How to Source New Agent Talent

As artificial intelligence and automation infuse the contact center, the role of the agent is changing. Contact centers are already seeing the following:

  • Agents losing their jobs. Modern self-service technologies are enabling customers to find answers to frequently asked questions and resolve simple issues on their own. This takes away the routine work of generalists and tier-1 agents, who are starting to see their ranks shrink.
  • Agents are morphing to direct automated operations. Modern self-service technologies demand rich content and chatbot dialog flows. Contact center leaders are repositioning generalists and tier-1 agents as authors of chatbot dialogs or as supervisors of chatbots who also address failures in self-service operations.
  • New superagents are emerging to become product or relationship experts. Contact centers are becoming high-touch centers that handle critical customer interactions and require deep subject matter expertise. Superagents  have specialized skills or deep interest in their companies' products or services.

What does this mean? Contact center leaders now require a much broader range of skills and types of agents. New labor pools that companies might tap include the following:

  • Digital natives who can handle many digital touchpoints. Companies are quickly adopting digital channels like SMS and messaging. They find agents who use these communication modes in their everyday lives are more comfortable supporting customers over these channels, oftenable to handle many interactions simultaneously.
  • Lifestyle workers who greatly value flexible working conditions. Educated professionals, military wives, and mothers are just a handful of people who want rewarding work on their own terms. Work-at-home models resonate with these people, and companies are finding that work-at-home agents have longer tenures.
  • Brand advocates who exude legitimacy. Pier 1 Imports, for example, used to provide customer support from a traditional contact center using agents it hired for good customer service skills. Today, however, the company looks to hire home decorating enthusiasts. It found that it can teach brand advocates basic customer service skills, but not the enthusiasm for home decorating.
  • High-EQ agents who provide empathy and great conversations. Customers are using agent-assisted channels as escalation points for issues they can't resolve via self-service. Many times, customers are frustrated by the time they reach an agent; some are even angry or anxious. Agents must now quickly solve these harder questions and manage conversations in a tone that emotionally resonates with customers. This takes empathy skills and relationship building skills that are not found in all agents.

Contact centers are seeing success with these new agent personas. More will emerge as AI and automation continues its forward march into customer service operations.

Kate Leggett is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.