What makes quality customer service? Happy service agents

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It’s a given that service agents are a critical element of customer satisfaction. Speaking with an agent who is cheerful and helpful has a massive impact on brand perception – and on whether one is likely to buy more products and services.

On the flip side, we’ve all dealt with service agents who sound like they would rather be anywhere else on earth than speaking to customers. And yet, so little actual attention is paid to whether the individual service agent is happy — and the role that plays in providing quality customer service.

What makes quality customer service?

As customers, we want service that’s fast, friendly, and reliable. We want our question answered fast or problem fixed quickly. But that can’t happen unless the customer service agent has the right tools and is happy in their job.

It’s an issue that extends well beyond the outcome of an individual service call. For one thing, the work of a service agent is stressful by nature. Even before the pandemic, which vastly increased the pressure on call center employees, customer service organizations grappled constantly with a number of issues related to the difficulty of the job:

  • Prevalence of burnout. One report estimates that 74% of contact center agents are at risk of burnout, with 30% facing a severe burnout risk.
  • High attrition rates. According to ContactBabel, which analyzes trends in the call center industry, in the U.S. the mean turnover rate in Q4 of 2020 was 30%. If that sounds high, it was actually lower than the prior year numbers.
  • Cost of replacing staff who depart. Although it’s difficult to pin down the exact cost of replacing call center staff, QATC, which tracks call center trends, estimates that it can cost upwards of $10k to recruit and hire a new service agent.

In short, there are very real and significant business risks associated with unhappy, highly stressed service agents. The question is, what can be done to mitigate these risks and improve customer service quality?

Quality customer service & agent retention

One issue that ContactBabel highlights is the sheer drudgery of the job – in fact, the repetitive nature of the job is one of the top reasons cited for service agents leaving their job.

Whether it’s endlessly searching knowledge bases or  dealing repeatedly with the same sets of, it’s not surprising that service agents become frustrated. And when you combine high stress with the monotony, you end up with a less-than-optimal scenario for retaining high-performing workers who provide quality customer service.

If the challenge of retaining top-notch customer service agents can appear daunting, the good news is that creative approaches to improving the role – often based on intelligent technologies – are showing real promise.

To make the greatest impact, these solutions will need to help address the three key factors called out by ContactBabel as having the greatest positive impact on service agent satisfaction:

  1. Improved knowledge management
  2. Unified omni-channel agent desktop
  3. Empowerment, i.e., the ability to make decisions that help customers

Smart tech improves agent life, boosts customer satisfaction

As it turns out, solutions based on intelligent technologies can make a distinct difference in terms of reducing the number of repetitive tasks that agents are obliged to perform, giving them can time to spend on more meaningful interactions with customers.

One company that utilized this approach with great success is DuluxGroup, a brand well known in Australia and New Zealand for trusted products such as garage door openers.

What DuluxGroup put in place was a service ticket automation process — essentially, an AI-driven approach to tasks such as issue classification that would otherwise be accomplished manually be customer service agents.

This not only made life easier for the agents, it helped solve customer issues more quickly. Consequently, customer satisfaction soared.

Happy service agents = customer loyalty

Another company that has made the customer-agent interaction a distinct focus is renewable energy supplier Mercury.

What’s distinct about Mercury is that, whereas most energy companies are heavily geared toward obtaining new customers, their strategy is to build long-term relationships with customers based on outstanding, quality customer service.

By encouraging agents to focus on building relationships – versus, for example, expediting calls as quickly as possible – Mercury was able to reduce staff turnover while getting “highly satisfied” marks from 64% of their customers.

These are great examples of companies that are producing quality customer service by focusing on keeping service agents happier in the job. As more companies begin to recognize the crucial role that agents play in the overall success of their business, the number of such examples will surely grow.

Learn more about the future of customer service HERE.

 

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Kirsi Tarvainen

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