Despite Technological Advancements, Live Agents Are More Crucial Than Ever

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Customer satisfaction with contact centers continues to climb, reaching a score of 70 on a 100-point scale in the latest CFI Group Contact Center Satisfaction Index. The score was 68 in 2017.

The report attributes this increase in large part to improvement with agents themselves. It found that agent knowledge, in particular, has improved 4 percent since 2017, suggesting that customers generally feel that agents are better able to understand their issues and provide accurate information to address them. 

“What we’re seeing is that companies are putting in the training, they are making sure that agents have the tools and technology at their fingertips to help customers,” says Sheri Petras, CEO at CFI Group.

The report somewhat downplays the many technological advances in customer service. Petras pointed out that while many of these technologies “let agents be more effective more quickly,” they “aren’t necessarily customer-facing all the time.”

And although new technologies are changing the ways in which customer service is delivered, the role of the agent is not diminished, according to the report. In fact, 88 percent of customers who reach interactive voice response (IVR) systems still end up talking to live agents to resolve their issues, indicating that live agents remain as crucial as ever.

“As people become more able to self-serve, the role of the agent becomes more difficult. Most issues that come into agents now are too complicated to have a canned [response]…[from an] IVR or any of the new technologies,” Petras explains. 

She also emphasizes that IVR and other technologies should complement live agents. “As opposed to eliminating a customer having to go to a live agent…these technologies need to be viewed as a road to get to the agent, [or] a way to get the customer’s problem solved quickly. Oftentimes, that means getting them to the right agent, or for very easy things that people may call about frequently, it means making sure that those questions can be answered at the touch of a fingertip,” she says. “It’s not going to take away the need for live agents.”

The report also found that although the phone remains the preferred channel for customers (79 percent), other channels should not be ignored. Email stands at 20 percent, up from 14 percent in 2017; online chat is at 12 percent, up from 9 percent in 2017. Additionally, 11 percent use an online contact form, while 3 percent use Facebook. 

Digital properties—including websites, mobile apps, and social media pages—are other crucial components of customer service, the report asserts. It found that 72 percent of customers visit digital properties to resolve their issues before ever contacting customer service. More specifically, 57 percent went to company websites on a variety of devices (43 percent on laptops, 42 percent on tablets, 33 percent on desktops, and 12 percent on mobile phones), 15 percent went to company mobile apps, and 3 percent went to other properties, such as social media pages. Furthermore, 9 percent went to other websites, such as those of competitors or pages from search results. 

Yet with the surging popularity of digital means of contact, many companies measure and manage their digital properties separately from the contact center, the report found. This is a mistake, it asserts, noting that companies should view their digital properties as part of the customer service journey and should equip them with tools that help customers address service issues. It also suggests that companies should analyze their call data to identify opportunities for developing new self-help tools.

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