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The Bringing It All Together Series, Part 2: Are Super Agents the Future of Customer Service?

“Customer service is the most interesting domain. It’s too hard to differentiate product anymore; the differentiator is in the customer service, the differentiator is the agent.”– Benny Einhorn, President, EMEA and CMO, NICE

Bringing it All Together

Welcome to the second part of the “Bringing it All Together” series which we debuted in May. The intention of this sequence of articles is to share best practices, debate trends, and learn solutions to the big challenges currently facing the contact center. The idea behind this came after I attended Interactions 2013, NICE’s annual global customer conference. I walked away with six themes that seemed to resonate with contact center leaders, technology partners, and analysts alike. Each one of these messages came with the core concept that when one is accomplished effectively, there will be a natural positive influence on one or more of the others.

  1. Understanding the Customer Journey
  2. The Power of the Emerging Channels
  3. The Need for Actionable Data
  4. The Impact of Proactive Engagement
  5. Rebalancing the Customer and the Company
  6. Making Life Easier for the Agent

At almost every conference I’ve attended lately, the conversations keep coming back to the significance of the live agent. It seems that everyone is recognizing that we’ve placed our most valuable resource in a rather precarious position – they need more information, they have to service more customers, and they are using more channels and tools than ever before. It’s tough to argue that we’ve made their lives harder instead of easier.

During a recent interview with Matt Edmunds, VP and CRO Contact Center, Collections, Payments at Genesys | SoundBite agreed that “simplifying the experience for the agent is almost always the best thing we can do for them. Fewer channels and fewer screens are just some of the ways we can make it easier”.


So why exactly should we make it easier on the agent? There are a lot of cases to be made, but the short answer is…to make the agent happier.


Earlier this year, LiveOps conducted a research study to determine the root of loyalty and that sought-after end state of higher customer lifetime value. While it is probably not earth-shattering to hear that happy agents equal happy customers, the data behind the study’s sentiment is certainly fascinating and imperative for all companies to understand.

Happy Agents
According to the LiveOps research, as agent productivity and “happiness” increases, so does the customer experience, and that is what translates ultimately into higher customer lifetime value. Better Agent Experience = Better Customer Experience = Better Customer Lifetime Value. Simple.

Formula for Customer Success
During the study, LiveOps also discovered that 92% of consumers report that an agent's perceived "happiness" has an impact on their customer experience with the brand, and that 66% agree that their experience with a brand's customer service agent has a major impact on their impression with the brand overall. That’s some pretty powerful insight!

ICMI and USAN recently conducted a research study, "How Can Emerging Channels be Leveraged to Improve the Customer Experience?", wherein we asked a similar question of the contact center community. 81% agreed that satisfied agents do indeed make satisfied customers.

The Agent’s Value in the Multichannel Center

Last month ICMI and USAN cohosted a webinar “Customer Engagement: The Agent’s Value to the Multichannel Contact Center” where we also discussed the influence an agent’s experience has on the customer lifecycle. During the course of our presentation, we walked through four key things that an organization must provide to prepare agents for success in the multichannel contact center. 

  1. Insight into the emerging (social, mobile & advanced self-service) channels
  2. An understanding of the new connected customer
  3. Knowledge of how the adoption of emerging channels will change the contact center, and
  4. The technology they need to do their jobs

In the aforementioned research, ICMI asked the question, “What impact do the emerging channels have on your traditional customer service channels?” The majority of survey participants declared that phone, chat, and email were now being utilized more for escalations and difficult questions, rather than for the rudimentary and routine.

In addition, live agents are more-and-more likely to be utilized for reviewing customer forums for complaints or issues, acting as self-service transition points, and proactively following up on unhappy CSAT survey customers. It’s become clear that the agent’s value is felt most by the higher complexity customers and issues.

Due to their instant access to information, the connected customer is considered to be incredibly informed, less patient, and less accepting of impersonal service than the traditional channel customer. Higher customer expectations that are reshaped by social media channels such as Twitter, make it even harder to satisfy customers.

Extreme Engagement

A substantial percentage of our survey respondents agreed that the connected customer has a higher expectation for customer service when using the emerging channels than they do for the traditional.  45.1% said so when referring to social, 44.1% for self-service, and 42.1% for mobile.

Contact centers that are currently providing emerging channel customer service rely heavily on their live agents for the true measurement of customer satisfaction. While a hefty percentage utilize incoming end-of-interaction CSAT surveys, all other units of computation are using human moderation and response - social media commentary, customer forums or portal communities and reviews and rankings on iTunes or other smartphone app stores.

And perhaps it sounds counter-intuitive, but live assistance is imperative for successful self-service. While customers usually can resolve issues on their own through a good self-service solution, supplying a real-time (or near real-time) escalation channel – chat, phone, or even Twitter – is important as it keeps the customer from feeling helpless. That helplessness often translates to frustration, which is then typicalle shared publicly across social networks. It’s quite easy to see in these scenarios how the multichannel options are intertwined with one another.

It’s very important, no matter what the channel, for a customer to be able to seamlessly transition over to a live agent, when needed. Not only does it improve that immediate customer experience, but it also positively impacts the perceived significance of the agent. When agents are used less for the mundane and simple, and more for the complex and higher-value, they feel more utilized and valuable. That translates easily into both agent and customer happiness!

Strive for Super-Agents

In a panel I moderated for LiveOps at the ACCE conference last May, we debated the definition of our next-generation agent. Should they be multichannel, universal, or super? We decided that ‘super-agent’ really captures the expanse of knowledge and the responsibility that we’ve placed on them. Just as the connected customer has higher expectations of the agent, so too does the company itself. We expect our agents to be technologically savvy, happy, loyal, proficient, experienced, smart, capable, and always cognizant of the product, the brand, SLAs, and the customer. Whew, that truly is a super-agent!

In order to truly be super though, an agent also needs to be universal AND multichannel. They need to be able to handle a customer from any access point and for any requirement across their lifecycle.

Edmunds from Genesys | SoundBite agrees that companies need to specialize agents less as that practice often results in more transfers and lower FCR. “Super-agents! Super-agents make the experience more personalized and more efficient. This can only help create a stronger relationship for the company and the customer.”

While there are a lot of factors that contribute to an agent’s happiness and their ability to become super-agents – actionable data, repeatable processes, employee engagement, empowerment, and tools - most companies agree that it is the technology within the contact center that is most impeding the progress. And that usually comes down to the desktop system.

The Universal Desktop System

It’s not enough to simply give customers new ways to interact with your business. Customers expect a unified experience and superior service regardless of the communication channel, and a unified desktop system allows that. Unfortunately only about a 1/3 of contact centers currently have one.

The argument for a unified agent desktop system is strong though, and when ICMI asked the community to select their primary reasons for implementing one, those that rose to the top all circled back to agent and customer experience.

  • To improve first-contact-resolution (FCR) - 49.1%
  • To improve the overall agent experience - 44.4%
  • Speed response rate to customers - 40.7%
  • To improve customer satisfaction - 37.0%
  • Increase customer loyalty - 31.5%
  • Create a more personalized customer experience - 26.9%

Eran Liron, the EVP, Business Development and Strategy for NICE says, “Agents need to be provided the information so that they can move swiftly and adjust in real-time with the customer. They need to know what to say in a specific situation without being repetitive or irrelevant. This is what is unique about the new reality - reshaping of the processes, and of the new reliance on technology and data.”

Bringing it All Back Together

The multichannel contact center is already here and the super-agent is most likely an integral component of it. All of the technology companies mentioned in this article have solutions that can help enhance agent happiness, and enable the super-agent to create customer happiness through a great experience. Agent happiness does indeed equal customer happiness.

You can learn more about the agent’s value by checking out the complete ICMI research report and best practices guide, “Extreme Engagement in the Multichannel Contact Center: Leveraging the Emerging Channels”, which is now available for purchase from our website.  You can also download the complimentary Whitepaper “Six Best Practices for Optimizing Multichannel Support”.

Extreme Customer Engagement Research Report and Best Practices