The importance of empowering customer service agents

Retail customer service

This article outlines the importance of empowering customer service agents in a digital world.

Let’s face it, being a customer service agent isn’t always the easiest of jobs. They’re the ones who bear the brunt of customer frustrations daily and are working tirelessly to satisfy the issues and questions customers have.

The role isn’t becoming any easier, particularly as the last year has seen consumers becoming more impatient and less tolerant of poor or frustrating online experiences as they embrace a digital-first, uber-convenient world. Consumers are simply now more demanding, more digital and better informed than ever before, resulting in a shift in mentality where organisations need to adapt themselves to consumer requirements.

Being on the frontline means customer support agents are the first to feel these effects when something goes wrong and, as with any profession, productivity and efficiency can plummet if the problems start to pile up and you aren’t equipped with the tools you need to succeed.

If brands are to meet consumer expectations and thrive in this new reality, they must start empowering their agents. But how is this done? Before answering this, let’s take a deeper dive into how the past year has impacted consumer behaviour.

New, demanding and digital consumers

The first days and weeks of the pandemic forced most of us to alter the way we went about our day-to-day lives. Covid-19 changed the way we worked, the way we socialized, but also the way we behaved as consumers and interacted with brands. With physical locations closed, most of our interactions with businesses shifted to online and across digital channels.

It was clear from the very start that digital businesses would be among the few winners. Lockdowns encouraged a remarkable acceleration in digitalization across many sectors, from online retail and digital finance to online entertainment and telehealth. In fact, according to new data from IBM’s U.S. Retail Index, the pandemic has accelerated the shift away from physical stores to digital shopping by roughly five years.

Over the past year, many of these changes and consumer habits have continued and become permanent. As they say, habits tend to stick, meaning consumers have become accustomed to the convenience and ease of connecting with businesses virtually – they may not be as inclined to return to the way things were.

Happy agents = happy customers

While many consumers crave the autonomy and convenience that the online world offers, you will still be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t appreciate swift and professional customer support when they need it. In fact, a recent survey shows that post-COVID-19, 59% of consumers will care even more about customer service than they did in the “before times” when deciding which companies to support or buy from.

Further, studies have also shown that customers no longer just desire the ability to communicate with companies when and where it’s most convenient for them, but they now expect and demand it – yet more evidence that the terms and conditions set by consumers are growing. How brands respond to these changes will be the difference building a bank of lifelong customers who recommend a service or product to their friends and just a one off customer.

Although most brands recognise the importance of delivering excellent customer service evidence suggested they simply aren’t delivering: 49% of American consumers switched companies last year due to poor customer service. While there are numerous reasons for this, a key one for me is that many often forget about the importance of the agent experience (AX).

Studies show that happy agents make for happy customers. A recent Glassdoor Economic Research study found that, “across all companies and years, customer and employee satisfaction are positively linked,” with the relationship between the two not only increasing motivation internally but impacting commercial results positively as well. That’s because happy customers are far more likely to recommend your product or service to their networks, the agent experience is increasingly important.

Focusing on your customer experience (CX) without taking into consideration your AX puts you at a disadvantage, particularly when it comes to meeting the demands of today’s consumers. To be truly successful, companies need to see their agent experience as a valuable part of their overall CX strategy.

Three ways you can empower your customer service agents

So, how do you facilitate great AX? AX is defined as the holistic view of how empowered, efficient and effective a company’s customer service agents are. So, it’s logical that great AX starts by giving them the tools, knowledge and autonomy to succeed.

Firstly, giving agents the tools and software they need is a must. Whether it be automation to remove mundane unnecessary tasks, good user experience or having the right information about the customer, using technology and tools that make the lives of agents easier is essential.

But empowerment is also about building trust and giving responsibility. For example, establishing a comprehensive knowledge base where the agents can find answers to almost any question will help your agents feel more in control and improve the efficiency of their work. If they learn to always check the knowledge base when being asked a question, it’ll ensure a correct response the first time and customers can get a consistent answer across all contact channels and support agents. 

The final, and maybe most important, step to agent empowerment is to give your agents autonomy and the power to make their own decisions. Just think about it: when agents can resolve issues without having to get confirmation first, they become more proficient and it improves employee motivation and happiness. The more decisions you can have your support agents make on their own, the better customer service they can deliver.

2021: the year of the agent

There’s no doubt that 2021 is going to be a year of opportunity, with customers more demanding than they’ve ever been. However, with the right level of support given to agent, the potential for businesses to exceed consumer expectations in a digital world is limitless.

Credit: Tue Søttrup, Chief CX Evangelist at Dixa

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