To deliver a positive customer experience, honor the agent experience.
I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the customer experience and how it has grown in importance over the last five to 10 years. The focus used to be on customer service, but the contact center space now has experienced a great shift to the entire customer journey—not just the service that is delivered in one particular interaction. It has given rise to so many great, new technologies and concepts such as AI, chatbots, contact center automation, customer journey mapping and IoT. This has been a revolutionary shift in mindset that I have found to appeal to my analytic side, and I find it absolutely fascinating! If you think about it, it’s truly an exciting time to be a consumer in an environment that is incredibly customer-centric and invested in your entire experience from start to finish.
While I see that most of my newsfeed is filled with blogs, articles and white papers about the newest customer experience technologies and trends, I can’t help but think that we are missing the mark on one crucial component—your agents! While we are focused on data mining and mapping out the customer journey, we must not forget that the agent experience is a huge driver of the customer experience. In fact, _a recent Forbes article_outlines some stunning statistics about how the employee experience is directly linked to the customer experience:
Companies with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147%.
87% of customers’ affinity toward Starbucks is driven by the way the company treats its employees.
Companies with a highly engaged workforce experience a 19.2% growth in operating income over a 12-month period.
To illustrate this point, let me share an experience I had with Amazon.
My Amazon Experience
Recently, I ordered a few miscellaneous items for a trade show from Amazon and did not receive them. When I checked my tracking, it stated that my package was delivered to my back porch. I remember thinking how odd that was since I have always left explicit instructions to Amazon stating that all packages should be delivered to my front porch. I was due to leave for the trade show in a few days so I immediately called Amazon to figure out what was going on. I’ll be honest—I was incredibly frustrated with the whole situation considering the fact that I needed these items ASAP for my upcoming event!
I was initially connected with an agent who was sympathetic to my plight from the very beginning. Although he was not able to provide a solution, he advised that he would gather all the details and transfer me to their shipping department with an agent who could help me out. The next agent, Chad, was just as kind and understanding. After reviewing my account, he advised that he would refund me my order and that I would need to place a new order with the same items. He knew my timeline was tight so he upgraded me to one-day shipping for free. As an added bonus, he comped me for a year of Amazon Prime! I honestly would have been happy with the upgraded shipping, but Amazon really went above and beyond to make sure that I had an excellent customer experience. Not only did they regain my confidence in their services, they gained a lifelong brand advocate who feels compelled enough to share her story on a large platform!
The Link Between Agent Experience and the Customer Experience
We all know that customers who have a positive experience are most likely to become repeat customers and more likely to recommend your product or service to friends and family. You could have the best data-mining technologies and smartest AI in place, but your customer experience can be negatively impacted if your agents are not equipped and empowered to provide the service your customers seek. If you have a customer-centric culture within your organization that is emphasized on every level from agent to CEO, you will develop a team that is dedicated to customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. For example, Amazon’s mission statement begins with the desire to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company.” That is a bold statement to make—and really, any company can make it, but it takes a special level of commitment to embody such a daring mission statement.
When we think of building a customer-centric culture in the call center, many think you need an omnichannel strategy. While that is true, an omnichannel strategy is no good if the people within your organization are not committed to a customer-centric approach. So, how can you integrate a customer-centric approach that honors the agent experience? Let’s take a look.
- Transparent & Consistent Leadership
Remember—it all starts at the top! Agents (or anyone really) do not do well in environments where leadership is secretive and untrustworthy. It breeds a culture of distrust and disengagement, which has a negative impact on the service that is provided to your customers.
By establishing a transparent leadership style within your organization, one that encourages collaboration and teamwork, you can greatly improve the agent experience. This can lead to increased productivity and profit, improved customer experience, and reduced turnover. It is also important to trust but verify what frontline and middle-management staff are REALLY doing. Ignorance is not an excuse! When you give your staff the space to perform their duties without micromanaging, but also keep them accountable for their work output, you can create an environment of respect and productivity.
- Develop Your Staff
Ongoing training, coaching, mentoring and developing career paths for personnel that allows them to expand, grow and continuously add skills can really impact their performance and life! For one, on boarding training will not suffice in ensuring that your agents have everything they need to succeed. Processes and knowledge bases change, which is why regularly scheduled ongoing training is crucial to ensure that your agents are up to date. If it helps, think of ongoing training as a routine oil change for your car. You need to keep your agents fresh and knowledgeable so they can keep your operations running smoothly!
Another piece to consider is consistent coaching and feedback given to your agents based on their performance. Your agents’ experience will improve significantly if you take the time to coach them and let them know what they are doing well and what they can improve on. It sends the message that you care about their development and are invested in their success. In fact, a recent HubSpot article mentions that 43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once week compared to 18% with low engagement. Which side of the spectrum are you on?
Lastly, fostering an environment of mentorship and a promote-from-within hiring philosophy provides your agents with excitement about the opportunity to grow with your company. This greatly impacts employee morale, reduces hiring costs and can result in a better quality of performance since your agent is already well-integrated into your company culture.
- Empower Your Agents
Oftentimes, your agents are the first people that your customers interact with when it comes to your brand. Sure, they can’t go on a “giveaway spree,” but they should be encouraged to go above and beyond and be empowered to make exceptions in certain situations. By forcing your agents to stick to the rules at all times, you create a barrier between the agent and the customer. This can turn your customers off, causing them to take their business elsewhere or even to voice their displeasure over social media for millions to see and leave the agent feeling frustrated, unsupported and unable to meet your customer experience goals.
The Amazon market has created a “now” mentality to consumer requirements. You cannot keep the customer on hold for long periods of time while your agents scramble to try and figure out a solution. Give your agents what they need to succeed! Agent empowerment requires strong leadership, definitions of accessible tools at the agent’s disposal for customer “wow” factoring and true problem resolution. This could mean flexible scripting, easy access to knowledge base information, direct access to subject-matter experts on staff, ongoing training and agent autonomy.
When your agents are prepared and empowered to make quick decisions for your customers, it makes your agents feel good about what they are doing and accomplished in your company’s customer experience mission. These agents become brand advocates for you and leave customers feeling special and well taken care of. How is that? It’s because you have made the agent feel special and well taken care of.
- Feedback—and lots of it!
Listen, I know this may sound old school, but COME ON. Many of us have been “on the phones” as customer service representatives and/or telemarketers. If we are humble enough to be honest, we can say that it was not always a great job.
Agents are sometimes harassed and treated poorly when customer are frustrated. The call center agents can take the brunt of any corporate issue that has impacted the customer base negatively as they are often the first line of defense for consumer reports of frustration, problems and gripes. But, this also makes them the people with tremendous access to company critical data—such as what is and is not working internally, product quality, market moods, consumer vibes and trends.
Customer satisfaction surveys are prevalent today, but many BPOs and internal call centers out there are not conducting regularly scheduled agent surveys. It’s important to schedule quarterly agent surveys to capture the voice of your agents—it can bring light to broken processes and technologies that are affecting the customer experience. Other ways you can mine agent feedback could be through focus groups, employee committees and executive lunches. While your main intent may be to gain invaluable customer insights, these initiatives can also help to drive employee engagement which also improves your customer experience.
Also, do not discredit agent feedback in technology, automation and process improvement. Agents know which tasks they are being asked to do every day that are repetitive, slow, ineffective and sometimes just pure insanity in the case of the “I-don’t-know, we-have-always-done-it-that-way” processes that we all have. Collaboration with frontline staff doesn’t just add to the empowerment factor and satisfaction for involvement mentioned above, it gives the company truth, perspective and invaluable support in company enhancements and strategy.
- Have Some Fun!
The call center environment can seem repetitive and boring to many, but that doesn’t have to be the case! If you create an environment that is motivating and fun, your agents don’t have to “fake it” when they are interacting with your customers. Some ways you can drive employee engagement include company potlucks, appreciation awards and incentive programs. Another method you can consider is gasification technology. While gasification can initially be pricey, it can help motivate your agents through the creation of contests where they can compete with other agents or their past performance. When your contact center agents are engaged and having fun, they are more likely to deliver an excellent customer experience. Remember—take care of your agents and they will take care of you! And your customers!
As you can see, the agent experience is a huge driver of the customer experience. I am a fan of new technology, especially when it makes our lives easier, but I am not so naïve to think that it is the only solution. In fact, it could even be a hindrance—some of these tools may make your agents’ job easier to perform but may also cause them to disengage from the service they are providing.
This is why I believe in a delicate balance—the trifecta of an excellent customer experience encompasses people, process and technology. When evaluating your customer experience, make sure you consider a holistic strategy that connects these three key areas. If your strategy is able to incorporate all three pieces seamlessly, you can create the competitive edge that you need in a market that is saturated with companies that talk the talk in customer experience, but don’t walk the walk.