Advice

Preparing Customer Service Agents for the Self-Service Age

As artificial intelligence makes customer service automation more capable, flexible and human-like, employees’ roles will change. In the contact center, representatives will handle more complex questions that require knowledge, patience and innovation. To answer these challenges, companies will need to keep morale strong, improve employee engagement and upgrade agent skills.

Employee Engagement: Keeping Experienced Agents Longer

To handle more complicated tasks, contact center teams have to develop deep and broad knowledge of products, customers and processes. That takes time. Consequently, it’ll be crucial to keep experienced agents happy and engaged so they don’t look for greener pastures.

 

Promotion opportunities

After wages and job security, McKinsey research suggests that promotion opportunities play the biggest role in retaining call center employees. Encourage people to stick around by offering several paths for advancement, such as senior agent, training agent, team lead, or management.

 

Community

Having friends and a sense of belonging helps people find pleasure and dissolve stress. Hold social events to build rapport and offer comfortable common areas where agents can relax and chat on breaks.

 

Décor

Interestingly, uplifting décor, such as motivational posters, colorful art and greenery, can improve productivity and engagement. Fill in barren walls and bleak corners with something beautiful or let employees decorate with their favorite images.

 

Mission

A sense of mission gives people the perspective and energy to look beyond current frustrations. Ensure your team recognizes their efforts as part of a worthy purpose, such as developing loyal customers, educating consumers, helping people get healthy, or contributing to caller success.

 

Team huddles

Agents face stress and frustrations every day, so you need to work continuously to keep them engaged. Team huddles, quick meetings that reinforce mission and celebrate accomplishments, will keep people focused on the positive.

 

Performance: Giving Agents the Skills They Need

No amount of happiness can make up for a lack of skills and knowledge. As agents tackle trickier customer issues, they’ll need excellent training and resources as well as soft skills like communication and collaboration.

 

Training

With today’s pace of change in customer expectations, products and technology, contact centers can no longer view training as a single event. Agents need to embrace continuous learning with managers’ support.

New technologies can help. For example, microlearning reinforces basic knowledge and virtual reality provides a safe place to practice high-level abilities like problem solving and empathy.

 

Collaboration

Harvard Business Review research found that contact centers with collaborative teams performed 50% better than average groups on customer effort, customer satisfaction and productivity. They made fewer mistakes, as well.

Giving your group tools like chat rooms and personal messaging will help them develop collaborative working relationships. It’s a good idea to train agents on these skills as well.

 

Balanced feedback

To encourage continuous improvement but prevent agents from getting discouraged, managers need to carefully balance feedback. For example, managers and coaches should offer assessments often but focus on the positive, sharing four favorable observations for every critical one.

For the most effective feedback, rely on data and specific information to make your point. Help employees accept criticism by listening to their concerns and taking their suggestions seriously.

 

Actionable KPIs

As agent calls skew toward the complex, metrics like handle time may become less relevant, but clear, consistent and actionable KPIs will still help contact centers measure performance and give employees a goal to work toward.

Good performance measures for the AI age include first contact resolution in combination with ticket re-opens and next issue avoidance. Ticket re-opens track the number of times an issue is moved from “solved” to “open,” indicating how well an agent addresses the problem on the first try. Next issue avoidance counts the number of times a customer calls in about the same topic. Agents can improve next issue avoidance by anticipating what additional problems customers might have and solving those before letting the caller go.

 

Management training

Most managers move into their new positions with little training or support. In fact, one survey found that 58% receive no training at all.

But as the contact center deals with more difficult problems, managers will need the skills to coach, develop and encourage agents. These include active listening, emotional intelligence and feedback strategies.

 

Technology

It goes without saying that high-performing contact centers will have the best technology to make agents’ jobs easier. Intelligent routing ensures calls reach the right expertise. And a single customer view will give representatives the background information they need to help people quickly.

In addition, AI can analyze conversations to discover successful resolution strategies and help agents learn from experience. Natural language chatbots direct employees to internal resources and time tracking software supports improved workflow efficiency.

The fast-developing AI technology will not replace humans entirely, but it will leave emotionally difficult and frustrating problems for agents to deal with. Fortunately, successful companies with the right retention and training strategies can turn that downside into rewarding, engaging work.

 

Author Bio: Ashley Frazier currently serves as a marketing manager at VHT. With over 6 years of experience, Ashley specializes in content creation, lead generation and email marketing. Ashley’s demonstrates an advanced skillet in creating and executing lead generation strategies utilizing designated CRM and CMS platforms in order to generate MQLs and SQLs in order to demonstrate measurable ROI and revenue. Prior to her marketing role, Ashley was a lead intelligence analyst for a cyber intelligence company in the pharmaceutical, retail and energy verticals.

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