Agent Experience Is the Weakest Link in the Experience Supply Chain

Post pandemic, we have been hearing about supply chain issues for physical goods almost every day and feel the pain ourselves when we look to buy things. Less understood is the experience supply chain—how the customer experience (CX) is affected by the contact center agent experience (AX) in resolving customer issues and by the business experience (BX), which is the experience of employees involved with customer service operations who might not be on the front lines, such as contact center managers, knowledge authors, and IT managers.

It is common knowledge that AX has been the weakest link in the experience supply chain. Agent churn is as high as 50 percent, far higher than that of other stakeholder groups. Here is a sampling of the state of AX found on Quora.com:

"The level of burnout due to psychological stress is very high. Anxiety attacks, crying jags, depression, rage, and sleep problems are common."

"We were all placed on 90 days probation, and I didn't realize it at the time, but there would only be about five of us left ... at the three-month mark."

"I lasted there nine months before I had had it. Call center burnout is common."

This is not surprising since 84 percent of agents hate their desktop tools, with just 12 percent saying that they help simplify their day-to-day work, according to research by Gartner. Here is the worrying news: The weakest link might get even weaker unless contact centers take preemptive action to avoid it.

The Worrying Trend

According to a survey of U.S.-based contact center agents by BenchmarkPortal, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of agents said customer queries are getting more complex. This is not surprising since customer self-service systems have been getting smarter, deflecting questions of low to medium complexity, leaving mostly complex ones for human agents. Additional findings include the following:

  • 64 percent of agents said they do not have modern knowledge tools to provide them conversational AI guidance.
  • 33 percent said they go Neanderthal, poring over documents. Some would ask colleagues.
  • 31 percent struggled with hundreds of search hits.
  • 42 percent of novice agents said they are stressed when the customer is on the line.

No wonder CX, which is at the end node of the experience supply chain, takes two steps back every time it takes a step forward. It took a hit again in 2022, according to the latest Forrester Customer Experience Index Rankings report for U.S. companies. Forrester assessed 13 industries and found that the average CX quality declined in 11 of them, and, yet again, not a single U.S. company offered excellent customer service based on its evaluation criteria.

Here is the good news: Forward-looking organizations are not only averting the looming AX crisis but are positioning themselves for enduring customer and agent loyalty by reimagining knowledge management with an omnichannel knowledge hub that unifies and orchestrates the essential building blocks needed for modern knowledge management—content management, profiled content access, intent inference, search methods, conversational artificial intelligence, integrations, and analytics—in one unsiloed platform. The hub approach creates one trusted source for knowledge, bolstering agent confidence in the system. Conversational AI guides agents through customer conversations with next-best things to say and do based on best practices captured from experts, whether it is to help them find answers, resolve problems, or provide advice. Analytics helps optimize knowledge performance and thus experience improvements over time.

Success Stories

Many of our enterprise clients have been leveraging knowledge hubs to realize quick business value and transform stakeholder experiences, including AX. Here are some examples:

  • A hypergrowth SaaS company saw a 60 percent improvement in agent confidence, 35 percent improvement in finding the right answer, and 62 percent improvement in consistency of answers.
  • A premier health insurance firm reduced agent training time by 33 percent, even as agents had to go remote overnight due to COVID lockdowns.
  • A mammoth government agency deflected up to 70 percent of incoming calls to digital self-service, while achieving a 92 percent score in agent engagement, beating out the industry benchmark of 67 percent by a big margin.
  • A telco giant improved first-contact resolution by 37 percent and Net Promoter Score by 30 points, while improving agent speed to competency by 50 percent with a modern knowledge hub deployed across more than 10,000 contact center agents and associates in more than600 retail stores.

Knowledge management it is the #1 technology for enhancing operational performance, CX, and employee experience, according to Gartner. In other words, knowledge can strengthen the entire experience supply chain, not just fix the weakest AX link. The knowledge renaissance is upon us; let us embrace it and flourish.


Anand Subramanian is senior vice president of marketing at eGain.