How to Empower Your Agents to Provide Exceptional Customer Service

If you’ve ever picked up the phone to call customer service, you’ve likely experienced a conversation with an agent that goes sour or proves otherwise unsatisfactory at some point along the way. Maybe you waited on hold for longer than you were told you would be. Maybe you were bounced from agent to agent with no real issue resolution and grew tired of having to repeat your concerns multiple times to multiple people. Maybe you ended the call by hanging up.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Research from inContact's January customer experience survey shows the majority of U.S. adults still prefer to speak to a live agent via phone or online chat versus using online self-service. What’s more, the customer experience management market is predicted to grow by 17percent over the next five years.

For contact centers, this means there’s a strategic imperative to prioritize the customer experience, both now and in the future. This begins with agents, who are on the front lines interacting with existing and potential customers and directly influencing the customer experience.

Here’s a look at a few ways to empower agents to provide exceptional customer service.

Regular Performance Feedback

Did you know that roughly half of contact centers fail to investigate the root cause of repeat customer contacts?  Even more shocking is that less than one-fifth of organizations (14 percent) position their agents to provide top-notch customer experiences, according to a recent study from the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI).

In order for agents to excel in the service they provide to customers, they need regular performance feedback that highlights their strengths—as well as the areas where they may need to improve. Because even the most skilled agents need encouragement and support, proactive managers and supervisors offer ongoing training and coaching opportunities to help agents improve performance and enhance skill sets.

In the contact center environment, the “no news is good news” mantra simply doesn’t apply to agent performance. Speech analytics solutions such as real-time call-monitoring software can help managers identify any issues while the call is still ongoing, resulting in immediate and direct agent coaching and improvement.

Authority to Make the Right Decisions

Let’s face it: No one likes being told what to do. While monitoring and analyzing agent calls can lead to direct feedback, support, and training opportunities, the idea isn’t to pick apart an agent’s performance and detail the specific steps needed to improve that performance.

A better approach is to give agents the authority to make the right decisions—on their own. This doesn’t mean giving them the green light to act impulsively but instead to use their own good judgment in making the appropriate decisions to remedy a customer issue or complaint.

A big part of this involves building up agent confidence so that they’re motivated to make decisions and take ownership of customer problems. In these cases, it can be helpful to regularly review performance feedback and, together with individual agents, put together a professional development plan for the future.

View the Situation from the Customer’s Perspective

Sometimes, the best customer experiences involve a very small gesture on the part of the agent: listening.  In fact, listening is often the best way to not only uncover the root cause of problems but also make customers feel you’re considering the situation from their perspective.

As noted by Kristin Smaby in her article on the business of “being human” in interactions with customers:

“When customers share their story, they’re not just sharing pain points. They’re actually teaching you how to make your product, service, and business better. Your customer service organization should be designed to efficiently communicate those issues.”

For contact centers in particular, this means encouraging agents to establish a connection with customers. There are many ways to do so, such as restating a customer’s specific problem to ensure you understand the issue, asking follow-up questions to get at how best to address the problem, taking ownership of the issue, etc. The key is to demonstrate a degree of empathy, as well as a commitment to helping resolve the problem.

Final Thoughts

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, the customer experience is more important than ever. To truly put customers at the heart of an organization’s approach to quality service, contact centers need to empower agents to provide the type of customer experience that goes above and beyond.

How is your organization prioritizing the customer experience? Do you agree with the points made above?