Agent efficiency, automation, and operational insights
Lisa Hotchkiss, Associate Director of Product Marketing
We’ve been hearing a lot about “the great resignation” lately. The pandemic has made a lot of people re-evaluate their career ambitions and reconsider their work-life preferences. While moving to a new role at a new company is often an exciting time for those people, it creates staffing headaches for employers. This problem is particularly bad in contact centers, where replacing employees can cost 20–33% of the departing employee’s salary, not to mention the huge productivity hit and additional pressure put on agents who stay. Companies in the US alone lose over $13B in contact center attrition costs each year. In short, agents quitting is one of the costliest, most challenging issues facing contact centers today.
This issue is so top-of-mind these days that 70% of contact center leaders name agent well-being and engagement as their number one focus, and 41% say they’re investing in tools to improve agent retention. In this blog, I’ll cover one of the best, most efficient ways for your brand to improve agent retention: to invest in a digital contact center solution that simplifies and streamlines agent workflows, decreases stress, and improves job satisfaction. But first, let’s talk about why agents are unhappy in the first place.
Agent attrition has always been an issue in contact centers. but the pandemic pushed it to new heights. Why? On top of the daily challenges agents face, including long hours, unpredictable schedules, and high stress, COVID-19 created a host of new conditions that make being an agent — especially in a traditional contact center environment — even more difficult.
The most obvious reason for any employee to leave is to make more money or get better benefits at another company, and of course this is true for contact center agents as well. Glassdoor estimates the average customer support salary just north of $50,000. Contact centers are all competing to find experienced staff, and in this hot job market, agents have a lot of choice. In this battle for qualified agents, companies are offering higher salaries and better benefits. So, it’s no surprise that some agents want to head for greener pastures.
Traditionally, contact center agents had to work on-site, usually in a large building with lots of other agents. Their options to easily find work at another contact center were limited by their willingness to relocate or commute.
The pandemic restrictions changed all that, nearly overnight. Suddenly agents found themselves working from home, and while some of them found the move challenging, many embraced the benefits. They saved money by not having to gas up their cars or buy lunch. They had more free time since they weren’t commuting to and from work every day. They had more flexibility and time with their families.
Now that agents don’t need to be located within commuting distance from a physical contact center, they have a whole new world of opportunities available to them. They can literally work from anywhere, for any contact center, so they can choose to work for the ones that offer them the best work-life balance. So, to attract experienced talent in this competitive market, contact centers have to offer agents the option to work remotely full or part-time.
Agents have hard jobs — for a variety of reasons. One of the most common reasons for low job satisfaction is the daily frustration and monotony of repetitive work, inefficient processes, and outdated tools. Customers call asking the same questions over and over; and agents have to answer these calls on phone systems that haven’t changed much since the beginning of this century. And to make matters worse, inquiry volumes have been on the rise since the beginning of the pandemic, and customers are more frustrated than ever. The combination of all of these factors creates more and more stressful interactions for agents, which leads to faster burnout.
I’ll say it up front: a digital contact center won’t magically increase your budget to give your employees better pay and benefits. (If you’re looking for that, maybe try the lottery?) But updated contact center technology and more efficient processes will help you decrease the number of agents who quit by giving them the flexibility of remote work and decreasing their job frustrations.
By automating routine tasks, prioritizing digital channels, and removing friction points, you can boost agent satisfaction and reduce stress — all while speeding up resolution times and improving CSAT. Here’s how.
With legacy contact center solutions, agents often have to switch between a variety of channels to manage incoming volume. They might handle a phone call, then switch to an email, then switch to a web chat, then switch to an Instagram DM. This process is wildly inefficient, not to mention stressful — plus, it risks agents forgetting to respond on one or more of those channels, potentially creating unhappy customers.
With a digital contact center, this is no longer a problem. That’s because these remarkable solutions give agents a single pane of glass to view, prioritize, and respond to every incoming channel — even voice! From email to web chat, social media to text messaging, and Google’s Business Messages to phone calls, the same application handles them all. Agents no longer need to jump back and forth between applications, wasting time and creating aggravation. Because everything is handled in one screen, agents only have to learn a single tool, decreasing their training time and cost.
One of the most stressful parts of an agent’s job is not having the information they need to help a customer at the right time. When an agent doesn’t have immediate access to a customer’s profile and history, it really hurts the customer experience and gives the impression that the brand company doesn’t really know — or care about — its own customers. Agents either have to ask the customer to provide information that they should already have or make them wait while they look for it. Searching through knowledge bases and asking subject matter experts for information is hard enough; doing it while a customer is impatiently waiting on hold is even worse. Agents know that their performance is measured on handle time and CSAT, both of which take a hit when they have to manually look up information.
One of the best features of digital contact centers is that they can deliver this information right to the agent at the right time, without all the searching and asking.
The digital contact center can instantly pull up views of previous interactions with the customer, including what websites they visited, past purchases, and any other information in your brand’s CRM. It can also automatically source knowledge base information to help agents address issues more quickly, without having to switch to a different screen. Empowering agents to solve issues faster and more effectively doesn’t just boost first contact resolution, customer experience, and CSAT; it also enables agents to achieve or exceed their performance objectives, which leaves them feeling better about themselves and their jobs.
I already mentioned how frustrating it is for agents to spend the majority of their work hours doing simple, repetitive, monotonous tasks over and over, day in and day out. Digital contact centers use chatbots to automate tasks and workflows, eliminating a large portion of these routine interactions. Chatbots can collect basic customer information — gathering account numbers, verifying identity, etc. — before the agent is engaged, and use this information to route the inquiry to the right place. They can also answer some of the most basic, common questions (When are you open? Where are you located? What’s my order status? Can you help me reset my password?) so that the agent doesn’t have to.
Automating these monotonous tasks takes them off your agents’ plates and lets them focus on the higher-value interactions that they find more challenging and rewarding, such as completing a sale or resolving a complex issue. Having more time to spend on these impactful moments makes agents feel that they are making a real contribution, and that leads to higher job satisfaction.
You can also use the AI and automation in a digital contact center to give your agents their own personal assistant that can help them accomplish more in less time. You can use agent assistance to suggest responses so agents don’t have to spend time manually typing in common responses or stress over composing unique, typo-free, grammatically correct replies. Predefined responses help ensure that agents always deliver the right response that’s aligned to your brand voice. Using this capability ensures a higher quality, more consistent standard of customer care, while also reducing your training and coaching costs.
Bots can also suggest next-best actions so agents are never left scrambling trying to figure out what to do next, which is especially helpful for issues that happen less frequently. Agents don’t have to put the customer on hold while they ask a colleague or search for the steps in a guide — the steps are right there in front of them. And when the interaction is over, agents won’t have to worry about monotonous post-interaction work like system data syncs, because a digital contact center can automatically handle those tasks for them.
You can also empower your agents to share their knowledge and help each other by creating an internal community. Here, agents can share best practices, tips, information, and more with one another. As an added benefit, you’ll be able to leverage unsolicited feedback from your agents to improve your contact center processes and agent experience.
The most important overall benefit of a digital contact center, both for your agents and your business, is that it allows you to have a digital-first approach to customer care. Let me explain what I mean by that.
For many years, the dominant model of customer care was the call center, where customers would make phone calls to resolve their issues. Now, a digital contact center does not eliminate the need for voice support, because — let’s face it — some customers prefer and some situations will always require a live phone call. But it does allow you to prioritize and promote digital channels ahead of voice. With a full range of ubiquitous, convenient, intuitive digital channels to choose from, your customers should only be using voice as a last resort.
I can’t overstate how important this is for your contact center. Digital channels are massively more efficient than voice, and many customers actually prefer them.
But what about the agents? Turns out a digital-first approach is good for them too. Digital channels are easier for agents to handle, especially for complex interactions. Digital contact centers save conversation histories, so agents can see what’s already been said and what problem they’re dealing with before even beginning an interaction. Since transcripts from digital interactions are captured in real-time, agents don’t have to spend as much time writing post-interaction notes.
Digital channels are also less stressful, especially when agents are dealing with unhappy customers. Someone yelling at you over the phone is a lot more challenging than dealing with an upset customer in a chat. And with support for asynchronous channels like social media and text all in the same platform, agents can easily prioritize the most important interactions without worrying about upsetting customers. Instead of waiting for a customer to respond during a live chat (or, worse, a phone call), an agent can use that time to handle another inquiry.
Finally, gaining experience on a variety of channels allows agents to develop new skills. Rather than handling stressful customer calls eight hours a day straight, they can also respond to social media posts or webchats. This approach reduces agent stress and burn-out, and it shows agents that you really care about their mental health and well-being. And by supporting more digital channels, you can create new career paths for agents so they can envision a future within your company, rather than looking elsewhere.
Agent attrition is a complex problem for any business, but with a Khoros Digital Contact Center, you can solve a big part of it. Our simple engagement tool eliminates the minor frustrations that make agents’ jobs so tedious; combines all channels into a single, easy-to-use digital platform; and gives agents the information they need when they need it. With the power of this solution, you can help reduce agents’ stress, increase their job satisfaction, and keep them happily serving your customers for longer. And happier agents lead to happier customers and better business results.
At Khoros, our Digital Contact Center Solution integrates with our Community, Social Media Management and CX Insights offerings to help you reduce your reliance on voice, empower your agents to serve customers on any channel, and take data-driven actions to improve your operations. To learn more about reducing agent attrition, check out our new agent retention whitepaper.
In the next blog in this series, I’ll discuss how a digital contact center allows you to amp up AI and automation.