and the organization’s bottom line.
Automation is the way to get there. It played a critical role in transforming manufacturing not so many years ago, thereby paving the way for consistent, high-quality, low-cost manufactured goods.
Automation is also essential to the coming transformation of customer service, which, like manufacturing once was, is still hampered by persistently high costs and inconsistent outcomes.
Business and contact centers that want to thrive must focus on reinventing customer service for everyone—including their agents.
Most of us have experienced more than one frustrating customer service call in our lives. But few of us would want to trade places with the agents on the other end of the lines. The pay isn’t great—it’s tightly scripted—and much of the work is repetitive; agents are not encouraged to improvise.
Yet despite having little real control over the outcomes of customer interactions, these agents often represent their employers’ brands in the minds of the callers—who are usually calling to complain rather than to offer compliments.
It’s not a good recipe for great outcomes.
Agents perform one of the last truly micromanaged jobs in existence. Their actions are measured down to the minute. And these employees require formal permission to take breaks or even to pause between customer calls.
Not even retail staff are monitored at the same level of granularity as contact center agents. While some performance measurements exist for these employees, such as door count sensors, can you imagine a cashier being judged for how many items they scan per minute? Or being required to review recordings of the day’s transactions with a supervisor?
Unfortunately for agents, there’s also a common misconception that contact center productivity and agent job satisfaction are mutually exclusive. That gains in one must necessarily come at the expense of the other.
When new technologies or work processes are pitched as a way to boost productivity it’s generally assumed that it will be bad for agents. By the same token, proposed steps to lighten the agents’ loads are perceived to come at the expense of productivity.
As a result, not much changes experience-wise for the agents when engaging with customers. Or if it does, it’s usually to benefit productivity rather than them.
Why Attrition Is High
Employee breaks offer a good illustration of where improvement is needed. Those hard-working agents really need them, but thanks to ongoing systemic shortcomings they’re often forced to choose between the organization’s interest and their own.
No employee should ever have to make such a choice. And no organization should ever place an employee in such a situation.
The inability to consistently deliver something as simple as breaks leads frustrated agents to seek workarounds—like rushing through important post-call reporting to take the next call or through calls to get back on schedule—and if they succeed, customers and business suffer.
This problem—which is only one of many that hamper agents’ desire and ability to perform at the highest level—persists because there’s never been an effective way to solve it before. There are no systems in place that can effectively ensure that agents get the breaks they’re owed.
It’s no wonder, then, when you look at all these issues, that contact center attrition rates are so consistently high. Who wants to work there, putting up with all this, for the pay and benefits being offered?
Yet replacing a lost agent can cost up to $15,000, and some organizations experience 30%, 40%, or even 50% turnover. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Think of the lost revenues, and customers, caused by poor CXs. That’s a lot of inefficiency, and missing business.
The good news is that these agent and CX issues are reversible. AI-powered intelligent automation platforms solve the break dilemma, as well as many other common contact center challenges, thereby bringing customer service to the next level.
Intelligent automation does this by integrating seamlessly with ACD and WFM systems, processing all the time-sensitive data generated by the contact center in real time, and it takes automated actions to ensure service level delivery: even in the face of rapidly changing circumstances.
When the system recognizes that an agent is due for a break in three minutes, for example, it automatically alerts the agent to take their break early and updates that break in the WFM system. The application notifies the agent and the supervisor that break occurred early.
When agents know there’s a system in place to ensure their breaks no matter what, they’ll stop toggling and become more productive.
Intelligent automation also allows organizations to send agents morale-boosting communications like birthday wishes, recognition for a job well done, surprise breaks, and offers to leave early when circumstances permit.
An agent from a contact center said, “I love it when I get a surprise break through the system.”
Reminding agents that they’re valued as people as well as employees contributes to their sense of belonging, which deepens their commitment, and results in better customer service. And around and around.
Bottom Line Results
In turn, company executives have experienced strong financial results with intelligent automation. The savings have been as much as nearly $3 million over three years for large 5,000-seat operations, and a return on investment (ROI) of over 300%: as a result of reducing attrition and lowering the time spent on performing otherwise manual low-level tasks.
Intelligent automation platforms disprove the outdated notion that organizations must choose between productivity and satisfied workers who won’t quit. Instead, you can have both. It is a significant step up and on the road to transforming customer service into a nearly effortless, instantaneous process that delivers consistent service outcomes. Which is exactly what we all deserve.