Tales from a Call Center: How to Improve the Agent Experience

how to improve the agent experience

For the modern customer service representative, a day in the life can be pretty rough.  Nonprofit newsroom ProPublica interviewed numerous customer service reps, uncovering some shocking insights into the day in the life. ​​For instance, afraid to call in sick after being warned of getting in trouble for doing so, one worker paused her calls to throw up. Taking video calls and chats for an income tax software platform, another struggled to answer customer questions about complicated tax forms, needing to search for answers in a separate browser window, while trying to appear confident in front of the customer. 

Unfortunately, the state of the world today is not helping to calm the nerves of customers. With more and more rules, restrictions and uncertainty in the COVID-19 era, workers at the front line of customer service are dealing with unwieldy customers that have become far angrier and unhinged. Then, when people do have to interact in transactional settings, such as in retail environments, on airplanes, or over the phone on customer service calls — they are, in the words of one grocery store employee, “devolving into children.” In 2021, there were 5,779 reports of unruly passengers on airplanes, and there are countless stories of passengers knocking out flight attendants’ teeth; of passengers needing to be subdued with duct tape. 

While offering a great customer experience is paramount, what is clear is that, first and foremost, there is a strong need to dramatically improve the experience of agents themselves. Research shows us that employee engagement drives customer satisfaction, and there is a direct correlation between engaged employees and the satisfaction of your customer base. How can agents feel empowered to do their best work, feel more engaged and supported in their roles? Increasingly, companies are looking to technology like AI to uplevel the agent experience, and see a boost to customer satisfaction as a result. 

How AI-powered chatbots can help charge up the agent experience

1. Provide insights to inform, offer context, and save a lot of time

Oftentimes, when people reach a customer service agent on the phone, they are asked to provide basic information, such as their account number or booking reference. Yet, what if each agent was armed with a complete picture of each customer, before each interaction? AI agents can do the bulk of the prep work by summarizing tickets, so agents are well-versed in the basic details of a customer’s query before interacting with them – just like an assistant preparing speaking points for an executive’s upcoming board presentation. The chatbot can first qualify the request, before redirecting it to the appropriate agent. This may include sourcing insights gleaned from previous conversations (this customer often travels with their dog, so this needs to be factored into travel bookings), or confirming a security question. 

Additionally, an AI can grasp the sentiment of a customer – what is the emotion behind the message? Based on this, the conversation can be routed appropriately. So, if an agent recently dealt with an irate customer, they may be handed a break with an easier customer, the next time around.  

2. Empower agents with the information they need in a snap

AI-powered chatbots can work alongside the human agents to greatly reduce their cognitive load, removing unnecessary complexities in the process of resolving even the most complex tickets. 

In the case of the aforementioned agent working for a consumer-facing tax platform who was trying to decipher complex tax forms (What are some deductions and credits that can be claimed? Is a tax credit or a tax deduction more preferable? What is the meaning of a compound daily interest? ) a chatbot could easily automate resolutions to these queries, or empower human agents with the information they need in-the-moment. Dramatically reducing resolution times, chatbots pull information from knowledge bases while agents are interacting with a customer, speeding up the process and improving overall quality of service by offering agents real-time guidance, empowering them with the information they need, in the moment.

Netomi’s chatbot platform, for instance, easily integrates with agent desks such as Zendesk, Salesforce and Gladly, so agents do not need to be trained on how to use yet another platform. Instead, AI-powered recommendations are provided within their existing workspace.

3. Swiftly handle an influx of customer queries  

Amid the COVID-19 era, numerous industries have seen unprecedented demand – such as food and grocery delivery, e-learning, and streaming services. With this demand comes a barrage of queries and support tickets (‘help, my Netflix account is locked’)! This surge in tickets has arrived at a less-than-ideal time, as in the United States, there are about 25% fewer call center agents answering phones than there were pre-pandemic. If agents are already behind and more and more support tickets are piling up, this causes them to constantly be playing a game of catch-up, leaving them burned out, stressed, and their day-to-day life greatly affected. 

With such spikes in demand, having a system in place in order to automate and streamline all incoming tickets is essential, allowing agents to keep up. How can companies scale their customer service teams? Offering 24/7 availability and service across channels (email, chat, voice, etc.), chatbots can play a key role in a company’s customer service strategy, working around-the-clock to provide instantaneous responses and support. This also allows businesses to be better prepared for their busier times (such as course registrations before the school year begins, or travel during the summer holidays). 

AI-powered chatbots: a way to elevate the agent experience

Empathy, patience, adaptability, attentiveness and time management are among the key skills necessary for one to excel in customer service. Yet these qualities are sadly getting overlooked and lost in the shuffle, as many customer service agents today are on the brink of exhaustion, with 74% of call center agents at risk for burnout, and turnover rates sitting between 30% and 45%, among the highest of any industry. Yet, by working alongside AI-powered tools like chatbots, agents can focus on tasks that require more creativity and problem-solving, letting these important characteristics shine through. 

How many hours can your agents save? How many total tickets can AI fully resolve? Use our ROI calculator to discover how much your team can save by working with Netomi!

References

  1. https://www.propublica.org/article/not-allowed-to-hang-up-the-harsh-reality-of-working-in-customer-service
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/01/business/customer-service-pandemic-rage.html
  3. https://www.n2growth.com/how-employee-engagement-drives-customer-satisfaction/
  4. https://www.callcentertimes.com/Home/ctl/NewsArticle/mid/594/CategoryID/1/NewsID/42489
  5. https://www.salesforce.com/products/service-cloud/best-practices/important-customer-service-skills-list/
  6. https://www.destinationcrm.com/Articles/Web-Exclusives/Viewpoints/4-Ways-AI-Can-Improve-the-Customer-Service-Agent-Experience-150676.aspx

Amy Wallace

Amy Wallace is a community builder and digital storyteller based in Toronto, Canada. Marrying her background in print journalism and digital marketing, she enjoys writing and researching about all things related to tech, innovation and AI. Connect with her here. 

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