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How to Make Agent Experience More than Just a Buzzword

Multichannel, omnichannel, social, video, mobile, gamification, A.I - the parade of contact center buzzwords tends to serve as a yearbook of time spent in the industry. Some spark nostalgia, others regret, and some have actually managed to reach their potential.

Agent experience (AX) is the incoming freshman at Buzz HS. While her social status is growing, and everyone’s talking about her, how can we make sure she reaches her fullest potential and doesn’t end up a wasted has-been?

First, understand that agent experience isn’t a tactic you can just mindlessly bolt on to your existing contact center strategy, nor something that you can buy, nor one conversation you can have.

Agent experience is the holistic view of how empowered, efficient and effective your agents are. Your agents are humans, and their well-being is important. The three-dimensions of agent experience give you insights to make their lives easier. When you focus on improving their lives, you start solving high attrition rates and stagnant customer satisfaction, too.

In fact, the average contact center has a turnover rate of ~45%. Agents, on the whole, are fed up with poor training and poor working conditions, and the turnover rates prove that they’re practically screaming for help.

People are, without question, the biggest expense on your budget sheets, but they are also the key to making the biggest impact on your bottom line. According to from the Temkin Group, customers who have a positive experience are six times more likely to purchase from your company again, and twelve times more likely to recommend you to their network.

Here are some suggestions about how to improve agent experience:

Get Agents Thinking About Outcomes Over Metrics

If your goal is to be a customer-centric organization and improve your customer experience, then align your agents to that goal and empower them to veer off the predefined path to impact customer outcomes. In the National Customer Rage Study, six of the most common unmet needs of customer expectations were about how an agent handled an interaction - not how fast they handled it.

A “live by the number, die by the number” mentality is toxic for your agents. Sure, metrics are important to track, but they shouldn’t be the end-all, be all. If an agent’s average handle time was high, but the customer left the conversation with an added pep to their step (and a deeper loyalty to your brand) does it really matter?

Data should be used as an accountability tool. KPIs are a launching pad to help you reach your goals, but they’re not the goals themselves - they’re not your end result. They prompt responses from you, so you can track your contact center’s performance and optimize it accordingly to reach your ideal outcomes.

Instead of living by the numbers, try creating a data strategy, with metrics to track and KPIs to watch based on your end goals. Then explain why each metric matters to all of your agents. Connect the dots for your agents, and then loop in how they’re connected to your overall outcome goals.

Then, empower your agents to go rogue (if only but a little) to offer unique resolutions to customers - even if it means missing a metric. Get them thinking about how to create the expected experience to fuel positive experiences at every touchpoint.

Improve your 1:1 meetings

A friend of mine told me about one of her poorest performing agents. This kid was nice enough, and customer experience feedback was great on the interactions he took. He just didn’t take many interactions - around 15 a day, when his peers were running through at least 60.

So, my pal and her executive team began the process to let this agent go. She called the agent into her office and told the guy, “Listen, I like you and I like the experience you’re providing, but we need more efficiency.” She detailed his current performance in comparison to his peers and what her expectations were. Then she gave him some time to see if he made any changes.

And you know what happened? This kid started taking 60 interactions a day. He wasn’t disgruntled and he still gave that standout experience. When she called him back into her office to review his performance, she was astonished. What changed? “I knew what I was supposed to do,” he said.

Step one to improve the productivity of your 1:1s? Have them. Set up a standing meeting with each of your agents, and respect that time commitment. During those conversations, align expectations and review their unique performance data. Give them visibility and context into how they’re doing at work. Look at where they’re crushing their KPIs and where they can improve - and call out both.

Train Your Agents - Often

A whopping 96% of employees say getting feedback regularly is helpful, but only 39% of people say they’ve learned something to help them do their jobs better in the last 30 days. Agents who feel stuck in the monotony of daily task work, without progressing themselves, won’t be motivated to give customers really great experiences.

Start by condensing your ongoing training from week-long, classroom-style sessions to shorter, more digestible lessons. Block out a few hours on your calendar every other week to dive in on hyper-focused training for your agents. Use in-line training tools to give specific and relevant feedback to your agents in real-time. And, automate coaching by sending microlearning lessons to an agent’s queue to do when they get the chance.

Then, gather context from customer conversations and metrics and share them with your agents in their 1:1s and in your larger team meetings. Encourage your agents to ask for the resources they need and take the time to develop themselves.

Declutter Your Agent Desktop

Mess equals stress, right? And a stressed agent is a grumpy agent. So why, then, are we creating such a disjointed experience for our agents and still expecting them to be unnaturally pleasant in their customer interactions?

Agents surf between an average of 8.6 different applications each day and handle some 130+ interactions. And yet, 72% of those agents still can’t find the information they need in their company’s systems. Even worse, 57% of the time, their interruptions on the job come from switching between disparate and stand-alone applications. Put simply, your overload of channels and tools are causing agent brain drain. And drained agents just don’t have the emotional capacity to put up a facade and constantly deliver positive experiences for your customers.

Spur change by thinking through what goals you need to accomplish in your contact center. Then, clean up your processes and see how your current tools can support your goals. Make sure your data is clean and your tech is being used to the fullest potential.

Do you have integrations that can connect the dots? Can you consolidate data among your systems? Do your agents have to go through a maze of applications to help customers while they’re on an interaction? If your tools aren’t supporting your customer goals (and a better agent experience) then it’s time to reevaluate.

Your agents are the gatekeepers of your customer experience. If you create a healthier, happier environment where they can be successful, they’ll help your customers build trust and loyalty in your brand.