Stop Empowering Your Agents

There's been a lot of focus on agent empowerment, and while some of it is good (such as giving them more say in their schedules and providing on-demand training), some steps in the name of empowering agents need to stop. At best, they create unrealistic expectations for customers, and at worst, they increase call volumes and escalations and severely damage customer loyalty. The following are the three biggest offenders:

  • Empowering agents to upsell customers. In a recent Valoir survey we found that seven out of 10 customers had been recommended products or services by an agent in a service call that either had nothing to do with their service issue or demonstrated the agent was more focused on selling than problem solving.
  • Empowering agents to create custom workarounds. While some contact centers are set up for personalized service, many are not. We found that three out of five customers have had an experience where they were delighted initially by the personalized service an agent provided, only to discover soon after that their solution was simply not a solution that was possible to deliver, resulting in delays, additional calls and time, and in some cases, unexpected costs to the customer.
  • Empowering agents to connect digital and in-person customer service. A seamless experience is great, but empowering agents to promise it when it isn't integrated is not. Two in five customers reported disconnects between the reality and the promise of online and in-person services. One even reported an agent who directed him to drive to a physical store that had been closed for months.

While these empowerment strategies sound like good ideas in theory, they often fall flat in practice. Agents trained on the mechanics of upselling and incentivized to do so aren't incentivized to solve problems first. Agents supported as problem-solvers without guardrails or real processes overpromise and underdeliver. Agents encouraged to provide an omnichannel (including in-person experience) when they don't have the tools or information to execute successful outcomes simply don't deliver.

If these empowerment strategies are on your list of mantras today, stop them or fix them to ensure they actually have the desired outcomes, greatest customer and agent engagement, by doing the following:

  • Flip training on upselling from 80 percent offers and 20 percent culture to an 80-20 in favor of culture. This includes basic followable rules like don't try to sell customers something if they're not happy and if you're offering them a solution to their problem that costs them more, tell them first and apologize that you don&'t have a better solution for them.
  • Don't enable custom workarounds unless you have guardrails on solutions and a way for the customer to get directly back to the agent who proposed the solution. This is an area where a tiered strategy works (a personalized solution requires escalation to an agent whoreally knows what's possible), and enabling agents to upgrade their customer issue can be a win-win for both agents and customers. If you're going to enable everyone, then give the customer a direct line back to whomever proposed the solution and keep a running knowledge base of personalized solutions that work and don't work so individuals can learn what is really possible from their own cases and others.
  • If your agents don't have real-time access to information about physical locations don't have them attempt to deliver service through them. This sounds silly, but in the rush to move online during the past 18 months we created more disconnected virtual and in-person services. Additionally, staffing challenges at many in-person locations in a number of sectors have meant changes in locations, hours, and products and services that aren't reflected on company websites or even online searches yet. If your agents don't have perfect information about their in-person peers' offerings and capabilities, they shouldn't be promising them.

Of course it's important to empower agents, but in the drive to empower them, don't lose sight of the ultimate goals: better customer experience. Putting the proper tools, training, and guardrails in place before going all in on agent empowerment—in upselling, personalized service, and omnichannel—ensures you minimize customer frustration and viral customer service fails while truly empowering your agents to deliver great customer experiences.

Rebecca Wettemann is CEO and principal of Valoir.