How Best to Empower Today’s Contact Center Agents

Call Center in Mexico

Optimizing the contact center requires a mix of properly skilled agents plus smart technology choices.

The U.S. contact center industry maintained the largest share of the global market in 2016, demonstrating steady 1.5% annual growth in spending, according to a state of the market report from JLL Research. Additionally, U.S. contact centers accounted for nearly 2.6 million jobs last year — up nearly 35% over the last five years — and were responsible for driving $9.4 billion in revenue since 2013.

As this significant growth clearly shows, contact center services continue to play an integral role for enterprise brands in driving efficiency and improving the customer experience. In fact, as Deloitte found in its 2015 Global Contact Center Survey, 96% of businesses expected to expand their contact centers in the next two years to support business growth and customer experience demands, and over half believed that contact centers play a primary role in sales and customer retention.

Even as consumer and client preferences continue to evolve in today’s digital-first economy, brands are still focused on driving human-to-human connections to build positive experiences for their existing and potential new customers. However, thanks to the pervasiveness of the smartphone and intense focus for brands to personalize each customer interaction, the role and functions of a contact center agent has dramatically changed and continues to become much more integral to the overall customer experience.

Today, brands are individualizing customer experiences through the use of big data and artificial intelligence to understand behavioral patterns across social, mobile, and commerce platforms to encourage and reward customers — and gain their loyalty. While this digital transformation evolves and becomes a more effective and efficient way to meet consumer expectations, an evolution in call center protocols as well as the people handling customer interactions has been occurring in the background.

What was once a role that required basic customer service skills and a pleasant voice, brands’ ever-evolving digital landscape demands that today’s contact center agents be emotionally engaged, empathic, and digitally fluent to meet customer needs and concerns. Here are the emotional and technological skills that the modern contact center agent must possess to create thoughtful, one-on-one engaging customer experiences.

A Personified Evolution

Today’s digitally savvy consumers have exceedingly high expectations that contact center agents know them as customers and can solve their problems quickly and pleasantly. Getting agent interaction right has never been more important. In fact, 70% of today’s buying experiences are based on how customers feel they’re being treated, and 40% of consumers listed “better human service” as their biggest request for improvements to a brand’s experience, according to Help Scout statistics.

To prevent gaps in human service, brands have evolved their selection of the type of agent persona they recruit, hire, and train. Businesses are now focused on hiring more emotionally intelligent agents with empathetic skills to handle key or complex customer communications.

Using empathy to interpret and adjust service according to the perceived emotional impact of others is the most important skill personified by contact center agents today. According to the 2016 Global Empathy Index, the top 10 most empathetic companies doubled their value over the bottom 10, and generated 50% more earnings. The report also finds an 80% correlation between departments with higher empathy and high performers.

An empathy-first approach goes a long way with customers. Whether an agent clarifies and asks for details about an issue to show he or she understands a customer’s challenge, reassures the customer that problem resolution is a top priority, or shares second-by-second updates on actions being taken while on the phone, building an empathetic relationship with every client helps maintain positive customer relations and ultimately brand loyalty.

Solving complex issues for today’s digital-savvy, always-connected customers has evolved the agent persona to include a high level of emotional empathy and service adjustment.

A Wealth of Knowledge

Today’s consumers expect agents to have thorough knowledge of their accounts. This means businesses require today’s agents to have higher technological and interactive skill sets to maintain a personalized understanding of every customer. Considering that many company CRMs and omni-channel systems haven’t caught up to customer expectations, it takes an even more intuitive and engaged agent to navigate all the available systems effectively to meet or exceed customer needs and deliver on the brand’s promise.

Delivering personalized service in real time is important because seconds matter with a customer — 78% of consumers have abandoned a purchase because of poor service experience or an agent’s inability to answer a customer question 50% of the time, according to Help Scout statistics. As such, businesses are investing in cutting-edge tools and datasets to stay ahead of the curve and provide agents a 360-degree view of every caller.

Maintaining meaningful, real-time engagement with customers is key, which means agents not only must have access to a customer’s online interactions, but also understand how to interpret a customer’s digital touch points in order to deduce common behavioral patterns and needs. In addition, agents must be able to work — and be willing to learn how to work — alongside emerging customer experience technology such as big (and small) data, artificially intelligent self-service tools, and social media management platforms to have a more knowledgeable understanding of each individual customer.

Technology Perspective
As contact center agents gain access to personal data and behavioral insight about customers, a one-size-fits-all, scripted approach to handling live customer issues becomes obsolete. Every problem requires individual detail and background about customer interactions, intentions, and needs; personalization is a must-have. Without this attention to detail, agents risk getting these interactions completely wrong and leaving customers without right solutions to their problems.

In fact, the recent Help Scout study revealed that customer service agents failed to provide adequate answers for customer questions 50% of the time. This signals a disconnect in the technology in use or the need for new technologies that help agents more quickly understand customers and solve problems.

Businesses can resolve this disconnect simply by giving agents access to customer-centric technology that provides pertinent customer information in real time. Here are three of the most beneficial types of technology for today’s customer experience agent.

Virtual Customer Assistants

By 2020, Gartner reports that 25% of customer service and support operations will integrate virtual customer assistant (VCA) technology across engagement channels, up from less than 2% in 2015.

A VCA is a practical business application that simulates a conversation in order to deliver information and, if advanced, take action on behalf of the customer to perform transactions. A standard use case for VCAs involves responding to customer questions by pulling answers from a company’s structured content libraries. In state-of-the-art deployments, VCAs can analyze the characteristics of an individual customer, use machine-learning techniques, provide contextual and personalized responses, and even trigger actions on the customer’s behalf.

From an experience perspective, VCAs allow customers to engage and problem solve before even connecting to live agents. More important, effective use of a VCA can divert customer engagements away from the more expensive phone channel. In fact, after implementing a VCA, organizations report a reduction of up to 70% in call, chat, and email inquiries, an increase in customer satisfaction, and a 33% savings per voice engagement.

For example, an online retailer can use a chatbot to alleviate the need for customer calls inquiring about product information, shipping status, or return policies. The chatbot creates an engagement channel that allows assistance throughout the online interaction, and can even aid in processing transactions on behalf of the customer.

The VCA experience should:

  • Allow for assisted escalation channels to remove the risk of fragmenting the customer journey
  • Provide customer insight for the agent; when customers communicate in a natural, conversational way they reveal more about their preferences, opinions, feelings, and inclinations
  • Create consistency across all channels, by consolidating or integrating multiple knowledge bases within a service department — from the VCA, CRM system, customer-facing self-service portal or peer-to-peer community

Automation Through Enhanced IVRs

Shifts in consumer behavior — due to the diversity and access of digital mediums — have put a spotlight on the use of automation in customer experience centers. Currently, interactive voice response (IVR) systems, which prompt callers to answer a series of questions — most often “yes” or “no” — in order to send them to specific agents are the most common automation solutions in use today within the contact center.

Recently, we’ve been seeing improvements in traditional IVR systems by way of artificial intelligence (AI). Advanced IVR systems leverage conversational AI capabilities such as natural language understanding and natural language processing to analyze a call path and predict next steps for the customer based on previous responses. This type of predictive resolution not only results in shorter live agent handle time, but also provides agents with detailed insight on customer needs before a conversation begins.

Of course, while IVR provides efficient consultation to the customer in real time, it’s typically only useful when supplemented with human-to-human interaction. In the end, dissecting and reacting to customer needs is a task best performed by live agents.

Social Media Analytics

Social media channels have become a top destination for customers to air complaints, begin to problem solve, and gather information on a particular product or service. Naturally, as social media becomes a more predominant medium for customer contact, these channels have become a critical component within the contact center. As contact center platforms improve their data integration capabilities for social media, we expect agents will have immediate access to social media analytics that share a more thorough background of a customer’s journey.

While today’s agents have access to cutting-edge technologies that can connect them more immediately with a live customer, there is a developing need to skill up and train agents to work alongside technology to better manage emotional or high-complexity customer interactions.

Keywords: Call Center in Mexico


Call Center in Mexico