“The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers.”
Sir Richard Branson
With a history spanning over five decades, Virgin Group is a collection of more than 400 companies across several industries around the world. Be it riding the rails with Virgin Trains, spending the night in a Virgin Hotel, or placing calls with Virgin Mobile, Virgin companies are renowned for offering a unique and exceptional customer experience. While Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, has made many statements on the topic of serving customers well over the years, he has equally many things to say about treating employees well, as evidenced above.
Consider, though, the challenges facing most customer service organizations. The agent turnover rate averages 30-45 percent; when compared to an average of 15.1 percent across all industries, it’s clear retention in customer service is a serious problem. Adding to the challenge, the most recent unemployment rate reported in the United States was 3.8 percent, making it easy for skilled customer service agents to change companies or even switch fields entirely.
Common causes of customer service agent frustration are the working conditions and tools they must use. They are forced to answer the same customer inquiries over-and-over. Mundane work such as case sorting and routing cases quickly becomes tedious. “Swivel chair” syndrome–jumping between various systems and windows to assist customers–frustrates the agent and impacts their productivity. Companies serious about retaining their customer service talent must take action.
For customer service agents, answering the same simple questions all day long can quickly become tiresome. Skilled agents will find this lack of challenge demotivating. The solution is to offer customers another route for common inquiries: self-service. Customers actually prefer it, and its growing popularity has taken many forms.
One of the most common options is a knowledge base. It provides a searchable repository of solutions to common issues. Companies with a mature knowledge management culture offer customer commenting and voting on articles to aid the curation process. A knowledge base is also helpful for agents, who can search it for solutions when assisting live customers.
Chatbot technology continues to improve, and they are also becoming a common self-service option. Many customers prefer chatbots over searching a knowledge base thanks to their conversational approach to problem-solving. Not surprisingly, Gartner has predicted that 25 percent of customer service operations will be using some form of virtual customer assistant by the year 2020. Besides customers’ embrace of them, this surge in use is no doubt as a result of companies’ use of chatbots resulting in a reduction of up to 70 percent in call, chat, and/or email volume as found in the same Gartner research.
Many common customer issues such as address changes, billing inquiries, warranty registrations, and shipping status can be addressed from the customer service website. Common tasks such as these are ideal candidates for automation. Customers complete a form or answer questions, and workflow connects their request to the people and processes outside of customer service needed to complete it.
Applying machine learning
Unfortunately, self-service can’t address every problem. As a result, it may be necessary for customers to open a case online. Those cases must be prioritized, categorized, and assigned. Many contact centers rely on agents to perform this task, and this manual data processing may experience varying degrees of accuracy depending on the knowledge and engagement level of the agent.
This high volume activity can quickly get boring for agents and isn’t an appropriate use of their skills. Thanks to machine learning, it can become a thing of the past. With as little as a few months of historical data, supervised machine learning can identify the sorting patterns from prior work. Over time, the accuracy of machine learning can match or beat that of a human. Meanwhile, customer issues are routed and addressed faster than before.
Simplifying agent workspaces
Agents’ work is more difficult and time-consuming than necessary when they must switch between multiple disconnected systems to perform tasks. Good agents know customer interactions go more smoothly when they are able to efficiently solve the problem, and navigating between systems makes this challenging. For this reason, it’s important to start by connecting the systems agents need so they can work from a single case management system without requiring them to switch to other systems as they aid customers.
Once things are connected, the next step is streamlining the interface. Observe how agents work as they interact with the case management system, and identify options for improving the environment. Do customer details and other commonly-used case information reside front-and-center? Can less-needed details be moved to other screens or tabs? How can clicks, data entry, scrolling, and screen changes be minimized?
Many modern customer service management systems also offer technologies that assist agents in quickly finding solutions. By monitoring agent input as they work with customers, machine learning provides possible solutions from sources like similar closed cases, the knowledge base, automated solutions, and answers posted in online communities. For new or experienced agents alike, this assistance can speed answers for customers.
Treating agents right
Customer service agents experience many daily stresses. Customers may be angry. Products and services are continuously changing. Work might seem tedious and repetitive. Systems appear to work more against them than for them. Add it all up, and it’s no surprise retaining agents is an issue.
Take the advice of Sir Richard Branson and reverse the trend. Relieve agents of the burden of simple problems, eliminate the need for them to sort through cases, and provide them with a modern, efficient work environment. The reward will be improved retention and customers will enjoy faster and more engaged service.