In the past decade, the Internet has forced organizations to reinvent the way they think about customer experience. Vehicles like Twitter and Yelp have increased transparency into how well (or not so well) organizations serve their customers. The customer experience is so publicized and has become a focus for organizations in all industries. Recognizing this, we at West Monroe Partners have an entire solution line dedicated to transforming your organization’s customer experience. Read- customer experience is hot right now.
One of our hottest offerings is HPCC, or High Performance Contact Center. Most organizations have contact centers and for many organizations, the contact center is the only direct interaction they will have with their customers, making it vital to an organization’s customer service. While companies are focused on using their contact center to improve their customer experience, one piece of the puzzle not typically emphasized is the agent experience. A colleague of mine was recently doing a contact center assessment where many of her recommendations centered on empowering agents, defining agent career paths, and assisting agents in continually improving their skills and job performance. She was faced with some opposition from the client who said, “how does this lower our cost or drive customer service improvements?”. With that, here is my sell for why organizations need to begin shifting their focus back to the agents, and a few ways to make it happen.
A Day in the Life of a Contact Center Agent
Contact center agents typically work in 8-10 hour shifts. They are responsible for taking customer calls and answering their questions or resolving their issues. Contact center agents’ performance can be measured in a variety of ways, but it is mainly done through call observations and metrics. Call observations typically examine how an agent is doing from a soft skills perspective (i.e. were they friendly to the customer?) and metrics focus on call data for that agent. Two commonly used metrics when evaluating agents are number of calls handled per day and average handle time, or the average number of minutes spent on each call. Thanks to a contact center technology called skills based routing, many contact center agents receive calls related to the same one or two call topics. For example, agent X was trained on billing topics, so they should receive calls from customers who want to pay their bill or have questions about their bill. As you read through this job description, you may be thinking, that sounds boring. I would agree, hence an emphasis on the agent experience.
What Does this Lead To?
- Lack of employee engagement
- Low job satisfaction
Ultimately, think high turnover rates and unhappy agents talking to your customers.
Why the Agent Experience?
With that being said, focusing on the agent experience or level of engagement has two primary goals. First, happier agents make happier customers. It is commonly accepted that more satisfied representatives improve an organization’s customer service. Second, happier agents cause a decrease in turnover. Lower turnover means lower costs related to recruiting, hiring, and training agents. I recently worked with an organization that spent six full weeks (or 240 hours) training each of their new agents. Assuming $12.00/hour for wages, this means for each contact center agent the organization could retain, they would save about $2,880 on not having to put an agent through training alone. A Forrester analyst recently reported that low contact center turnover rates are those under 20%. So if you take a medium sized contact center with 100 seats and 20% turnover, this equates to a training savings of about $60,000 per year. You see the point.
How can Organizations Transform their Agent Experience?
There are a few ways contact centers can begin improving the agent experience.
- Create a career model – To engage employees, they should feel challenged and goal oriented. Most contact centers have performance management programs and communicate performance goals to agents. However, to take it a step further, defining a career path and ways agents can work towards additional responsibility can be motivating.
- Utilize technology to encourage self-service for customers – Utilizing contact center technologies like IVR or chat (or proactive chat for you progressives) can assist customers in solving simple contact reasons without talking to an agent, which decreases call volume. At first you may think, lower call volumes means the need for fewer agents! This is true, however, lower call volume can also be a mechanism to free up time for agents to take on more complex, non-call related responsibilities. Variety is the spice of life.
In closing, while examining the customer experience, organizations can also take time to look at their agent experience. There are many ways organizations can tailor the agent experience to the needs and desires of their agents. Whether it’s incentive programs, implementing a career model, or giving agents more variety in tasks, taking the time to prioritize agents’ professional needs can help drive an improved customer experience and lower operating costs.