Transform Agent Surveys into an Engine to Drive Better Customer Service

Contact center agents can have a huge impact on customer experience. Unhappy contact center agents equal unhappy customers. It's just that simple.

When unhappy or discontented, contact center agents can make customers' support experiences truly miserable. Agents have myriad ways to do so, but the more creative agents are like a puppet crammed into a jack-in-the-box: While predictable, they are always a jarring surprise nonetheless.

On the flip side, a helpful and personable agent can turn even unpleasant tasks into surprisingly winning interactions. Contact center managers need to keep their agents happy, if only to make it more likely that customers will have positive experiences.

In a drive to become customer obsessed, companies have shifted their technology spending more toward what Forrester terms the business technology (BT) agenda—technology, systems, and processes specifically designed to win, serve, and retain customers. Tools for contact agents, due to the direct way in which they support customers, clearly fit into the BT agenda.

However, not all contact center tools drive positive agent experiences. For example, tools overly focused on making agents efficient risk allowing agents to just breeze through tasks and disengage their mind from the processes of serving customers. That disconnection leads to discontentment.

Millennials in particular look for modern tools

Because their pay tends to be low, the population of contact center agents tends to be young. These young workers have grown up in a world of touchscreens, social networking, mobile technology, and always-on connectivity. Customer service managers provisioning agents with tools that have an even slightly dated interface risks creating a large mismatch between the tools agents expect and what they actually receive. At a technology conference last year, a presenter relayed a direct quote from a new agent about the agent-facing tools in the contact center. The agent said, "Why is this not like an iPhone?" Or, a simpler way to think of this: You can't give a green screen to an agent who grew up with touchscreens and expect good results.

And, as mentioned at the top, when agents are happier, customers tend to get better service. An example: A technology support company and business process outsourcer implemented technology that helps its agents get search results faster. The first-contact resolution for agents using the new tools — a critical metric for positive customer experience—increased from 83 percent to 86.5 percent. The agents were also happier. This shows the way in which the relationship between agent experience and customer experience is bidirectional.

But, of course, you need to better understand the agent experience before you can hope to meaningfully drive improvements in it. Contact center managers have polled their agents' feelings for many years, often in quarterly or annual employee surveys. But those surveys often mirror general employee surveys and surface the typical litany of complaints about supervisors and coworkers, inconveniences in the office, messy break rooms, and coffee that tastes like turpentine, as well as other issues that contribute only slightly to the true mind-set of agents. When trying to ascertain the true mood of the agent population, you should create surveying instruments that do the following:

  • Focus on the tools agents use every day. Agents rely on a complex set of tools to serve customers, and when those tools fail them, customer frustration rises. When the tools actually assist agents in their tasks, the tools improve the workplace. In fact, customer service workers who feel happy with the tools they use are more likely to be happy with their jobs—46 percent of customer service workers who are satisfied with their tools also claim to be happy to work at their company, compared to just 26 percent of those unhappy with the technology provided to them. This means you should concentrate much of your surveying efforts on the specifics of the agent-facing tools you supply to your contact centers. Is the desktop too crowded? Can agents complete tasks without copying and pasting? Are all the tools required to solve common customer concerns available in a single desktop frame?
  • Get agent input on what functions they think their tools need. Customers often muse about why customer service processes seem so broken. They're not alone. Agents often find themselves baffled by what the tools they use can and cannot do. In dozens of informal conversations with agents over the years, they have touched on issues from the lack of omnichannel context to the difficulty of invoking applications such as cobrowse or video sessions. Agents might have great ideas for better layouts of the desktop or new functionality to improve their experiences; you should include these items in agent surveys.

Ian Jacobs is a senior analyst at Forrester Research.