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The Humanity of Agent Empowerment


Presented By: Sharpen

It’s time we faced some facts. There’s something wrong with customer service in the modern world, and contact center software vendors haven’t been helping matters.   

For more than 20 years, the industry-wide American Customer Satisfaction Index has been stuck in the mid 70 percent range. At the same time, the turnover rate for contact center agents continues at an epidemic rate. In fact, it’s so horrible that most contact centers have abandoned the idea of fixing it. It’s become a known cost of doing business. Meanwhile, it continues to hurt the bottom line and, more importantly, it’s hurting people.   

Conversations with contact center leaders put the turnover rate around an average of 45 percent a year. This means that every two years, front line service teams are completely replaced. There’s no realistic hope of creating a strong culture, or getting any ROI from the expense of onboarding new hires.  

And the pain doesn’t stop there. In a high turnover environment, agents are less capable and less confident when it comes to helping customers. This causes agents stress, frustration and a lack of engagement in their work. When you remember that 92 percent of customers say an agent’s perceived happiness affects their experience, it becomes painfully obvious that we can’t kick the can any further down the road.   

It’s time to actually fix the agent empowerment issue. But how?   

Help Us, Mr. Drucker   

Peter Drucker, the educator responsible for the modern world of management, once said, "If you can't measure it, you can't improve it." If we’re going to keep agents engaged we need to develop them, which means KPIs, right? If you’re like many leaders, you start to feel a tension building at the mention of KPIs to improve agents. Likely because you’ve been trying this method for years, only to find CSAT scores stuck, and agents continuing to file out the revolving door.  

Most KPIs provide an incomplete view of agents, and therefore offer limited value for training them. It’s crucial to understand the three dimensions of the agent experience: Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Empowerment. The first two are very common, and you probably measure them today. How quickly are agents handling customer issues? How able are they to solve the problem correctly on the first try? These are easy to measure with such things as Average Handle Time and First Contact Resolution, respectively.  

But what about the human experience of being an agent? Remember agents are human beings, not human resources. In order for a person to be fully-engaged in their work, they have to know there’s a larger purpose to the frustration of dealing with unhappy customers. They need to know their manager cares about them, that there’s a future benefit to their current struggle, and that they can improve their weaknesses to get better at their job.  

On the flip side, supervisors and managers need a way to spend less time searching for coaching opportunities and spend more time, well, coaching. On average, managers only spend about 7 percent of their week coaching their agents, while a whopping 53 percent of their week is spent looking for those moments that need to be discussed. Whether those moments are positive or negative (and both are necessary, by the way), it takes precious time to dig them out.  

The refining of the measuring, coaching, and training processes are a deep subject all their own. The point is, finally, we CAN measure the complete agent experience, which means we can actually improve it. 

And this changes everything. 

A Vision of the New Contact Center  

Businesses are now able (and encouraged) to stop dreaming about the perfect customer experience, and start writing it down. Make a real plan, and then build it. 

Personally, I see contact centers where tenured agents happily show up ready to work for every shift. They’ve stayed in your company because they believe in your brand’s mission. They know their role in accomplishing that mission. They have a story to tell about how much they’ve grown, and where they’re growing next.  

They confidently handle conversations (on whatever channel a customer happens to need) knowing that, no matter what comes at them, they either have the answer, know where to find the answer, or have an easy way to bring in extra help. They have room in their day to pause and center their minds knowing that caring for their humanity will help them work faster and better.  

I see the role of the contact center agent becoming like that of a lifeguard, firefighter, or nurse. A specialized career where those with an instinct to help others are trained, valued, and empowered to help customers.  

And my vision extends to customers, too! I see them gladly surrendering their reluctance for reaching out to customer service. Instead, I see them developing ties to their favorite agents and the brands they represent. Now that businesses can stop focusing on clawing for share-of-wallet, customers will gladly give it to them. 

Focusing on humanity is the way to bring this vision to life.  

Agents are people and not robots. That’s not a revelation. What IS exciting is that fact that we live in an age where businesses can finally treat them like humans. The disconnect between “how we live” and “what we can measure” has been bridged, inviting every business, contact center, and agent to get better.