We’ve all heard the saying “the customer is always right.” The idiom has been adopted around the world and some variation of it can be found in just about every language. This is clearly a reflection of today’s immense focus on the customer experience. Unfortunately, as much as we wish we could, we can’t actually control the customer experience. It’s not a tangible object that we can sculpt and mold to suit our desires.

Our most valuable contribution to the customer experience is our influence – through the people, processes and technology upon which customer interactions depend. Of course, it’s ultimately with our customer service agents where those three factors converge to make or break each individual experience. However, with all of our focus on the customer, and on the goals, the metrics, staffing – you name it – it’s easy to lose sight of how very difficult a job our agents really have, and how much pressure we apply on them to perform exceptionally, even when the odds are stacked against them.

At Serenova we believe that a better agent experience makes for a better customer experience. How can you improve the agent experience? Getting back to basics and fundamentals, of course.

  1. Provide your agents with the best possible tools and technology. Nothing adds stress quite like having a system malfunction mid-call, or to get lost in “alt-tab hell” with multiple screens open. It’s difficult to remain calm when systems we expect to work fail us. Using a cloud-based and integrated, multichannel desktop can go a long way to making customer interactions smoother.
  2. Develop best practices for customer interactions—for every channel. Make sure your agents are equipped with guidelines for each type of customer interaction—and leave some room for personalization. After all, this is human interaction, not robotics. Give your agents the space to let some personality shine through. This not only humanizes your company, but it helps to give agents a sense of pride and personal ownership of the customer experience.  Overly scripted interactions and legal disclaimers make the experience dry and un-relatable. By adding a touch of personalization, we can revive and liven the experience.
  3. Establish a framework and train agents how to diffuse especially challenging situations before escalation. Agents should be proficient in the arts of active listening, empathy, negotiation, self-control, mirroring, and creative-problem solving. Some of the best customer service organizations have even started book clubs through which agents voluntarily read and learn about personal and professional development, comparing notes, and discussing how the principles learned can be applied in their daily interactions. This leads to a wide-reaching impact on agent self-esteem, confidence, and motivation, and also makes it significantly easier to identify the truly-driven rising star in your organization.
  4. Know your analytics to improve your planning for busy seasons. The holiday season is consistently one of the busiest times, which can lead to heighten stress levels in everyone, including agents. They are tasked with handling increased customer volume while maintaining high service standards, all with a smile on their face. Look at analytics from the same period of time last year, as well as your most recent period or busy time, to adequately manage staffing levels. Consider expanding your agent pool to allow you to quickly adjust staffing up or down as needed.
  5. Remember that your agents are human. It’s important to remember that no one is perfect. With high volume and high demand, mistakes are bound to happen. If we set expectations so high that any mistake is unacceptable, then our agents will mitigate their risk by following the scripts and not taking any chances, which can affect the outcome for the customer. If the agent isn’t able to take a risk for the benefit of the customer, we’re back to square one.
  6. Finally, it just can’t always be about work. The workplace should always incorporate some fun. Create contests and plan social events to drive team-building. Agents can be a great source of support for each other and by giving opportunities for team-building and personal interactions, you help keep agents engaged, empowered, and happy – and you’ll see the results on your dashboards.

The fact hasn’t changed that, yes, the customer matters. But one of the very best things you can do for them is to take exceptionally good care of your agents. Relieving agents of stress can lead to exceptional customer relations, even when times get tough. Check out my article for ICMI to learn more.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.