I started my professional career in a call center answering technical support calls. After a few months, I advanced into supervising a team and eventually to managing a group of supervisors. My department delivered support across several product lines for a major software vendor. I later left that company when a product line was sold, joining the new company and establishing their new customer service and technical support operations.
From that period of time in my life, I’ve seen service delivery from many angles (and have many stories to tell). There’s no question providing customer service–be it answering general product questions or assisting customers with complex technical issues–is challenging work:
- The solutions to problems are ever-changing, yet resolving common issues is time-consuming and tedious.
- Telephone call, chat, and email queues always seem backed up.
- Customers’ emotions may run from pleasant and amiable to distraught and escalated.
Anyone who has ever worked in a service center can testify to some of these work challenges, and perhaps others, that affect employee retention. Today, I offer a few suggestions to lighten the load on your customer service agents.
Provide Assistive Tools
Despite the varying channels, processes, and customer types prevalent in customer service, some tasks remain consistent in a standard service engagement such as identifying existing customers and promptly locating them in your case management system. Using computer telephony integration (CTI) for telephone calls, log-ins or forms on your website for chat, or queries matching email addresses back to customers, each of these methods quickly locate and “pop” the customer information on-screen. It seems like a small thing, but this step saves your agents time and effort, compounding every day across their many interactions.
Knowledge bases have become the standard means of documenting and sharing solutions. They are useful to all agents, regardless of time in position. While seasoned agents might know the answers to many problems, they probably won’t know everything. Newer agents will retain only so much of their new hire training. And as new products and services are released (and older ones retired), the scope of information needed to effectively deliver service is in flux. An easy to search system provides instantaneous answers to an ever-changing wealth of information.
Simplify Their Workspace
Customer service agents are performing most of their work in a case management system: locating customers, verifying warranty or contract service, updating changes in demographic and other information, and documenting their interactions. How streamlined is that process for them?
Make sure you provide a single-screen view of the most important information for the most common interactions. This allows the customer service agent to quickly start solving the problem without switching screens or waiting for information to load. Similarly, eliminate unnecessary fields that provide no value in tracking and weigh your data down.
Bonus points for you when you integrate your knowledge base directly into your customer service agents’ work. The best case management systems suggest relevant knowledge base articles during case creation based on keywords as the agent enters details. These articles can quickly be recited to the customer or shared over chat and email.
Automate Common Tasks
Performing the same task over and over quickly becomes boring for customer service agents. When they feel bored, they will sound bored – and customers will pick up on this. For the more motivated agents, boredom also means they aren’t being challenged (and they might then seek a more interesting position elsewhere).
Rather than having your agents address redundant service requests, consider automating those common tasks. 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 mundane tasks can be routed directly to the departments outside of customer service that can resolve the issue, bypassing customer service.
When agents are relieved of the burden of these common requests, they now have more time to invest in other support activities. For one thing, they have the time to focus on more complex cases without the pressure of that overflowing call, chat, or email queue. New strategic activities are also possible: agent development activities, such as call shadowing and product or service training time is available and more time can be spent on knowledge base curation, for example.
Maximize Your Retention
The more difficult or uninteresting your customer service agents’ jobs are, the harder it is to retain them. In addition, the loss of skilled and knowledgeable agents does nothing to advance your quality of service. By eliminating or minimizing those stresses, you allow your agents to focus on their core jobs to effectively solve customer problems as well as participate in more beneficial activities, increasing the likelihood of maintaining a seasoned team. The result will be reflected in more efficient and higher quality service.