How to Empower Agents to Become Super Agents

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Contact center automation has been around for decades. But despite all the advances in technology, customers don’t like talking to chatbots or intelligent virtual agents today any more than they did the rudimentary interactive voice response systems in the 1970s and 1980s, preferring in most cases to speak to a human agent as quickly as possible.

Contact center technology marches on nonetheless, and with advances in artificial intelligence, there is little doubt that more of the mundane and repetitive jobs performed by Tier 1 agents will soon be automated. Agents currently working in those positions will not disappear entirely; many will become Tier 1.5 or Tier 2 agents, seamlessly shifting to more complex work that requires them to engage with customers in a personal way that is simply impossible for machines today.

These agents, whom many refer to as “super agents,” will require more specialized training if they are to have any chance of keeping up with technology.

Matt Miles, vice president of learning and development at call center services provider Liveops, notes that the rise of automation has increased the demand for live agents. “We’re at an interesting inflection point with customer service: We’ve gone from full automation and the push for chatbots back to live call center agents as a result of customer demand for human interaction,” he says.

“Now that the trend of human-to-human interaction is on the rise once again, there’s no surprise that there’s a push for better or ‘super’ agents,” he explains.

That push is being driven by the fact that these so-called super agents cultivate soft skills that make them more effective at interacting with customers than machines, according to Nicole Granucci, senior director of product marketing for Salesforce.com’s Service Cloud. A super agent, she says, is “someone who is rising above the traditional skill set and is aspiring to learn and demonstrate a new level of excellence in customer service, someone who goes far above and beyond simply handling cases. This person is a customer service expert, leading by example with a high level of emotional intelligence and empathy.”

Super agents, Granucci continues, “will embrace the human side of service for their companies, using their business acumen to understand the best way to resolve cases quickly and effectively while building lasting relationships with customers.”

And here, too, AI will play a huge role, according to Graeme Provan, global director of business automation at contact center software provider Genesys. “Tomorrow’s super agents will be regular agents with skills augmented through artificial intelligence,” he says. “The super agent will be a strong listener with the ability to understand the psychology of good customer experience…and be augmented with context-sensitive artificial intelligence to easily shift between channels…to make every journey moment authentic, brand-aligned, and personal.”

CLASS IS IN SESSION

While some of the skills needed to become the super agents that everyone expects are innate, most will have to be cultivated. The sooner the training starts, the better, experts agree.

The type of training and how it is administered is shifting dramatically, says Daniel Foppen, senior principal product manager at Oracle, who sees a shift in focus from productivity to connecting with customers in a personal way. Training now is all about empowering agents to show more empathy, to answer the right questions, and to build rapport with customers, he explains.

Foppen goes on to say that companies should allow agents to embrace their individuality, holding true to who they are, their own preferences, and their own style of communication. “You cannot fake that. You cannot fake passion. You cannot fake building real rapport,” he says.

At the same time, Foppen sees another shift that is less about training agents to be as consistent and on-brand as possible and more about being as authentic as possible. “That’s what’s really going to build strong relationships with customers,” he says.

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