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Is It Time to Do Away With the Agent Title?

BPOHere are a few truths to consider about the role of a contact center agent: It’s a thankless, often entry-level, and micromanaged position, characterized by high turnover and burnout. Rather than being seen as an extension of marketing or sales, contact center agents are viewed as a cost center, which is odd considering agents are often the public face of an organization. Agents get no credit when things go right and are blamed when things go wrong.

Therefore, the term “agent” must go; it’s too tarnished.

The question is what to do with all those pesky customer questions, issues, and concerns. It’s not just the title that’s the problem. The bigger issue is the idea that we can delegate the responsibility of customer care to a department or an individual. Every employee role at a company exists in some way to serve a customer.

I will use the term “employee” moving forward, but the legal arrangement of employment and payment is not the point. When employees are treated well and given proper guidance and tools, they can help reduce costs, boost revenue, influence customers, and build a brand’s image.

In the most recent Gartner Magic Quadrant for Contact Center as a Service, the analysts wrote: “Organizations that put the customer (not products or services) at the center of their CX strategy require deeper employee collaboration across their organization (and with partners) to effectively deliver on a collaborative customer service initiative...But in order to achieve a greater level of employee collaboration in fulfilling customer needs, there will need to be a deeper level of integration with organizations’ core workstream collaboration platforms.” In other words, Gartner says agents themselves, and the customer service role, have become siloed.

Many organizations fail to provide basic tools for collaboration to their customer service employees — and this became apparent when agents started working from their homes. We need to rethink and promote the agent’s role as peers. Last year, they had to adjust to working from home like many others. Everything changed for them, including their tools, equipment, work-life balance, comradery, and more, and they had to relearn how to contribute, stay engaged, and perform their duties from home.

We need to reevaluate the customer service role with common tools for alignment, collaboration, and analytics. We also need to make sure all employees are chartered to improve customer satisfaction. We have two choices: either fire the agents or promote everyone to be an agent — expect a mass rebellion on that second option.

Eliminating “agent” as a moniker is just the beginning. Fortunately, the industry is trending toward better tools that broaden and expand the agent's role and tie them more closely to the rest of the business.

The notion that a small team of workers, known as agents, are responsible for customer service is obsolete. No one wants to be an agent, so let’s make the role better. A far broader set of employees is what really drives customer experience. We need to put humanity back into the human agents. And, if the customer calls don’t need an empowered agent, more efficient self-service options to resolve their requests exist.

This article first appeared in nojitter.