Four Steps to Reduce Agent Effort

The past few years have seen a transformation in corporate culture as service leaders have finally started to recognize the importance of the agent experience (AX) in their broader customer service strategies. This shift has been a long time coming; while customer-centricity is a top priority for companies, this often means the needs of agents get overlooked.

The business case for ensuring your agents are happy and satisfied at work is strong. Happy agents mean happy customers, and the well-established correlation between a positive agent experience and a positive customer experience is backed up by research. A recent contact center study found a conclusive link between happiness and productivity, with happy workers proving 13 percent more productive. Similarly, the survey also reinforced the importance of optimizing your AX, with companies with highly engaged employees outperforming competitors by 147 percent.

Focusing on the agent experience not only means your agents will be more friendly and engaged with your customers, boosting your CX, but also, crucially, will reduce agent turnover. Agent turnover is a perennial problem in the customer service industry, with high rates of attrition meaning companies must constantly invest in hiring and training new agents.

However, despite the undeniable evidence linking good AX with good CX, agent disengagement and attrition is a persistent problem for service leaders. So, what practical measures can CX leaders take to improve AX? The answer lies in minimizing agent effort.

At present, agents are overwhelmed with heavy workloads and lacking both the knowledge and the tools to help solve customers' queries most effectively. I've identified four clear steps to take to reduce agent effort, allowing companies to tackle both agent and customer pain points in one.

Step 1: Automate Repetitive Tasks.

Automating repetitive agent tasks is one of the quickest and easiest ways to reduce agent effort. This doesn't mean automating everything; there are still many situations in which your customers need that human touch. Automate strategically. Identify the tasks that don't need to be done by humans and leave complex tasks for your agents. Having a hybrid human-bot system frees up time for your agents, allowing them to give their full attention to the interactions that really matter.

Chatbots used to be a dirty word in the CX industry, as fears abounded that they would spell the death of the frontline agent. However, these rumors were greatly exaggerated. As chatbot technology has matured, their value has become more and more apparent. To take advantage of this, employ chatbots to complete low-value repetitive tasks, such as running authentication checks and gathering basic customer information.

CX leaders can also leverage other automated processes, such as intelligent routing that uses AI to proactively connect customers with the right agents based on the nature of their queries and the prioritization of the customer (using customizable parameters). This can reduce both customer and agent frustrations. Quick text macros, which work with your agents to identify the most frequently used responses and determine standardized responses to deploy, similarly enable both faster and more consistent responses for customers. Automatic tagging prevents agents from having to do this manually, and type-ahead saves agents time by allowing them to respond quicker.

Step 2: Decrease the Number of Tools and Views.

Having a fragmented user experience is one of the main sources of agent effort. Having to master and manage across many systems and tools to serve customers is not just inefficient but frustrating for agents, especially when multiple channels can be consolidated easily into a single platform. Despite this, three-quarters of agents report needing to switch frequently between apps to solve customer inquiries.

The good news is this can easily be solved by investing in an integrated interface that brings all of your tools and views under one umbrella. Doing so both reduces agents' emotional response to increasingly complex workloads and creates a more consistent experience for agents and customers. Companies are already beginning to recognize the importance of having a seamless interface, with 47 percent of companies reporting reducing agent effort is a top priority for technology investments in 2022.

Step 3: Empower Agents with Contextual Knowledge.

If your agents can't readily access the information they need to solve customer inquiries, their job is made much harder, and for no good reason. Having to start from the beginning every time is frustrating for agents and customers alike and is one of the main predictors of frontline disengagement. Indeed, a recent study found that 74 percent of agents feel that improving content and knowledge delivery is important or very important to their success.

To address this concern, CX leaders must ensure their agents can access a single source of truth, ideally integrated into their CRM. Agents should have all the available information about customers' inquiries, interaction histories, and the options available to them at their fingertips, without having to flick through various views and tools.

Step 4: Measure Agent Effort.

Last but by no means least, check in with your agents regularly to understand their pain points and the main sources of effort. Nobody knows more about this than your agents, so draw on this knowledge to improve their everyday experience. The Customer Effort Score is a foundational CX metric, and the same logic can be applied in the Agent Effort Score (AES) to understand triggers for disengagement and attrition.

Establish a baseline and track AES over time to understand what is and isn't working and address the aspects you can improve. This shows your agents not just that you're listening and appreciate their work, but also that you're making concrete efforts to do so. And for good reason: your agents are the face, heart, and voice of your company, and if you take care of them the customers will take care of themselves.

Devin Poole is senior director of CX strategy at Dixa.