The customer service agent is one of if not the most important asset in a service center. Unfortunately, the nature of the work makes them one of the most challenging resources to maintain.
I know this firsthand because I started my professional career in a technical support call center. A little after a year, I was supervising a team of agents. A few years later, I was managing a team of supervisors. One of our greatest ongoing challenges was sustaining a highly-motivated staff.
That period of my life (from both the frontline agent and management perspectives) taught me there’s no question that providing customer service—be it answering general product questions or assisting customers with complex technical issues—is challenging work, for a couple of reasons:
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- Resolving common issues can be tedious and time-consuming.
- Along those lines, people prefer to be challenged with new problems rather than providing scripted answers.
- The manual triage work involved in sorting customer cases is toilsome and slow.
It’s not surprising that the turnover rate for call centers is 30-45% compared to an average of 15.1% across all industries. In other words, call centers experience double to triple the amount of turnover!
Anyone who has ever worked in a service center can testify to some of these work challenges that affect employee retention. Today, I offer a few technology options to lighten the load on your customer service agents, to allow them to focus on more interesting and valuable work, and to help drive higher retention.
Elevate The Conversation
Answering the same simple question over and over quickly becomes boring for customer service agents.For the more motivated agents, boredom also means they aren’t being challenged. And when agents feel bored, they will sound bored. Customers will hear this in their voice, affecting customer satisfaction scores.
For very simple questions with canned responses, chatbots are an excellent option. Gartner has predicted that by the year 2020, 25 percent of customer service operations will be using some form of virtual customer assistant (or chatbot). By allowing the chatbot to respond to the mundane questions, customer service agents can focus on more interesting and challenging work. Directing the agents to more interesting and satisfying work will assist in agent retention. In addition, the business benefits in three ways: Gartner reported companies deploying chatbots enjoyed a reduction of up to 70 percent in call, chat and/or email volume; a 33 percent cost savings over voice engagement; and overall higher customer satisfaction.
Automate Common Solutions
It’s understandable how providing the same answer to the same question over-and-over would get tiresome. The same is true for repeatedly performing simple processes. This would include tasks such as address changes, billing inquiries, warranty registrations, etc. Oftentimes, these solutions require the agent to access multiple, disconnected systems in order to complete the work, further complicating things.
At the same time, customers are choosing to find solutions themselves. In fact, they have been opting to use self-service in increasing numbers for the last several years.
Rather than having your agents repeating the same service requests, consider automating those common solutions where possible. Provide customers with online forms for address changes, billing inquiries, warranty registrations, and other customer service inquiries typical for your business. Using workflow, these types of tasks can be routed directly to the systems and departments outside of customer service that can resolve the issue, bypassing customer service and completing the work much faster.
Eliminate Mundane Tasks
Not all problems can be addressed with a simple answer from a chatbot or completed with an automated solution. In those circumstances, a customer is left with needing to open a case. Since we have established they prefer self-service, that request will originate online.
In addition to the customer’s description of their issue, a category is necessary for organization and tracking. Depending upon the nature of the issue and the customer, a prioritization is also designated. Finally, based upon these details, the case is routed to the appropriate team or individual. This is a lot of information to verify and sort through.
In a typical service center, this triaging of cases is performed by an agent. This would result in a lot of manual data review, which could see varying degrees of accuracy depending upon the knowledge and engagement of the agent. This also slows the ultimate resolution, and delayed resolution times don’t help customer satisfaction.
A better option is to use machine learning for this activity. With as little as a few months of historical data, modern supervised machine learning solutions can eliminate this manual agent task. By identifying the patterns from prior work–as well as learning and adjusting along the way–this form of high volume, lower value activity can become a thing of the past for agents. Not only does the machine not get tired or bored, over time its accuracy rate can be better than a human. Meanwhile, customer issues are routed and addressed faster than before.
Maximize Your Retention
There are many daily stresses on a customer service agent. In addition to staying up-to-speed on current products and services and turning around challenging customer situations, they must provide solutions that might seem tedious and repetitive as well as performing other mundane activities. This all adds up to making it difficult to retain them, and the loss of skilled and knowledgeable agents does nothing to advance your quality of service.
When agents are relieved of the burden of simple answers, the need to perform common tasks, and the sorting of cases, they have more time available for other activities. For one thing, they can focus on more complex cases. Agent development activities, such as call shadowing and product or service training time is available. Participating in these interesting, challenging, and beneficial activities increases the likelihood of maintaining an engaged and seasoned agent team, and the result is more efficient and higher quality service.