Want to improve customer experience? Improve the agent experience first
Happy contact center agents mean happy customers. But investment in agents doesn’t just improve CSAT – it also cuts the cost of employee attrition, and builds a pipeline of expert talent. To keep agents engaged, team leads need to uplevel their coaching to include a wider range of data points and take a human-led approach.
Customer experience is more important than ever. As already-high customer expectations continue to evolve, businesses need to pivot rapidly to meet them. And with so much still in flux, that’s not set to change any time soon. That means contact center leaders need to get smart about how they deliver better customer experiences – and it begins with looking inward.
Why invest in coaching agents?
To improve customer experience, contact center leaders need to first improve agent experience. That’s because happy agents are typically more effective, making customers happier, too.
CSAT (customer satisfaction) and CLV (customer lifetime value) are important metrics for contact centers, and directly correlate to investment in agent coaching. CES (customer effort score) is another: it measures how easy it is for customers to complete tasks. That can often depend on how well agents do their job – how much relevant information is easily accessible, how quickly they respond,, and how helpful their response is. Coaching agents to perform better therefore has a knock-on effect to reducing customer effort, and that improves their overall experience.
But while customers are obviously important, so are employees. Happier, more engaged and more empowered agents aren’t just nice to have: they also cut the cost and resource-drain that comes with undesired attrition. Plus, agents who have positive employee experiences add value over time. The more engaged they are, the more inclined they’ll be to deliver an excellent service. And the longer they stay in-role, the more expert they become, feeding a cycle of continuous improvement for themselves, their colleagues, and the customer.
What’s more, those experts are a pre-qualified talent pool for the wider business. They know the product intimately, and can help train others internally, or move into more senior roles themselves. Front line agents are often overlooked and under-valued, but there are few others within the business that know the brand, its customers and their issues better. They add tangible value with every interaction – value that can be harnessed and increased with the right coaching,
Why does agent coaching need to change?
Contact center leaders have at their disposal a rich pool of diverse skills, backgrounds, and strengths. But it’s not currently being leveraged to its full potential.
That’s because agent coaching methods don’t reflect that nuance. They direct performance against a one-size-fits-all set of metrics, rather than orchestrating different talents to work in unison. The issues with that have become apparent during the pandemic. In a remote setting, information and support is dispersed, in-the-moment conversations are harder to have, and agents are working alone – not as part of a unit.
With the rule book out the window, it’s meant they’ve had to rely increasingly on intuition and initiative to solve new problems. That’s no bad thing; ditching the script has forced agents to really listen to customers, and meant contact centers have moved to a more human-led approach. But coaching techniques haven’t yet been updated to match. Now, contact centers need to invest in the skills and tools that will help agents perform at scale.
Understanding agent performance and engagement
Effective front line agent coaching starts with understanding their current performance and engagement. That means looking beyond those one-size-fits-all metrics.
41% of agents say that “being judged on over-simplified metrics” is one of the things they hate most about their job.
Using the wrong performance criteria can hinder rather than help; instead, leaders should seek to build a broad dataset that includes both the experiential and the operational. An agent scorecard can help here. Based on three dimensions - friendliness, knowledge and understanding - it gives agents clarity and control over how their performance is judged. Each dimension is coachable, providing agents with a clear path to improve, become more effective at solving problems, and keep customers happy.
There are lots of different metrics leaders might choose to include on a scorecard, depending on their particular business needs. Some useful ones to consider are:
Experiential: agent knowledge, attitude, listening ability and engagement level
Operational: first time resolution, average handle time, and escalation rate.
As well as helping to identify strengths and opportunities, scorecards also mean can leaders catch signs of dissatisfaction – and therefore potential attrition – early. Agents value ownership and belonging above all else. They should feel pride and accomplishment in their work, and that their feedback is valued and listened to. If they don’t, it’s a sign that contact center leaders need to act.
How to use agent and customer feedback to improve engagement and effectiveness
On top of collecting a broad range of data, it’s also important to look for two-way feedback. The customer might always be right – but it’s useful for leaders to compare their feedback against the agent’s own. It can help close perceptions gaps, and uncover more relevant next steps for coaching and development. Mismatched ideas about how an interaction went might be because the agent missed the customer’s cues, or because the customer expectation was unrealistic. Listening and expectation-setting are two very different skill sets, and they’ll require different coaching plans.
Regular pulse surveys are a good way to gauge agent sentiment and gather feedback. But information can be gathered more informally, too, via quick contextual questions about team and colleagues. Tools that help agents self-monitor, and make it easy to communicate with managers when needed, mean that vital feedback can be gathered while it’s still fresh. QA reconsideration tools let agents flag accounts and interactions they want reviewed - or not. This might be because the agent did well and wants to surface it, or because it went badly but the customer was hostile and aggressive. Tools such as these help ensure the agent is only judged on what they can control. It is this empowerment that makes for more engaged, effective agents.
Combining their own knowledge and experience, with agent and customer feedback, managers are able to see the full picture and mentor their teams more effectively. In partnership with the agent, they can then create an action plan that motivates the agent to continually strengthen and improve their skills – and consistently provide a better experience for customers.
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