Most people outside of the customer service industry still have a mental picture of female call center agents lined up in neat rows, wearing headsets and sternly speaking with befuddled customers. While customers may remain confused, the call center has grown up, employing technology such as analytics and big data.
To be sure, while new technology is enormously helpful and critical for success, more and more companies have begun to question traditional metrics that agents are measured by, such as average handle time (AHT) or average talk time. While they were once thought of as de rigueur, companies are beginning to consider metrics an old school tool.
Successful Contact Centers Begin with New Hires
Contact centers are still measuring operational metrics instead of managing human emotions and behavior, agrees Jeanne Bliss of CustomerBliss. While this is important, companies are not spending enough time being clear about who they should hire. After agents are hired, Bliss believes they should be allowed to flourish instead of being boxed in by company edicts.
Bliss recommends that companies have a very clear idea about how they are hiring. While companies need to provide call center agents with training, they should also trust them and give them tools and information to allow them to have the time to listen and understand what the customer is going through, she says.
Companies should be developing agents and giving them the tools and the autonomy to understand the customer's life, says Bliss. They should be enabling them to help a customer based on their own life, versus a set of arbitrary rules.
"[Agents] should have the tools and the ability to save the customer from what they're going through versus only being able to spout out a bunch of processes and rules [that] don't let them do what they know is right or what they could do if they had the right training and tools," she says.
"[Companies] need to educate and enable call center agents to understand who the customer is, and provide the agents with options. They need to be proactive," Bliss adds.
Successful Call Center Agents: Don't Fence Me In
Bliss' contention concerning metrics is echoed by other industry insiders, including vendors such as CorvisaCloud.
Matt Lautz, CIO and president of CorvisaCloud, says that his company is seeing call centers acknowledge that there is a need—and a real desire—to change.
"When you start looking at your contact center around customer success and not looking at just traditional metrics, things begin to fall into place," Lautz says.
Lautz relates a personal experience he had when he called American Express with an issue. The agent that answered his call said, "How can I make this call easy for you?" Lautz explained his problem to the agent, who said she would handle the entire situation because she didn't want Lautz to have to be transferred to another agent.
"I've told [people] that story because I love how American Express focused on customer service. I can promise you that average talk time was not [the major concern]," Lautz says. "We were on the phone about fifteen to twenty minutes. If all you did was look at an average talk time report, you would look at that agent and say, 'Why were you on the phone for so long? You didn't handle as many calls.'
"But here's how I look at it. I've told countless people how cool the experience was. I also didn't have to do a repeat call, which is a huge cost savings [for the company]. And I'm happy. It was a happy, successful customer interaction."
Lautz also described a far less satisfying scenario, in which a call center agent couldn't resolve his issue and was perhaps constrained by AHT criteria. After a certain amount of time, the agent actually hung up. This spurred Lautz to do business with a competing company, even though he had to pay $100 more for the same product.
"The moral of the story is that call center reporting shouldn't be looked at in a vacuum," Lautz says. "You want people to be talking about how great that [customer service experience] was. You can't do that if you're not looking at it holistically in your reporting."