Three Rules for Adapting Agents to the Omnichannel Experience

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Nobody excels at everything. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and the best of us know how to navigate those skills and work them to our advantage. It’s no different in the contact center, particularly as agents are tasked with learning a diverse set of customer service channels.

Consider, for example, the introduction of new, digital channels like text or online chat. An agent might be perfectly comfortable hopping on the phone with a customer but isn’t as confident using text-based channels – especially given that those channels can require maintaining multiple conversations at once. That disconnect can have a major impact on overall contact center performance.

But digital channels aren’t going away, so the question becomes: does it make more operational sense to have one group of agents who are trained in digital and one in traditional channels? Or should you take a more hybrid approach? If you’re tackling this issue, here are my three golden rules for getting started:

Omnichannel doesn’t mean every channel

Agent training must take into account how exactly your customers liked to be reached. For example, do your customers tend to lean on inbound or outbound voice, with just a scattered preference for chat and social messaging? Or does email play an outsized role in your specific contact center? While ultimately agents – and their unique preferences – will fall into one of those buckets, it’s the job of the contact center to make sure that there’s seamless handoff if a customer has to move from one agent to another.

This is a major area of concern. In fact, according to the NICE inContact CX Transformation Benchmark Study, Consumer Wave, 59 percent of consumers reported having to repeat information despite communicating with the same agent across channels, and 70 percent of consumers reported having to repeat information when switching from one agent to another.

The shift starts by not overwhelming agents in terms of how many channels they’re managing at once, especially if you’ve already launched a new learning program. Do not assume that every agent can take on every channel, as opposed to assessing their base skills and assigning based on those strengths. Not every agent needs to be fully omnichannel – some could be digitally focused, or some could lean more toward traditional channels, so long as the technology facilitates the movement, customers won’t see a disruption in service.

Training must evolve

As customer experience changes, so must the way we prepare our agents. While there’s much we can do to develop soft skills, for many contact centers there’s little that can be done mid-conversation. For example, an agent who has excellent phone skills but isn’t as comfortable via chat may not be realize how their tone is being perceived on the other end.

Contact center leaders have to rethink their approach to training that supplements before-and-after analysis with in-the-moment coaching. This is perhaps the most important next-gen deployment of AI in the contact center. Integrating AI assistants can actively follow any interaction and provide real-time coaching and recommendations, including sentiment scoring, pop-up alerts, and reminders.

Agents must take greater part in the conversation

Agents are constantly evolving our approach to meet rapidly changing customer expectations. It’s the only way to ensure that we can maintain customer relationships and maximize the value of each experience. But how that happens, specifically, takes many different forms, largely dependent on the interest of the agents themselves. One agent might be particularly passionate about expanding their digital skill set, while another may want to focus solely on chat or social media.

Fostering these interests is a vital step in building a growth-minded and engaged agent community. What opportunities do they have to follow their path and have that contribute directly to career growth? Further, how can these options tie directional to operational metrics and customer success? By giving them a voice and directly linking individual growth to customer satisfaction, agents can more confidently provide the experience customers are looking for.

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