The high standard of service expected by today’s empowered (and often impatient) consumers has levelled the playing field for brands, with regard to product and price. The key differentiator for a thriving business is exceptional customer service – and, this vital key is held in the hands of none other than our agents!
Traditionally, agents were always the ‘face’ of the business, and this still holds true – although now, with call centres evolving, inevitably so must agents. Our entirely revolutionised digital work environment now embraces self-service tools, social media engagement, chatbots and AI technology and requires a new breed of agent who is willing to drop the script and operate beyond the traditional limits set from the past.
As customer lean towards more self-service and message-driven engagements, call centres are delivering solutions that make the most of AI capabilities and are complimenting this by employing multi-tasking agents. Ones who are able to handle everything from taking in-bound calls, responding to emails and engaging in online chats. Because agents are expected to resolve any problem and offer immediate solutions without having to refer calls, they are faced with far more sophisticated social interactions and must not only be able to deal with a complaint, but also understand where the customer is coming from, offer them alternatives, and actively sell them on the best option. So, the focus for agents falls on developing communication and people management skills which involves a degree of empathy and intellectual agility that goes way beyond the basic requirements of past agents. An invaluable asset to the industry is an agent that carries a broader business knowledge backed by critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. Their understanding can no longer be limited to memorized solutions.
The incorporation of AI technology does not make the role of an agent redundant, as was feared in the past. On the contrary, it empowers them to enhance the customer experience with a far more impressive service. Agents no longer need to rely on scripted interactions or decision tree models but can assist the customer in a more fluid fashion. After all, they already have client specifics at their disposal and can present knowledge relevant to the case at hand, assisting much faster with the added advantage of a personal edge. Agents should also leverage off their new ‘virtual assistants’ who free them up to manage far more nuanced interactions (that chatbots aren’t capable of), by offering service excellence with a fair balance of compassion and professionalism. In other words, today’s agents need to switch modes from being reactive to being proactive.
Industry leaders are on the hunt for dream teams of blended call centre agents who are being cross-trained to handle various duties. Although calls are still king – chat, social media and email responses are imperative in keeping consumers happy. By training agents in multiple departments and helping them to hone several skills, enables a team to shift with the demand. It’s an innovative solution that not only empowers employees, but benefits the call centre as well. Cross training not only increases productivity but reduces the likelihood of boredom and burnout among employees. It also significantly lowers staff turnover.
This new breed of ‘Blended Agent’ does require a certain amount of grooming in order to succeed, but it’s certainly a worthwhile investment for call centres to embark on cross-training programmes to keep agents engaged and skilled up.
The best training programs incorporate a diverse range of methods including role-plays, simulated customer interactions and peer monitoring. Plus, with the rise of an e-learning culture, agents can simply hop online and upskill across multiple channels remotely.
Employing and grooming a blended agent is one thing, however the trend towards hiring highly skilled home-based agents is already on the rise. The idea eventually is for call centres to grow an army of these independent ‘Super Agents’ who are experts in the frontline of delivering a more powerful customer experience. For now, we know that an effective call centre is ultimately only as good as it agents – so let’s make damn sure they are the best!