It takes a moment to realize that some contact center processes have raced ahead of others. This gap in process evolution is the reason customer experience metrics quickly plateau. Our conversations with customers have amplified this. Organizations across industries, ranging from telecom to healthcare, are busy using increasing amounts of shiny technology to create the magic around customer experience. But it is the customer service agent who is responsible for creating the warm, deeply satisfied feeling in customers that organizations aim for. When done correctly, these organizations follow in the footsteps of e-commerce legend Jeff Bezos who suggests that customers should be treated like they were guests invited to a party. “We are the hosts,” he is known to have said. “It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” In the words of legendary clothier Katherine Barchetti, this makes customers, not a sale.
We have all heard stories about great customer service. Some are worth recalling because they inspire us. For example, consider the daughter of an 89-year-old Pennsylvanian who was caught in snow. She was worried that her father would not have enough food at home. After calls to several stores, it was Trader Joe’s that agreed to deliver directly, even though they normally don’t do home delivery. The employee also suggested additional items that would meet her father’s low-sodium diet requirements and went to the extent of refusing payment. The order would be delivered free, he said, signing off with a “Merry Christmas”.
Think about little Chris Hurn who left his favorite stuffed giraffe ‘Joshie’ at a Ritz-Carlton. His father assured him that Joshie had just extended his vacation by a few extra days. The father then called the hotel—that has a reputation for exceptional customer service—to see if Joshie could be mailed back. The hotel took pictures of Joshie by the pool, getting a massage and even helping out in the hotel’s lost prevention department. When the hotel mailed back Joshie to Chris it was with the photos and a booklet packed with details of Joshie’s stay in the hotel.
Then there is carmaker Lexus that completely transformed the unpleasant experience of vehicle recalls. Customers were not asked to leave their Lexus ES 350 sedan, which had issues, at dealerships to be fixed. Instead, they were asked to pick up a brand-new car at the dealership.
Unfortunately, not everyone can achieve the vision of Bezos, Brachetti, Trader Joe’s, the Ritz-Carlton or Lexus. This is because the satisfaction levels of their customer support agents are below par. But we know that happy agents drive happy conversations and happy outcomes. For every 5% improvement in agent satisfaction, brands can expect a 0.8% increase in Net Promoter Score. The goal should therefore be to create happy agents.
This is easier said than done. Most agents are trained using 20-year-old traditional methodologies while their technology has moved far ahead with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) in the customer support mix. These organizations now need to focus on methodologies that improve agent satisfaction.
What this implies is straightforward: Technology to improve agent satisfaction is just as important as technology aimed at scoring brownie points with customers. But even more obvious should be that organizations focusing on agent satisfaction extract more from their investments in customer experience technology. Somehow, this has escaped notice.
Customer experience is the sum of technology (IVR, AI, ML, NLP, Chatbots, etc.), design (cross-channel work flows, knowledge base, approvals, billing, call momentum, after-call work), a flawless understanding of customer journeys (need/ pain points, product/service research, considerations, channel preferences, decision-making, purchase, usage, support, loyalty, advocacy, renewal) and agent interaction. All technology passes through the agent who is at the center of all processes. When the technology is leveraged correctly, it achieves the goal Steve Jobs of Apple believed in—of getting closer than ever to the customer. Jobs wanted his organization to get “so close that you tell them (the customers) what they need well before they realize it themselves.” To enable this, it is of paramount importance that the agent’s task is simplified. Yet, a majority of organizations don’t measure agent satisfaction.
They depend on the traditional method of pumping an endless stream of knowledge into agents—hoping agents will become Jedi masters in product and service understanding. This approach is flawed. Technology giants have understood this. Apple has an NPS of 47, Microsoft 45, Cisco 38, Amazon 25 and Google 11. They bring a vast amount of data and technology to improve customer experience. But the reason their NPS is enviable is because their agents are empowered to take decisions that create an emotional connect with customers.
This requires technological systems to become the processors of information, invoicing, billing, payments and follow up, leaving agents to spend time with the customer and establishing unbreakable customer bonds (see table ‘Four Ways to Drive Agent Experience and Performance Improvements’).