Don't Blame the Contact Center Agent

When consumers have a bad customer service experience, which happens way too often, they typically blame the agent. The agent is the company representative who delivered the bad news or didn't do what was wanted or needed.

Unfortunately, agents are commonly only guilty of doing what they were trained, or constrained, to do. Typically, agents must abide by strict guidelines concerning the type, dollar amount, and frequency of adjustments they can make for customers; they have little latitude to extend a promotional offer or upgrade a product or service; and they are blocked from expediting an installation, service call, or repair visit, etc. In many instances, the systems they use are outdated, inflexible, and don't contain the information they need to fully resolve an issue.

Agents are required to adhere to established and sometimes outdated policies, as is the case when companies apply phone-centric policies to social media interactions. And when it comes to sales and collections, agents are often scripted, and even when they know they shouldn't say something that is required of them, they must follow the guidelines. If they don't, they can be penalized during the quality management process that checks to see how well agents comply with policies and procedures.

It's true that some people are not cut out to be contact center agents or customer service reps, whose primary job is interacting with a customer base that is not always patient and polite. Many of these individuals exit the contact center on their own, often during training, when they realize what the job entails. (Which is a good thing.) Agents who fall into this category and continue in the role represent a small percentage of what consumers consider bad agents. Agents more frequently start out with good intentions and skills, then become frustrated and negative when they realize they are not supported with the right training, processes, management, and systems to do their jobs.

It's difficult to be an outstanding and empathetic customer service, sales, or collections agent when a company does not live up to its side of the bargain. And today, when artificial intelligence (AI) and automation-enabled systems and solutions are readily available to identify struggling agents and provide the necessary coaching, training, assistance, and support, it's unforgiveable. Here are some of the systems and applications that companies should use to ensure they hire people with the right skills for the job and to position them to succeed:

  • Intelligent hiring solutions that apply AI during the selection process to identify best-fit candidates with the characteristics of the organization's most successful agents.
  • Interaction analytics (IA) that passively identify customer intents, needs, wants, emotion, and sentiment, enabling agents to optimize the outcome of the interaction for both the customer and the company.
  • Analytics-enabled quality management (AQM) that uses IA and automation to evaluate 100 percent of customer interactions, uncover agent training gaps, notify agents and their supervisors of improvement opportunities, and automatically deliver necessary skills-based training and coaching.
  • Knowledge management solutions that deliver context-relevant guidance or information in real time to agents, customers, self-service applications, and partners, serving as the company's single source of truth.
  • Real-time guidance/next-best-action applications that listen to or read both sides of an agent/customer conversation to guide agents to correctly handle each inquiry and/or make the optimal sales or retention offer.
  • Post-interaction summarization that uses IA technology to automate summarizing why the customer reached out, how the agent handled the interaction, and promises the agent made during the discussion.
  • Intelligent business automation that identifies automation opportunities and provides low-code/no-code development environments to assist business users in building the automation.
  • Intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) that invite customers to interact with them conversationally, making it much easier for customers to successfully help themselves.

Some of these solutions are recent market entrants, and others have been around for many years, but they all use AI and automation to enable agents to deliver a great customer experience. It's up to each company to invest in the tools and information to position and empower agents to meet and exceed customer expectations for great service. So when you have a bad service experience, please share your disappointment and frustration with senior management, but make it clear whether the business or the agent is to blame. Just keep in mind that the agent might be equally frustrated, as most do what they are trained, told, and (under) paid to do. And when you have a great service experience, take the time to give the agent their due.

Donna Fluss, founder and president of DMG Consulting, provides a unique and unparalleled understanding of the people, processes, and technology that drive the strategic direction of the dynamic and rapidly transforming contact center and back-office markets. Fluss can be reached at