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Agent Insight #4: 3 Ways to Empower Call Center Agents

Experts in the contact center space often discuss the topic of empowering call center agents, but rarely is it looked at through the lens of the agents themselves. So, we decided to do just that. In this post, we highlight three keys to empowering agents that set the stage to delight customers and keep agents fulfilled in their roles.

As we found in our agent interviews and studying the research, customers love empowered agents, and agents are more satisfied when they’re free to help customers unimpeded.

  1. Allow Call Center Agents to Shoulder Responsibilities.
    As much as empowerment is about delegating authority to agents, it’s also gaining buy-in from the agents to embrace their responsibilities.  When we sat down with one of our veteran agents, Claude, he noted that it’s okay to give responsibility to the agents, whether it’s a training exercise or a way to “wow” the customer.He went on to explain, “By the time an agent is on the phones, that agent should know exactly how to respond to each situation. On a complex customer service project, hard skills and procedures needed to be drilled down deeply. During our training, we learned the top 20 (or 80%) types of calls inside and out. However, this didn’t account for another 20% of calls that we would ultimately encounter. The team leader gave the agents the responsibility – and we accepted – to “self-learn” the other call procedures. Using our knowledge of the other calls, peer knowledge, and a knowledge base, the agents came up to speed. And actually, our performance on those calls beat out other call processes in some instances.”When a contact center hires quality agents and trains them sufficiently, they can have faith that these same agents will be prepared to handle questions the call center hasn’t anticipated. And these agents can (and should) carry the responsibilities entrusted to them.
  2. Provide Relevant, Timely Insights to Call Center Agents
    Jacques, another long-time agent at Blue Ocean, said, “One of the most frustrating things for a company, an agent, or a customer is wrong or delayed information. This can happen when there’s a disconnect between what a company wants and what agents are saying to customers. Without the right information at the right time, the agent has little ability to go outside the norm and help a customer get what they need. “If a change in process is proposed, get the change to the agent as quickly as possible. Jacques clarified, “When a decision is made at the highest levels of a company, work hard to get that information to frontline agents ASAP.  If a change in process needs to be implemented, agents cannot satisfy a company’s (or a customers’) expectations until correct processes are firmly established.”

    In this scenario, the agent ends up at a dead end with the customer and needs to escalate the issue to another center or to be followed up with at a later time.  This is almost always a source of frustration for customers who do not want to be passed from person to person to get an issue resolved.

  3. Simplify the Tools.
    Technology can either enable empowerment or thwart it.  Having more tools and multiple applications does not necessarily equal a better agent experience.  We found that our agents prefer simple interfaces. Jacques noted, “On the kind of call where every second counts, it’s very difficult to navigate through a slew of complicated tools and focus on the customer. The calls run smoother with a unified agent interface and access to the data I need to best help the customer.”Empowerment can be somewhat of a quandary to the typical call center environment. In our world, nearly everything is measureable and reportable. Contact center outsourcers, for instance, are held to high standards on managing SLAs, escalation processes, and governance, which leaves little room for deviating from the “system.”  Even though there are tools and technologies to help empower agents, it’s nearly impossible to measure or train people to be empowered. The term “empower” itself is an ambiguous term up for interpretation at varying degrees of “delegation of responsibility.”

    Nevertheless, in an effort to deliver optimal customer service experiences, there’s a fine line in getting agents to follow a process without inhibiting them from solving customer service problems that fall outside of the process.

    Take Zappos.com, for example, where agents have the leeway to “Wow” customers by writing thank you cards or the very famous case of ordering pizzas for customers.  Another oft-cited example is Ritz Carlton’s policy enabling employees to “make things right” at a cost of up to $2000.

It’s not just about giving customers that ultimate experience by giving out pizzas or hiring a carpenter to build a shoe tree for a guest.   There’s an agent retention benefit as well. As any contact center recruiting team will tell you, considerable time and effort goes into hiring qualified agents – recruiting, interviewing, checking references, and testing for fit, aptitude, and skills.  In an industry where employee attrition is an on-going challenge to be overcome, when agents are empowered, they’re more likely to remain happily employed. The recruiting team will love that. And customers and clients will too.

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