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Agent-customer experience strengthened by workforce management
Customer service is a people business. When a customer interacts with a company at the point of contact, a friendly, knowledgeable, nimble and technically trained workforce can make all the difference between a good and bad customer experience — between brand loyalty and disloyalty.
Many technologies are available to improve and exploit customer interactions with the contact center as well as assist agents and expedite conversations. They include tools for call routing, interactive voice response, the voice of the customer, predictive dialing, and CRM. Sympatico with these workforce assistance tools is contact center workforce management. WFM software can forecast the volume of customer interactions, build agent schedules across channels, allocate contact center resources, measure agent performance and help transform a cost center into a profit center as contact centers increasingly implement AI and automation and migrate operations to the cloud.
By 2023, at least 95% of new WFM applications will be based on cloud deployment models, Gartner reported. The research firm also predicted that, by 2025, 40% of large businesses with hourly-paid workers and labor on demand will use automation for workforce scheduling decisions, and 75% will have invested in WFM to support digital workplace experiences. All of which coincides with a global WFM market forecast to grow more than 10% annually and top $10 billion in 2024, according to consultancy Market Research Future.
Businesses will have to make these investments just to keep pace with increasingly technically savvy customers. IDC sees 65% of consumers using voice, images, and augmented reality to interact with companies over their mobile devices by 2023.
This handbook examines the evolving contact center and the changing needs of its workforce. First, we look at some of the workforces challenges facing contact centers and the tools and techniques, including contact center workforce management analytics, to overcome those hurdles and improve the agent experience. Next, customer experience is the prime mover in companies beefing up their contact center with technologies that increase the presence of their agents on multiple channels. Finally, read about the pros and cons of contact center call routing methods.
Contact center agent experience needs a massive overhaul
Gone are the days when it is acceptable to have greater than 40% turnover rates among contact center agents.
Leading organizations are revamping the contact center agent experience to improve business metrics, such as operational costs, revenue, and customer ratings; and a targeted agent program keeps companies at a competitive advantage, according to the Nemertes 2019-20 Intelligent Customer Engagement research study of 518 organizations.
CX leaders participating in the research pointed to several issues responsible for a failing contact center agent experience:
• Low pay. In some organizations it’s at minimum wage, despite requirements for bachelor’s degrees and/or experience.
• Dead-end job. Organizations typically do not have a growth path for agents. They expect them to last 18 months to two years, and there always will be a revolving door of agents coming and going.
• Lack of customer context. Agents find it difficult to take pride in their work when they don’t have the right tools. Without CRM integrations, AI assistance and insightful agent desktops, it is difficult to delight customers.
• Cranky customers. Agents also find it difficult to regularly interact with dissatisfied customers. With a better work environment, more interaction channels, better training, more analytics and context, they could change those attitudes.
• No coaching. Because supervisors are busy interviewing and hiring to keep backfilling the agents who are leaving, they rarely have time to coach the agents they have. What’s more, they don’t have the analytics tools — from contact center vendors such as Avaya, Cisco, Five 9, Genesys and RingCentral; or from pure-play tools such as Clarabridge, Medallia, and Maritz CM — to provide performance insight.
Those in the contact center know this has been the status quo for decades, but that is starting to change.
One of the big change drivers is the addition of a chief customer officer (CCO). Today, 37% of organizations have a CCO, up from 25% last year. The CCO is an executive-level individual with ultimate responsibility for all customer-facing activities and strategies to maximize customer acquisition, retention, and satisfaction.
The CCO has a budget, staff, and the attention of the entire C-suite. As a result, high agent turnover rates are no longer flying under the radar. After bringing the issue to CEOs and CFOs, they are investing resources into turning around the turnover rates.
Additionally, organizations value contact centers more today, with 61% of research participants saying the company views the contact center as a “value center” versus a “cost center.” Four years ago, that figure was reversed, with two-thirds viewing the contact center as a cost center.
Companies are adding more outbound contact centers, targeting sales or proactive customer engagement — such as customer check-ups, loyalty program invitations, and discount offers — and they are supporting new products and services. This helps to explain why, despite the growth in self-service and enabled digital channels, 44% of companies actually increased the number of agents in 2019, compared to 13% who decreased, 40% who were flat and 3% unsure.
Research shows there are five common changes organizations are now making to improve the contact center agent experience and reduce the turnover rate — now at 21%, down from 38% in 2016. These changes include:
• Improved compensation plan. Nearly 47% of companies are increasing agent compensation, compared to the 7% decreasing it. The increase ranges from 22% to 28%. Average agent compensation is $49,404, with projected increases up to $60,272, minimally, by the end of 2020.
• Investment in agent analytics. About 24% of companies are using agent analytics today, with another 20.2% planning to use the tools by 2021. Agent analytics provides data on performance to help with coaching and improvement, in addition to delivering real-time screen pops to help agents on the spot during interactions with customers. Those using analytics see a 52.6% improvement in revenue and a 22.7% decrease in operational costs.
• Increases in coaching. By delivering data from analytics tools, supervisors have a better picture of areas of success and those that need improvement. By using a product such as Intradiem Contact Center RPA, they can automate the scheduling of training and coaching during idle times.
• Addition of gamification. Agents are inspired by programs that inject competitiveness among agents, by awarding badges for bragging rights, weekly gift cards for top performance and monthly cash bonuses. Such rewards improve their loyalty to the company and reduce turnover.
• Development of career path. Successful companies are developing a solid career path with escalations into marketing, product development, and supervisory roles in the contact center or CX apps/analysis.
Developing a solid game plan that provides agents with the compensation, support and career path they deserve will drastically reduce turnover rates. In a drastic example, one consumer goods manufacturing company reduced agent turnover from 88% to 2% with a program that addressed the aforementioned issues. More typically, companies are seeing 5% to 15% reductions in their turnover rates one year after developing such a plan.