Turning Agents Into Superheroes

Today's consumers are armed with the power of choice. They can choose which product to purchase, with which companies to engage, and which brands they want to return to again and again. Increasingly, customers also consider the overall experience. Creating a good experience for customers can keep them coming back. It's been found that increasing customer retention by 5 percent can help boost profits by as much as 85 percent, which can have a huge impact on your bottom line. How do you create a good customer experience? In many cases, it starts with your customer service agents, the unsung heros of many companies who serve in one of the most critical functions a company can provide.

Remember the Zappos employee who set the record for the longest customer service call in the history of the company? Clocking in at 10 hours and 43 minutes long, the agent quickly resolved the customer's specific questions, and then stayed on the line chatting with the customer and building a strong connection. Or the viral story from last winter, when a woman wanted to return a coat to Zulily and after asking about how to ship it back, the customer service agent suggested she give it to someone in need of a winter jacket and provided her with a full refund. These types of interactions turn what is typically a routine transaction into a heartwarming experience.

As empathy becomes a critical skill that both agents and companies need to connect with today's customer, how can you create these types of experiences for your customers? Are your customer service reps empowered to go the extra mile for customers? If not, these are a few considerations:

  • Know the whole customer. There is nothing more frustrating than calling a company, being passed from agent to agent and continuously asked to restate the same information over and over. The good news is that with modern CRM, companies can get a 360-degree view of a customer so this doesn't need to happen. With an integrated CRM system, a customer service agent can address any question she gets, whether it's a billing issue, a question about products, or an inquiry into a past purchase.
  • Automation is key. The job of a customer service agent is stressful. Agents often juggle multiple requests at once, striving to resolve all questions and issues the first time a customer calls. However, many tools exist that can help agents manage these service requests and free their time to focus on the complex inquiries. Access to knowledge systems, two-way messaging between agents and customers, and self-service communities are all beginning to play a much larger role in the daily lives of customer service agents and customers. In fact, Forrester found that 84 percent of people have used a self-service resource in the past year alone, and this number will only continue to grow as automation technologies like bots become more mainstream. Being able to work hand-in-hand with an agent, obtaining basic customer information and then pushing that information to the agent, bots are key to providing customers with a quick and seamless experience, as well as freeing up the agent from spending time asking routine questions.
  • Empower agents to have authentic conversations. No customer interaction is exactly the same, which is why call center scripts do not work. Using call scripts can actually diminish an agent's credibility, as well as hinder personality and problem-solving skills. The numbers prove this, as 69 percent of customers believe their customer service experience improves when agents don't sound like they're reading a script. Each customer's situation is unique and should be handled authentically. Empower your customer service representatives to trust their guts and chat with customers in real, human ways, even if it deviates from the prescribed workflows. These personal interactions are what lead to authentic conversations with representatives and continued customer loyalty.

When fulfilling their roles, agents are not just brand ambassadors, but can play a crucial part in securing significant revenue for the business. Arming agents with the tools to be successful is not just critical for their job, it's critical for your business. Agents are on the front lines every day talking to customers about positive experiences with your company and helping to resolve any potential hiccups. With just a few changes, you can empower your agents even more and ensure that they have everything they need to make your customers happy and coming back.

Keith Pearce is vice president of product marketing for Salesforce.com's Service Cloud.

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