“I’m still here … apologies for the delay … my systems are really slow today.”
When you contact customer service yourself, how often do you hear those words? Now the real question: how often are agents in your own contact center forced to offer this explanation for slow service?
A few weeks ago, I was reading an article by Gartner principal advisor Peter Slease that opened with the common refrain above. He went on to suggest his readers might be past due for investigating the barriers that exist in the contact center that are preventing fast customer service.
I couldn’t agree more. Mapping the agent experience is critical to uncovering the issues hindering fast and efficient customer service. Having been in both the customer service and technology world for several years, I have personally observed three areas in which most of the barriers reside and where I would recommend you concentrate efforts.
The most common cause of slow systems is just that: the systems themselves. Though that sounds easy enough to resolve, don’t start buying new hardware just yet. There are a few aspects of this to consider.
The first is the underlying architecture of the systems the agent uses. Older, legacy systems were designed using a client-server architecture running internally on a network. While this was state-of-the-art at one time, most modern customer service management software now takes a cloud computing approach. Among the benefits is the reduction of bottlenecks caused by internal network traffic and easier adoption of system improvements.
Those improvements are more easily utilized with cloud-based customer service management systems because there is no software running on the client (what the agent is using to perform their work); agents access the system with a web browser. This significantly reduces the complexity of upgrades since every client machine doesn’t require individual updating. Software revisions–be they to speed up the software or address other issues, new features, security updates, or a combination of these–are applied solely to the cloud system and become immediately available.
Of course, both client-server and cloud architectures do rely on hardware (computers) running at either end. With client-server, it was often necessary to update both ends to realize benefits in speed. With cloud-based customer service management systems, it’s important the cloud computing systems have adequate horsepower because they perform much of the heavy lifting; however, agents’ machines will still need regular refreshing to run current operating systems and any other needed applications.
Connecting and streamlining
Once a superior architecture is in place, it’s time to evaluate what processes are required for agents to do their job because those processes could span multiple systems. This might involve several different applications to be running or browser windows to be open simultaneously, slowing both the agent and their computer. Agents must reference information across different screens or copy-and-paste back and forth. Each system might also require separate log-ins, further complicating work.
Once again, today’s customer service management solutions have the answer. They offer the technology necessary to either embed systems directly (making it appear as though that app resides inside the main system) or to read and write data with other systems. Regardless of the option chosen, this results in one less alt-tab for agents to contend with as they work.
Connecting systems into a single system or interface is a huge leap forward. Once that is accomplished, consider also how agents interact with each screen as they perform their work–locating a customer record, reviewing key details about them, selecting contact reason codes, recording case notes, etc. Is key information displayed front-and-center, minimizing scrolling and screen changes? How can the number of clicks and manual data entry points be reduced to speed the interaction? Most customer service management systems allow customizations to the interface to match how work is performed.
With everything available to agents in a single system following a logical, common flow and the most important data in the right places, what’s left? Just one last thing: providing information helpful and useful to the agent to speed the customer interaction to its conclusion.
One such consideration is assistive technology embedded into the customer service management system. Modern customer service management systems leverage machine learning to evaluate the agent’s work to suggest possible solutions to customer problems. By searching knowledge bases or other sources of information, the agent is guided to a likely answer faster.
Another consideration is providing additional insights that might prove useful during customer interactions. If loyalty is important to your business, display how long a customer has been buying so the agent can thank them (and perhaps offer a discount). If the customer’s last CSAT survey was below average, give the agent a head’s up so they are aware of a possible negative sentiment and can work to reverse it. Don’t lose ground by burying important details in other screens, make them prominently visible. Agents will appreciate additional information that makes their daily work more effortless to execute.
Faster means better
Toward the conclusion of his article, Slease shared some interesting statistics from his research. By simplifying agents’ daily work and allowing them to focus on the customer, his analysis found agent productivity was boosted by 19%. But there were some additional results, including:
- A 25% decrease in agent intent to leave
- An 11% increase in customer satisfaction
- A 9% reduction in customer effort
I’ve shared some general guidelines to start with to cut down some common bottlenecks in customer interactions that are all possible with today’s customer service management systems. This does not mean one should neglect Slease’s advice to observe and map the existing agent experience end-to-end to expose additional improvement opportunities–and to do so on a regular basis. As his findings show, such changes will have a positive impact beyond fewer customer apologies for slow systems.