Customer satisfaction is the umbrella metric of any contact center. Our industry thrives on happy customers and top-notch experiences.
Delivering on that overarching goal has always been easier said than done, however, and the disruption of the pandemic compounded the challenge. In this “new normal,” how can customer-service organizations ensure they are fulfilling their critical missions and contributing to the growth and competitiveness of their businesses?
The processes and tools of yesterday can no longer keep up with the expectations of today. In this article, I want to share five strategic principles for better serving customers in 2021 and beyond.
1) Invest in employee satisfaction.
Customer service leaders indeed have a relentless focus on customer satisfaction, and rightfully so. This sometimes causes them to overlook a fundamental reality of contact center operations, however: Happy agents create happy customers. We believe high employee satisfaction is the foundation of high customer satisfaction. You cannot have one without the other — all other paths to contact center success grow from happy, high-performing agents.
This means giving agents a positive working environment, top-notch tools that help them do their best work, and confidence that their efforts will be rewarded as customer satisfaction increases and the business grows.
You can think of it as a continuous loop: It begins with employees’ outlooks and their on-the-job satisfaction, which then translates to improved customer outcomes and a growing business, which in turns boosts morale and opportunities within the organization — which again enhances customer experience, and so on
2) Embrace automation as another pillar of employee and customer happiness.
We all know that long times to resolution usually have a negative impact on customer satisfaction. They also harm employee satisfaction, too. In particular, the repetitive drudge work that often causes those longer resolution times tends to drag down employee outlooks.
Customer service operations need to proactively automate repetitive, manual work wherever possible, both to improve customer experience and also to boost agent morale — by freeing people up to work on more complex customer issues that require their human touch and talents.
Implementing AI-based automation to scan incoming communications (such as emails, tickets, and chats), for example, can help ensure that inbound interactions are properly routed to the right teams on the first attempt. (Contact center and help desk lag times are often created by improperly routed requests.)
This doesn’t need to be a complete automation, of the sort that makes people worry about their job security. Rather, it’s an implementation of the agent-assist strategy, in which a customer communication or issue arrives with relevant knowledge for the employee, which in turn helps the agent more rapidly resolve customer concerns and boosts satisfaction.
3) Modernize staffing and training practices.
The industry has increasingly realized that past methods of onboarding an agent — usually with a training period that lasted anywhere from several weeks to several months — is no longer relevant.
These processes for bringing new employees into the organization must be streamlined to both lay the groundwork for happy, productive agents and also to keep up with the pace of modern businesses. Organizations need faster on-boarding processes, shorter training programs, and more sophisticated customer service tools that enable their employees to work smarter and improve customer outcomes.
Modern knowledge management platforms play a pivotal role in this area. By giving contact center employees a “Google-like” platform that enables them to ask (in natural human language) any question they have about your company and its products and services — and receive clear, useful answers — you can actually spend less time on training. Instead, you’re giving agents the tools and information they need to quickly learn on the job, in a manner that is more empowering and stimulating than conventional training.
We have seen contact centers reduce their new-hire onboarding program from one month to literally one day, by making sure employees can find what they need themselves via a knowledge management platform.
4) Eliminate data silos.
Data is the lifeblood of any customer service operation. Without good information, agents can’t deliver good experiences to customers.
The problem that many organizations grapple with is that their data, while fundamentally valuable, is stored separately. Such data silos can occur along all sorts of lines, from business unit to region to application or tool. When these invisible walls pop up between your organization’s information, they cause fragmented customer experiences that degrade satisfaction.
Here’s a broad example of how data silos play out: If a customer speaks to an agent on the phone, they might get one answer to their question or concern. If that same customer asks their question via live chat, they might get a different answer. And they might get yet another different answer if they use a self-service tool.
In this scenario, customers receive inconsistent information and experiences from your business because the underlying data is kept separate (and different) for each channel. Contact center operations must have a single source of truth across all of their channels: Clear, consistent information that agents can rely on to get customers what they need, when they need it.
5) Adapt for the new remote/hybrid work reality.
I would be remiss not to put all of the above in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to remote/WFH operations that began in early 2020.
Many call center operations will continue to operate in a remote or hybrid capacity, even as some of the pandemic’s impacts on businesses ease. The growth of the work-from-home agent underscores the importance of investing in employee experience, ensuring that agents have excellent tools for communication and collaboration, and giving teams 24-7 access to the knowledge and data they need to best serve customers. “WFH” does not mean “mediocre customer service.” Your agents should be empowered to deliver top-notch service from anywhere, whether a traditional call center operation, their living room, or another location.
It ultimately boils down to information: Are you giving it to your agents in a consistent, readily accessible manner? This is what they need to answer customer questions, keep up-to-date with process, product, and plan updates, and be confident in their ability to do their jobs. Giving agents access to clear, current information is even more critical today to ensure the confidence and expertise of agents operating remotely without their support network of colleagues close by.
And when agents attain that confidence and expertise, your organization’s customers will notice — and be happier as a result.
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