Companies, You Have to Invest in Your Agents

Article Featured Image

COMPANIES have been trying for years to automate the agent into obsolescence, but chatbots just can’t do what we humans can do. And if you ask me? ChatGPT or no, it’ll stay like that for a while yet. It’s a weird irony—as automation increases, the agent skill floor actually rises. With chatbots managing all the simple inquiries, agents are left to handle the most complex and emotionally charged conversations. The problem? The dream of a humanless contact center has, unsurprisingly, stunted innovation in solutions for human agents.

But things are changing! I’ve never seen so much energy around agent augmentation, and it’s a super-exciting time in contact center tech as a result. Companies are deploying technologies to support agents during customer conversations to drive both improved efficiency and effectiveness. There’s a bunch of different flavors of augmentation, be it automatically summarizing after-call notes, surfacing relevant knowledge articles on the fly, or completing actions on agents’ behalf in back-end systems.

I had a client tell me once that their average customer calls them maybe two to three times a year. Those two to three calls represent the only opportunities to engage with that customer one-on-one, so you should want to invest in making those moments really shine. And to do that, you have to invest in your agents!

But improving the agent workflow is ... well, hard. Agent workflows tend to be extremely complex; there’s a heap of different systems supporting processes with nuanced decision points that make them hard to automate. And then of course there’s the adoption problem—change management for 50, 100, 1,000 agents is tricky as heck.

Over the years I’ve talked to many operations leaders, and one of the biggest mistakes they make is underestimating the importance of having a strategy for agent adoption. They’ll say something like “Well, we’ll just tell them to use it.” Oh yeah? Good luck with that.

A little mantra to paste up on your wall:

Your agents aren’t paid to care about your million-dollar software investment. They’re paid to care about delivering good customer service.

It’s your job to make the delivery of quality customer service as easy as it can be.

OK, OK, I hear you. It’s all so easy to say, but so much harder to do. The key to ensuring your agents use the thing you bought for them? Make sure it’s as valuable for them as it is for the business. I’ve seen far too many demos with real-time cues showing up on the agent’s screen that say something like “Your customer is frustrated! Show empathy.” I hate to be a Negative Nancy here, but if the customer’s frustration was obvious enough for the machine to pick it up, chances are the agent got the memo.

So for the love of God, just talk to them. I wouldn’t even need hands to count the amount of times companies brought their agents in to co-evaluate agent-facing solutions when I was on the vendor side (because it’s happened zero times, if the hands-less visual wasn’t clear). To pile on to that, too few vendors have dedicated efforts around usability testing and UX research. We need to do better.

I can appreciate that this month’s column might’ve come across a little preachy. I thought about pulling it back, but then thought the better of it. So let me shout it out: Agent enablement matters! Solicit their feedback! Learn to listen!

You can’t ignore the experience of the people delivering on your brand’s CX promise. Without them, you will not achieve your CX goals—because they are the ones doing it for you

Christina McAllister is senior analyst, Forrester Research, covering customer service and contact center technology, strategy, and operations.

CRM Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues