To Fix Customer Service, Solve 3 Challenges to Improve the Agent Experience


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This is evident in our everyday experience. Whether we are waiting in a telephone queue, or do not get a meaningful answer to an inquiry or are even brushed off with funny answers relating to GDPR. Who of us didn’t hear the line “Due to exceeding call volume all our agents are currently busy. Your call is important to us. Please hold the line.” One time or another? Or one time and another?

In all these unpleasant occurrences it is unlikely that the service agent is the root of the problem. It is rather the situation the agents find themselves in. This includes a high workload; suboptimal processes and enablement; and often poor training and lacking access to knowledge. This drives their frustration.

And frustrated service agents are very unlikely to provide a superior customer experience. This all the while customer expectations are rising, probably faster than ever.

The main challenge

There are three main challenges facing service agents.

  • Lacking education and enablement
  • Lacking access to knowledge
  • Being bogged down by routine cases

The bad news for customers is that these challenges are widespread and lead to exactly those poor experiences that one can expect.

And, according to Qualtrics research, there is a significant gap in how customer experience is perceived. While 80% of CEOs believe that their companies are doing great, their customers are of an entirely different opinion.

Figure 1: The Experience Gap; source SAP Qualtrics

For businesses it is crucial to address the challenges above because in many industries there is increasing competition. Competition provides customers with choice. Even worse, competition creates a situation where products and services become less of a distinguishing factor but increasingly exchangeable. And if two products are almost the same then other factors need to kick in.

One of the main factors is a good customer experience throughout the whole journey, including customer service. The good news for customers is that, according to the Salesforce State of the Customer Service report, companies have understood that it is important to invest into modernizing customer service. SAP deems customer service the place where the rubber hits the road for good customer experiences.

Looking at the above challenges, there is one thing that they have in common: They lead to a poor employee experience. And without making it a chicken-egg problem, poor employee experience leads to poor customer experience. As a matter of fact, addressing the challenges above is a good way to improve customer experience through improved employee experience.

And to find out which of these challenges is the most urgent and/or important one to overcome, it is crucial to have the relevant data. This relevant data is at the intersection of experiential data and transactional data, which needs to get correlated. With this correlation, it is possible to find the right angle of attack. As a side remark: It is this correlation that explains the value of Qualtrics for SAP – as it would have for any other vendor of enterprise software.

The way ahead

Given all this, it is a must to ask employees and customers about the pain points and highlights they see in their day-to-day journeys with the goal of mitigating pain points while emphasizing on strengths. Ask the customers what they actually want as opposed to what they get, or what you think they want and ask your employees how they could deliver this best and what prevents them from achieving this.

You will get good and important answers.


Don’t wait to start. A quick analysis already reveals a challenge that is important enough to be overcome without being outside the range of useful projects. You might not choose the best of all possible initiatives, but you are very likely to solve an important issue.

But more importantly: Start. With. A. Big. Goal. In. Mind.

So, define it.

And build a roadmap based on this goal. Validate this roadmap and improve it in short iterations, based upon new insight and priorities. Change the goal, if necessary. This is the spirit of thinking big while acting small, which is key to delivering improvements fast and continuously.

The good news is that when it comes to customer service there is already enough evidence and tribal knowledge to start off of a sound foundation.

This evidence is based upon the three challenges facing customer service agents that I named above.

This evidence also determines a viable initial path to improve customer service that can get started before the in-depth and specific analysis results are in.

The first priorities

The goal is to establish a top notch customer service that supports a top-notch customer experience.

If they are not yet addressed, the first priorities to make sure the service agents can perform at top performance need to be that they are:

  • Have ready access to knowledge
  • Well educated and enabled
  • Relieved of routine cases

The good news is that getting there is no rocket science. Do you ask for the way? Glad you did!

The way ahead

The secret sauce lies in supporting the three topics above.

1. Access to knowledge

To provide service agents with ready access to knowledge two means, a short term one, and a longer-term one are helpful.

An infrastructure and culture that support collaboration are key. In the first instance this is access to fellow workers with more knowledge via collaboration tools like slack, SAP Jam, Ruum, MS Teams or Salesforce’s Quip, or any other. It doesn’t really matter, which tool is used, as long as it supports a strategy of collaboration and knowledge transfer.

This also means that the chosen tool integrates well into the existing infrastructure.

Ideally, this tool also supports the identification of the best knowledge available. Think of community functions here that help to identify the best available expert for any given topic. Considering that this expert can very well be outside the boundaries of your company it is important to cater for crowdsourcing of knowledge here.

2. Education

Supporting and enabling this infrastructure is a good education and enablement of the service agents. They not only need to be well educated on supporting people but also about their topic. And they need to be in a position to make meaningful decisions to help their (your) customers. The main reason for the priority of investing into the own service agents is twofold.

First, it helps your agents solving customer problems fast. Fast, by giving them the scope to decide and second by enabling them to give the appropriate decision. Appropriate for the customer and for you.

Second, it reduces attrition. Attrition is bad. It does not help your customer, it does not help you, it only helps your competition. If at all.

3. Routine cases

But the most effective, if not efficient, way to support your customers and your service agents is to relieve the agents of routine cases. It is here, where AI and chatbots kick in.

Chatbots, supported by an AI, are the primary tools to support firs the customers by providing them with good answers to their problems and, second, to support service agents in finding solutions.

Solutions that haven’t been discarded by the customers yet, but solutions that help them solve their individual issue and therefore close the identified perception gap.

Secondly, they support the service agents by providing them with meaningful suggestions that help the agents concentrating on the tough jobs, those that cannot be solved by machines alone.

This way, the strengths of both, man and machine, are applied adequately. The machine solves the routine cases, freeing the service agent to solve the tough ones. This way, all parties are satisfied. The customer gets a good answer fast, the service agent can concentrate on the difficult and challenging issues, while the business provides for delivering good customer experiences.

Thomas Wieberneit

Thomas helps organisations of different industries and sizes to unlock their potential through digital transformation initiatives using a Think Big - Act Small approach. He is a long standing CRM practitioner, covering sales, marketing, service, collaboration, customer engagement and -experience. Coming from the technology side Thomas has the ability to translate business needs into technology solutions that add value. In his successful leadership positions and consulting engagements he has initiated, designed and implemented transformational change and delivered mission critical systems.


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