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Agent Apathy: Your Company's Achilles Heel?

By Liz Osborn

Companies with a reputation for excellent customer service become the gold standard that everyone measures themselves against, for example, and Virgin America. Their excellent service and the low effort required for customers to get answers sets them apart from their competitors and builds raving fans out of their customer base. Yet the needs of contact center agents in any industry -- the very people responsible for nurturing the customer experience -- are often overlooked.

The customer service rep carries a lot of weight on their shoulders -- they are expected to represent the entire company, and exemplify the brand, while simultaneously being one of the lowest paid employees in most organizations. There is substantial room for improvement but seemingly little interest from business leaders to do so.

Most contact center agents today are under-equipped to do their job; although the technology exists to make their lives easier, companies are ignoring the people who can have the most substantial impact on the customer experience. 92% of respondents to ICMI's recent research, (underwritten by Five9), believe that their agent-facing applications could be more effective, while 74% acknowledged that they prevent the agents from providing the best experience possible.

It comes as no surprise to those of us who have worked the phones ourselves, that agents experience a considerable amount of stress during their workday. Sadly, the survey revealed that 71% of respondents recognized system and tool inefficiencies and difficulties as the top contributor to the agent's workday stress. This degree of ineffectiveness is only going to increase as the agent's job becomes more complicated.

There is a huge demographic change that is converging with a wave of innovations in technology; together these two factors will have an enormous impact on contact centers over the next few years. Millennials are beginning to take their place in the business world; according to a recent study by Google, nearly 50% of BtoB products purchased are researched and influenced by Millennials -- that's up 70% from 2 years ago. This is mirrored in the consumer population.

What does this mean for contact centers? Millennials greatly prefer digital channels for all communications, particularly social media and chat; picking up the phone is a last resort to resolve an issue. This shift in demographics, combined with the rise in channels that didn't even exist or were minimally used 10 years ago, such as SMS, mobile applications, social, and web chat are combining to create a perfect storm of interaction complexity for the typical contact center agent.

As more people prefer to self-service their issues, or research and purchase digitally first, the complexity of the interactions that require live agent help will greatly increase. In fact, 73% of the contact centers surveyed cited a noticeable increase in the complexity of their customer-agent interactions.

This interaction complexity combined with the systems and tools that an agent will need to master in an omnichannel environment will greatly affect the recruiting, hiring and training processes of every contact center. Currently, 48% of agents support multiple channels but that number is expected to increase significantly in the coming years, with 75% of contact center leaders planning on increasing that number. The challenges of becoming proficient with tools across multiple channels -- including chat, email and social networks -- coupled with insufficient technology to support these demands, leaves the contact center agent unable to do his or her job and could negatively impact the customer experience.

More than 99% of respondents believe improved agent morale correlates with improved agent performance. In addition, improving the agent experience can decrease expenses associated with agent turnover and customer retention, and improve revenue and value associated with heightened agent performance and improved customer satisfaction.

If the contact center agent is the most important role in providing a great customer experience (and ICMI's research says it is) there are some key steps to help ensure contact center agent satisfaction:

  • Provide agents with the authority to do what is necessary to resolve the customer's issue
  • Offer tools and technologies that allow the agent to be as efficient and effective as possible
  • Hold agents accountable for things that they can actually affect

I understand the need to turn each customer interaction into a positive business outcome while balancing against operational costs. Every day, we help our customers improve their customers' experiences and increase revenue at a significantly lower cost than traditional premise-based systems. Leveraging cloud-based contact center software creates more successful customer interactions while increasing contact center productivity, without the capital expense and maintenance costs of premise-based systems.




Liz Osborn is the Vice President of Product and Solutions Marketing for Five9. With more than 20 years in the technology industry, Liz is an expert in enterprise software and the customer experience. Liz has deep knowledge of the contact center market including expertise in contact center platforms, voice self-service, performance management, analytics and reporting, customer service and support, telemarketing, IP/SIP and the cloud.



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