• November 8, 2007
  • By Stan Dolberg, chief platform strategist, n2N Commerce

How to Duplicate Superstar Contact Center Agents (Without Cloning)

In most businesses, people are the most important asset. In contact centers, those assets are the front-line agents, the people who sit at the nexus point where service intersects with product to drive customer experience, branding, revenue, and profitability. Smart companies actively work at the agent level to make every customer touch a "smart touch" that builds loyalty and increases customer relationship value. They train and support best-practice customer interaction standards and measure everything. Despite these efforts, pursuing the goal of uniformly competent contact center agents is akin to chasing the Holy Grail. In fact, there is general agreement in the retail industry that fewer than 10 percent of agents occupy the tip of a steep pyramid of performance. These superstars are the agents who know their products and customers -- and the sometimes archaic software systems required to do their jobs -- so well that they are not just better than their peers, they are dramatically better. Superstars operate at a plane of efficiency, product knowledge, and sales skills that delights customers and yields tangibly better results. The Superstar Gap
This gap between the superstars and everyone else consists of several elements:
  • Experience in understanding and 'bucketing' customers;
  • Up-to-date product and campaign knowledge;
  • Sales and service techniques; and
  • Systems knowledge and skills.
High-level performance requires considerable mastery of these four elements. For many years, contact centers have sought ways to bridge the superstar gap by refining how agents are selected, trained, supported, and measured. Still, the gap has endured despite these best efforts, in large part because contact centers typically experience near-100-percent annual turnover, placing new personnel on the front lines in peak seasons with only basic training on products and systems. Do the math: When a customer calls a toll-free number, hoping to make an economic decision by getting pertinent, relevant information, advice, and guidance, they stand a less-than-10-percent chance of reaching an agent with those capabilities. Add the complexity of the multichannel consumer -- who shops the Web, the store, and the catalog in unpredictable ways -- and the chance of delighting the customer plummets to low single digits. "If only our superstars could be cloned," muses many a contact center executive. Given high and growing consumer expectations, closing the superstar gap requires a game-changing technology approach -- not add-ins and bolt-ons to today's green-screen mainframe environment. In fact, early attempts to use technology, such as expert systems, knowledge bases, or Web-based guided search have helped improve the overall quality of problem resolution, and have even helped answer narrow questions around product substitution. But these point capabilities do not enable average agents to engage dynamically with consumers to boost average order size, increase profitability, and drive up customer satisfaction. Changing the Game to Close the Superstar Gap What can be done to change the game, close the superstar gap, and address the growing multichannel consumer expectations? In short, the answer is to leverage new and emerging technologies to transform the contact center application into a multichannel command center, instead of today's single-channel electronic order pad. The new technologies include:
  • Flex for rich Internet application interfaces that can display a full dynamic array of multichannel customer, product, promotion, and shopping-cart views to the agent with remarkable efficiency;
  • e-service technologies that allow the agent to interact with the customer and to guide that customer to purchases on the Web as well as to answer customer inquiries through email and chat;
  • digitization technologies that allow the product assets of massive print catalogs to be quickly and efficiently searched and displayed to contact center agents on demand; and
  • personalization and recommendation engines that allow an average agent to tailor and tune the interaction with the customer to near-personal-shopper levels.
With these four basic technologies, retailers can take a new approach to supporting agents with systems that are architected to:
    1) Assemble a holistic multichannel view of customer segments; 2) Build a similarly holistic view of products, promotions, inventories, and campaigns; and 3) Dynamically bridge those two major elements to enable an average agent to conversationally engage with customers and guide them to larger, more profitable shopping bags and higher lifetime customer value.
The Payoff: Superstars Automatically Train the System By rethinking the contact center around a multichannel architecture and a holistic picture with advanced personalization at the core, the stage is set for a major payoff: With this new generation of attribute-based personalization and recommendation engines, contact center managers can essentially have their best agents train the system so that every agent will think and act like a superstar. This means that the actual step-by-step, click-by-click actions of the superstars can be harnessed to shape the recommended scripts, products, and promotions that the average agents will see from the system. Furthermore, the same smart recommendations will flow across channels to the self-service shopper on the Web. So, while human cloning will not address the superstar gap, new information technologies will go a long way to close it. Through these new technologies, the superstars will, in a virtual way, train new and seasonal employees, sit alongside junior agents to help them make decisions, and even help Internet shoppers by suggesting products as they serve themselves on the Web. As a result, retailers will lift average agent performance, slash training time, build customer loyalty, drive revenue and profitability up -- and leave competitors in the dust. About the Author Stan Dolberg is the Chief Platform Strategist for n2N Commerce, a commerce platform provider for large multichannel retailers.
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