It’s no surprise that many businesses today remain short-staffed in their contact center. One of the overarching reasons is high turnover. Contact centers have notoriously had the highest attrition rate of all the departments within an organization, but now more than ever, agents aren’t available to replace those leaving. The number of open requisitions is at an all-time high. Talent shortages and retention are the top challenges facing these departments. The agents who remain are stressed and are considering leaving within three years of their start date.
It is difficult to find and keep agents, who play a critical role as the face of your company and your brand. The competition for good employees is intensified by companies allowing for hybrid work and modernizing their tools and tech to attract those individuals. To stem this tide in the contact center, companies must consider the agent environment. This demands a fresh and new look to meet the reality of customer expectations and company standards.
The job market isn’t helping either:
- At the end of July 2021, there were 10.9M jobs left open.
- At the end of July 2022, there were 10.7M jobs left open.
In the balance of this, what suffers? Customer satisfaction.
This issue isn’t going away any time soon. It is really tough to find and keep contact center agents. In fact, many of you have experienced:
- Recruiting issues (open requisitions unfilled). You might currently have a requisition for 40 people.
- People accepting the job and not showing up. You might have “hired 10,” but only seven show up.
- People showing up but then leaving during or after training. Maybe three stay—but for how long?
- Many other things.
According to recent surveys, a vast majority of consumers reported experiencing poor customer service within the last six months. These same customers also say it is harder to reach a person now than it was two years ago, with long wait times cited as one of the biggest problems.
So, the question is three-part: How can you get good quality people who want to stay and work for you? How can you modernize with digital channels to be competitive? And lastly, how can you allow consumers to reach a human when they need to?
It may be easier than you think:
- Provide tools to agents to make the job easier. Most agents are remote, at least part of the time. It’s difficult to find a “buddy” to help.
- Consider digital channels as part of your overall customer experience strategy. Improve wait times by allowing consumers to help themselves with flexible, personalized tools.
- Bring the first two items together with tools that allow the customers to help themselves and inform the agent of all prior interactions.
Let’s get down to the basics. How can you help agents do their job faster and easier, with little to no support? For the most part, the answer is in the tools (and processes, too). Most agents aren’t being coached by their supervisors today.
There are four tools we’ll focus on in this article. Many others are available, too.
Desktops are the number-one tool of contact center agents, and many report that they are working in over seven different applications each day, with some report even higher numbers (like 20). It isn’t just the look and feel of the desktop that’s important, but also the integration of all the tools for the agent to use (or at least those used most often).
2. Automated Coaching
To address the coaching struggle, why not automate quality? There are tools available today that will score 100% of interactions, irrespective of voice, chat, email or SMS. Agents report that they like this format because it seems fairer to them. Quality departments I’ve visited only report sampling 2-5% of the interactions in a given month. Statistically, that’s not a relevant sample size. If an agent takes 800 interactions per month, at 5% sampling, you’re three times lower than a statistically relevant sample.
3. Scheduling Tools
Scheduling is important for several reasons. The obvious reason is: Does your organization have enough people on staff to answer all interactions? The other reasons involve the agent’s point of view. Will your agent be overwhelmed because there isn’t enough staff to handle the anticipated volume? Do you have the tools to allow for staffing flexibility? Can the agent change their schedule without compromising the organizational goals? Are they empowered to do so?
4. Readily Available and Integrated Knowledge Bases
It’s imperative that you have easy accessibility to knowledge bases and other company information pertinent to the questions coming in. Many organizations have knowledge bases or are in the process of creating them today. Most of the ones are externally facing, which is good, but this only solves half of the problem for agents. Externally facing knowledge bases allow customers to self-serve. This addresses an inbound volume problem, but what about the questions that still come in for agents? Most early versions involve emails or spreadsheets containing this information. Agents create their own “cheat sheets,” as well. Consistency will suffer as a result. Other organizations that are further along will have volumes of information, which could make agents feel overwhelmed unless the volumes are organized, searchable and deliver the appropriate response with a confidence score the agent can stand by.
Digital channels include voice, chat and SMS bots or IVAs (Intelligent Virtual Agents). Since over 50% cite long wait times as the most common form of poor customer service, consider these channels to offload repetitive work and address questions that can be answered in other ways. Most of the time, companies refer customers to a website. My question is, don’t you think they’ve already tried that? How aggravating for them. They’re probably partially through a transaction and need a little help, so they’re on the website AND calling in at the same time. It becomes a game, a race to see which method can provide the answer first.
Almost 80% of customers surveyed said they would speak to an IVA (or AI Agent) to avoid long hold times. The good news for us is that the number of people becoming comfortable with IVAs is growing and is over 40% now.
In a recent study, Gartner predicted, “By 2025, organizations that enhance digital channels with the primary goal of better CX will convert 65% of interactions to self-service.” (Source: Predicts 2022: Executives Must Shift Greater Focus to Customers and Employees to Drive Growth.)
Digital channels don’t have to be externally facing. By deploying an IVA designed to answer agents’ questions quickly and easily, you can more fully utilize the knowledge bases that are being created. An agent doesn’t have time to try to figure out where the answer to the question will be, possibly going down the wrong path while a customer is waiting. This frustrates both the agent and the customer.
Streamlined Agent Interactions
Although many customers can get answers or resolve their issues with self-service tools you’ve deployed—like great websites with externally facing knowledge bases, chat and voice bots (IVAs), specific applications built on IVR technologies and the like—there are times when a customer needs to speak with a human representative. Most often, those times are when they can’t figure out where the answer to their question is or when they are in the middle of an interaction and need help.
Oftentimes, when an agent becomes involved during the middle of an interaction, they frustrate the customer by asking them to start at the beginning. Think about the amount of time it takes to get the agent up to speed to help. It will most likely sound something like this:
Agent: “Thank you for calling XYZ company. We pride ourselves on providing great service. To whom am I speaking?”
Customer: “Bob Smith. I was on your website trying to pay my bill, but it isn’t accepting any of my passwords and I’ve tried so many times I’m locked out.”
Agent: “I’m sorry to hear that, Bob. To get started, I need to authenticate you…” This takes about three minutes. “I see that you’ve called before on some other items, please give me a moment while I review your account.” This takes about three to five minutes. “Thank you for your patience in going through our authentication process. Now let’s see how I can help unlock your account.” This takes a few more minutes, as the agent unlocks the account and updates the customer record. “Now you should be receiving an email asking you to change your password.”
And the interaction goes on and on.
With tools available today, the interaction can go like this:
Agent: “Thank you for calling XYZ company. We pride ourselves on providing great service. Mr. Smith, thank you for authenticating yourself through our automated system. I see you’ve been having difficulty logging in, and it looks like you may have been locked out. Is that why you’re calling?”
Customer: “Yes, can you help me?”
Although this looks like it is helping the customer, it is helping the agent and your company, as well. You’ve just cut down the amount of time it takes to help the customer.
Frustrating interactions like this take a toll on customers and agents. Agent retention becomes a factor here. And as of now, 38% of organizations aren’t investing in retention. Understanding why attrition is occurring and investing in retention will help your organization more effectively attract and retain agents.
The struggle is real. Agents are your brand ambassadors, often the face of your company to the customer. All organizations are having difficulty in hiring and retaining them. The conundrum we face is in helping customers as efficiently as possible while at the same time attracting and retaining quality employees and providing value to the organization. This is key to the success of the enterprise.
The tools discussed in this article will help agents with their work environment, as these tools provide much-needed efficiencies and reduce the pressure put on the agents to perform. Companies with IT departments that focus on customer experience by providing integrated tools and technologies will outperform others that do not—as Gartner predicts that companies with customer experience-focused IT teams will outperform their competitors by 20%.
Learn how C1Conversations can help you seamlessly transform your contact center and provide exceptional customer experiences on any channel, at any time, anywhere.