Give your agents a real gift for Customer Service Week

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Customer Service Week is next week. Established by the International Customer Service Association in 1984, it became a nationally recognized event through action by the U.S. Congress in 1992. Each year, this week offers a time to celebrate and acknowledge the work of customer service staff. Celebrations are often marked with special lunches, cakes, and other fun activities.

It’s an honor well deserved. Customer service has a turnover rate estimated between 30 and 45%. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, job separation averages around 3.8% across all industries, so the customer service practice inside any business is a distinct outlier. This staggering number can be attributed to many factors–chief among them challenging work conditions. Customer service agents often deal with repetitive work, faulty tools, and the occasional upset customer.

It’s easy to see why celebrating the work of customer service agents is important, but it shouldn’t be limited to one week a year. Show praise by making work easier the other weeks of the year. There are several ways to accomplish this.

Self-service and automation

Questions and issues tend to be repetitive in customer service, and responding to the same ones over and over quickly becomes tedious. For the more motivated agents, that tedium also means they aren’t being challenged, raising questions in their mind if they should look for another job.

Rather than burden agents with common issues, make solutions available to customers with self-service. Customers’ desire to self-serve only continues to grow. With many different forms, a mix of self-service offerings will make agents’ lives easier while also satisfying customers.

A good starting place is a knowledge base. It provides a searchable repository of step-by-step instructions to address common issues. Ongoing curation is necessary to keep the knowledge base dynamic and helpful (a great part- or full-time job for agents), and additional features like customer feedback and voting on articles assist in that process.

Many common tasks customers contact customer service for can also be automated and made available online. These include such actions as address changes, billing inquiries, warranty registrations, and shipping status. Customers fill out a form or answer some questions, and workflow connects the request to the people and processes necessary to complete the task.

Don’t overlook the value of an online community. There, customers can pose questions that can be answered by fellow customers or agents. Those solutions, in turn, can be harvested as knowledge base articles. Communities also provide useful insight into customers’ perspective on products and services.

The last self-service channel to consider is one that is becoming more and more common: the chatbot. Gartner predicts that 25% of customer service operations will be using some form of virtual customer assistant or chatbot by the year 2020. The conversational nature of chatbots make it easier for customers to zero-in on answers, and the chatbot can point them to existing solutions in knowledge base articles, automated solutions, and online communities.

Machine learning

In situations where a solution isn’t available via self-service, customers may resort to opening a case online. Those cases then require prioritization, categorization, and assignment. This case triaging is typically performed by an agent, and this manual data review can experience varying degrees of accuracy and speed depending on the knowledge and engagement level of the agent.

With as little as a few months of historical data, machine learning can make this high volume, lower value activity a thing of the past for agents. Supervised machine learning identifies the sorting patterns from prior work and will continually learn and adjust. With time, machine learning’s accuracy rate can be better than a human. Meanwhile, customer issues are routed and addressed faster than before.

Simplified work environment

When customers do come calling (or emailing or chatting), agents rely on the tools available. Unfortunately, those tools can often hinder them as they struggle to efficiently assist customers.

One cause is the need to use multiple disconnected systems to address queries. When agents must switch between systems to perform tasks, their work is more challenging and time-consuming. Agents want efficient interactions just as much as customers, so make it possible for them to perform tasks like checking order status and updating payment information directly from the case management system.

Once systems are connected, the next step is streamlining the agent’s desktop environment. Observe how agents interact with the case management system as they perform their work to identify areas to improve in the workspace interface. Put important customer and case information upfront at eye level with minimal scrolling, moving less-needed information to other screens or tabs. Minimize clicks, data entry, and screen changes as much as possible to increase efficiency.

Finally, many modern customer service management systems offer assistive technologies powered by machine learning. These tools monitor agents as they assist customers and suggest possible solutions from other information repositories: the knowledge base, automated solutions, answers in online communities, and other solved cases. This assistance helps both new agents and seasoned agents find answers fast.

Year-round appreciation

Customer service agents experience many daily stresses. Besides staying current on products and services and addressing emotional customer situations, they are often asked to provide solutions that might seem tedious and repetitive. On top of this, they must perform their work using systems that seem to work against them rather than for them.

Customer Service Week is dedicated to honoring the hard work of customer service. Recognize that work beyond this short period with a better work environment. Relieve agents of the burden of simple problems with self-service. Eliminate mundane case sorting and routing using machine learning. Provide them with a modern, efficient work environment. Do this, and they’ll be celebrating year-round.

Paul Selby
I am a product marketing consultant for Aventi Group. Aventi Group is the first product marketing agency solely dedicated to high-tech clients. We’re here to supplement your team and bring our expertise to bear on your top priorities, so you achieve high-quality results, fast.

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