Turn Your Contact Center Into a CX Lab


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It’s not uncommon at FCR for one of our clients to reward a top-performing agent on the team with an all expenses paid trip to their headquarters. This is one of many ways our clients drive engagement on their outsourced teams — and I thought that’s what was at play here. That was until I sat down with a couple of my colleagues to hear more about a recent experience. I expected to hear about great food, accommodations, and hip, modern offices in cities like New York, LA, or San Francisco. While some of those things may have been a part of the experience, that’s not what stood out in the minds of my colleagues.

The CX Lab

As we talked, it became very clear that real work is done on these trips. One agent described a day where she sat at a workstation and teams of three to seven engineers gathered around her as she responded to emails and chats. It ended up being an exhausting, but also incredibly positive, full-day experience.

Some of the engineers she met with were responsible for building and implementing the support tools. This was an opportunity for them to see the tools they created in action. Others were responsible for the product and wanted to get closer to the customer experience and better understand some of the pain points.

As I picture this encounter, I can’t help but imagine a bunch of folks in lab coats in a sterile environment observing their subjects and documenting their every move. While they’re actually more likely to don skinny jeans and flannel, I like this idea of transforming our contact centers from this oft forgotten place in organizations to a laboratory where we observe the customer experience through the eyes of our frontline staff. This practice has the power to improve both the customer and agent experience by helping the people in all other areas of the business understand the impact their work has on the experience.

This lab can take on a number of different looks in your organization. Here are some ideas to help you build your own CX lab:

  • Bring a top performing agent to your office and watch them work- If the contact center is in a separate location or you’re working with an outsourcer, emulate the experience I’ve just described and fly a top performer to your office, observing how they work, and taking the time to ask lots of questions and initiate improvements.
  • Visit your contact center and shadow agents- If under the same roof, go to your contact center and spend some time shadowing agents. We often call this “side jacking” where you put a splitter on their headset and listen to calls with them or watch them respond to chats, emails, tweets, text messages, etc. If you outsource, any good partner will open their doors, allowing you to visit your team as much as you want. This practice allows you to ask agents questions as they work.
  • Conduct agent round table discussions- A great way to surface some of the top issues in the contact center is to ask and you’ll never be short on feedback. I particularly love the round table format if we’ve just released a new product or feature or we’ve done a new marketing campaign and I want focused feedback on what’s working and what isn’t.
  • Review customer interactions regularly- Do you realize your contact center has volumes of call recordings, emails, chats, etc just sitting there? They can likely even break those down by certain topics for you. Want to get close to the customer experience? Queue up a bunch of call recordings and you’ll quickly hear what’s going on directly from the mouths of your customers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve paused a call halfway through and said something like, “We really need to change this policy right away” or “We need to call this customer back and make it right.”

Now that we’ve talked about what our lab looks like, let’s get clear on our objectives. This is a lab so we’re doing research and it’s our job to use this time to uncover issues and improve our customer experience. Here are three objectives:

Objective #1: See the customer experience firsthand

Regardless of the format you choose, your first objective is to witness what’s going on with real customers day in and day out. You’re looking specifically for issues relating to your product, policies, procedures, and agent behavior.

Here’s an example I see often. Let’s say you just completed an initiative to limit the amount of credit agents can issue to customers if something goes wrong. On paper it’s a great idea because it prevents them from giving away the farm on every call. You’ve limited credits to $10 to be used at their discretion but you have an upset customer on the phone that easily spends $25K with you annually. Hearing the customer’s response to a $10 credit might prompt you to make sure that this policy also guides agents on what to do for high dollar customers. You might also discover that any amount of compensation might not be sufficient when what they really want is the confidence that this issue won’t happen again.

Objective #2: Observe the way you (the company) are interacting with customers

Surveying the scene of the various clients we work with, there’s a good range from heavily scripted to completely unscripted in the way they interact with customers. And many of these clients have a specific brand voice that’s in use on any macros or canned responses that ideally should align with other company communications.

My colleague noted that one of her favorite moments in the above experience was when she used a macro to respond to a customer but not before significantly updating it. One of the folks observing noticed that she didn’t follow the typical process, and after my colleague explained her reasons for the change, they immediately updated the process for everyone. Whether you use macros or not, this is an opportunity to observe how customers react to your messaging and in some cases make small, positive improvements very quickly.

Objective #3: Improve the agent experience

When’s the last time you counted how many windows your agents have open at any given time during the process of supporting customers? Consider that just to reply to a chat, they might have many of the following windows open:

  • Chat system.
  • CRM to see the customer’s profile.
  • Ticketing system where they’re adding notes or sending follow up emails.
  • Slack to get help from colleagues and supervisors.
  • Knowledge base to find answers.
  • Website to see what the customer is referring to.

That in and of itself is a lot to manage and we’re just getting started. How much more complex is it to handle two or three conversations concurrently when all of these windows are required? How much of the customer’s and our time is wasted just navigating between windows? You can see how easy it might be to mix up conversations and make mistakes. This sort of thing is incredibly frustrating for agents — and it would be for you too if you spent some time in their shoes.

Whether you’ve purchased your support tools off the shelf or built them from scratch, any efficiencies you can add, improves the customer and agent experience in a variety of ways. As you’re seeking out efficiencies, it might mean that it’s time to consider a new platform or perhaps better integrate existing systems. There are so many out of the box integrations nowadays and I’ve been amazed at the ways companies like Zapier and Workato have extended those possibilities.

Time to build your own CX Lab

The reality here is that a CX Lab isn’t a place — it’s a practice within your organization — and a simple one at that. I’m sure many of us know what’s driving our contact volume and our top reasons for customer dissatisfaction. We should also know why our customers are churning and what’s driving agent attrition — all great stats for a slide deck. But the real benefit to experiencing these issues firsthand is that we feel a little bit of the pain and frustration that goes along with them. These issues become more real and sometimes that’s required to make our customer and agent experiences better.

I encourage you to create your own CX Lab, and no, a lab coat isn’t required. But I do highly recommend hand sanitizer because it’s flu season and we don’t need that going through our contact centers!

Jeremy Watkin
Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Support and CX at NumberBarn. He has more than 20 years of experience as a contact center professional leading highly engaged customer service teams. Jeremy is frequently recognized as a thought leader for his writing and speaking on a variety of topics including quality management, outsourcing, customer experience, contact center technology, and more. When not working he's spending quality time with his wife Alicia and their three boys, running with his dog, or dreaming of native trout rising for a size 16 elk hair caddis.


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