Customer Service Unplugged

Image credit: iStockphoto/Aleksei Morozov

When you strip a song down to its base, you end up with a simple acoustic version, free of overproduction or electronic distractions. The most striking example of this for me is Eric Clapton’s version of “Layla” from MTV Unplugged. When you strip a contact center down to its base, you end up with one-on-one human experiences: customers talking to agents.

That one-on-one experience is being strained in significant ways. Pandemics, inflation, wars in Europe — we as humans are not necessarily at our best these days, and we all need more empathy than ever. AI and chatbots are taking over the simple interactions that used to give agents a mindless moment or two between the more challenging interactions. Working from home leaves agents feeling alone and isolated. An agent drained and taxed is thoroughly challenged to deliver empathetic customer service even when it’s needed most.

For brands, this creates issues. A customer in need of a good, empathetic experience is an opportunity that matters; when that moment is missed, customer loyalty suffers. During a time when employment is low and opportunities abound, agents often bail out for greener pastures, taking already-high agent turnover rates and pushing them even higher.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking into the phenomenon, and I just released a report based on what I learned called Customer Service Unplugged: How To Scale Empathetic Customer Service. In the report, I’ve focused in on five things that brands can do to improve the agent experience and to send more empathy to a starved world:

  1. Hire the right agents and indoctrinate them properly. As your customer interactions become more fraught and challenging, you need to look more at the soft skills and emotional intelligence of the agents you hire. Once you have the right people, you need to give them proper training to align with your organization and its beliefs.
  2. Avoid a myopic focus on efficiency metrics. You get what you measure. Too much focus on average handle time or average speed of answer will often produce unintended consequences that create negative customer experiences and put undue stress on the agent.
  3. Deploy technology that allows the agent to focus on the customer. It is hard for an agent to really listen and understand what a customer is saying if that agent is busy jumping across five different back-end solutions to get the answer to a single question.
  4. Build a positive work environment where your agents can thrive. Making agents feel appreciated and valued gives them something to pay forward to a brand’s customers — an obvious statement but something to which contact center management must commit to make a difference.
  5. Teach your whole brand the value of your contact center. Customer service is too often overlooked and underappreciated. Sharing customer interactions with upper management by having company leaders do “ride-alongs” in the contact center can open eyes to the customer experience and raise the profile of the contact center.

It really comes down to this: Empathy in equals empathy out. Properly supporting your agents is critical for the success of your contact center and to building the best possible relationships with your customers. It sounds easy and obvious, but it requires focus and a very specific mindset.

Here’s hoping some of these ideas can help.

The original article by Max Ball, Forrester's principal analyst, is here.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CDOTrends. Image credit: iStockphoto/Aleksei Morozov