The Humanity of Agent Empowerment
It’s time we faced some facts. There’s
something wrong with customer service in the modern world, and contact center
software vendors haven’t been helping matters.
For more than 20 years, the industry-wide
American Customer Satisfaction Index has been stuck in the mid 70 percent range. At
the same time, the turnover rate for contact center agents continues at an
epidemic rate. In fact, it’s so horrible that most contact centers have
abandoned the idea of fixing it. It’s become a known cost of doing business.
Meanwhile, it continues to hurt the bottom line and, more importantly, it’s
Conversations with contact center leaders put
the turnover rate around an average of 45 percent a year. This means that every
two years, front line service teams are completely replaced. There’s no
realistic hope of creating a strong culture, or getting any ROI from the
expense of onboarding new hires.
And the pain doesn’t stop there. In a high
turnover environment, agents are less capable and less confident when it comes
to helping customers. This causes agents stress, frustration and a lack of
engagement in their work. When you remember that 92 percent of customers say an
agent’s perceived happiness affects their experience, it becomes painfully
obvious that we can’t kick the can any further down the road.
It’s time to actually fix the agent
empowerment issue. But how?
Help Us, Mr. Drucker
Peter Drucker, the educator responsible for
the modern world of management, once said, "If you can't measure it, you
can't improve it." If we’re going to keep agents engaged we need to
develop them, which means KPIs, right? If you’re like many leaders, you start
to feel a tension building at the mention of KPIs to improve agents. Likely
because you’ve been trying this method for years, only to find CSAT scores
stuck, and agents continuing to file out the revolving door.
Most KPIs provide an incomplete view of agents, and
therefore offer limited value for training them. It’s crucial to understand the
three dimensions of
the agent experience: Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Empowerment. The first
two are very common, and you probably measure them today. How quickly are
agents handling customer issues? How able are they to solve the problem
correctly on the first try? These are easy to measure with such things as
Average Handle Time and First Contact Resolution, respectively.
But what about the human experience of being an agent?
Remember agents are human
beings, not human resources. In order for a person to be fully-engaged in their
work, they have to know there’s a larger purpose to the frustration of dealing
with unhappy customers. They need to know their manager cares about them, that
there’s a future benefit to their current struggle, and that they can improve
their weaknesses to get better at their job.
On the flip side, supervisors and managers need a way to
spend less time searching for coaching opportunities and spend more time, well,
coaching. On average, managers only spend about 7 percent of their
week coaching their agents, while a whopping 53 percent of their week is spent
looking for those moments that need to be discussed. Whether those moments are
positive or negative (and both are necessary, by the way), it takes precious
time to dig them out.
The refining of the measuring, coaching, and training
processes are a deep subject all their own. The point is, finally, we CAN
measure the complete agent experience, which means we can actually improve it.
And this changes everything.
A Vision of the New Contact
Businesses are now able (and encouraged) to stop dreaming
about the perfect customer experience, and start writing it down. Make a real
plan, and then build it.
Personally, I see contact centers where tenured agents
happily show up ready to work for every shift. They’ve stayed in your company
because they believe in your brand’s mission. They know their role in
accomplishing that mission. They have a story to tell about how much they’ve
grown, and where they’re growing next.
They confidently handle conversations (on whatever channel
a customer happens to need) knowing that, no matter what comes at them, they
either have the answer, know where to find the answer, or have an easy way to
bring in extra help. They have room in their day to pause and center their
minds knowing that caring for their humanity will help them work faster and
I see the role of the contact center agent becoming like
that of a lifeguard, firefighter, or nurse. A specialized career where those
with an instinct to help others are trained, valued, and empowered to help
And my vision extends to customers, too! I see them gladly
surrendering their reluctance for reaching out to customer service. Instead, I
see them developing ties to their favorite agents and the brands they
represent. Now that businesses can stop focusing on clawing for
share-of-wallet, customers will gladly give it to them.
Focusing on humanity is the way to bring this vision to
Agents are people and not robots. That’s not a revelation.
What IS exciting is that fact that we live in an age where businesses can
finally treat them like humans. The disconnect between “how we live” and “what
we can measure” has been bridged, inviting every business, contact center, and
agent to get better.