Are Your Contact Center Agents Empowered to Provide Great Customer Service

We all want our agents to provide “great” service. When I think about “great” service, I envision a customer interaction that required little customer effort, that was resolved on the first contact, by the first agent, and in which the agent served as a positive ambassador for the brand. But, does hiring great contact center agents equate to great service? I would argue that the outcome of the customer interaction – specifically the level of effort and the resolution – has very little to do with the agent, and everything to do with the processes and empowerment culture of the contact center.

Agents Want to Solve Customer Issues – But Can They?

As supervisors and managers, it is our jobs to coach and support agents through customer interactions. But, let’s be honest; who hasn’t cringed when you see an agent walking into your office or IMing you with a customer issue they can’t resolve?

While we may want to get frustrated with the agent and ask, "Why can't you handle this yourself?!", perhaps a better question to ask is, "Are my agents empowered enough to handle things themselves?". A 2016 study shows that the vast majority of agents surveyed indicate helping customers and solving customer issues as their primary motivators… Is your organization enabling them to do so?

Internal Processes Limit Agent Autonomy

Many organizations inadvertently hinder their agents’ ability to address customer concerns in the name of compliance or monetary protection. For example, in my former contact center, our agents had to process credits on a daily basis. While there were some credits that required a discretionary decision-making process, the majority were quite clear and obvious. If the issue was due to our error, the agent would always process a credit.

However, the Delegation of Authority (DOA) as defined by finance provided our agents ZERO authority to process these transactions. This means that supervisors and managers were involved in hundreds of customer interactions per year just for the sake of formality. Even worse, it meant that our customers suffered through hundreds of interactions in which agents provided some variation of “I need to escalate this to my manager for approval” before resolving their issue. You can imagine the negative impact this had on First Contact Resolution and overall Customer Experience.

No matter how passionate the agents were about helping customers and delivering solutions on their own, their hands were tied by internal processes. After evaluation, we were able to work with the finance team to change the DOA and allow agents a specific dollar threshold for which they could execute credits without supervisor approval. This empowerment made for happier agents, supervisors and, most importantly, customers.

Think about your contact center – do agents need to come to you to process any level of discount or refund, remove every billing block, or conduct any basic service failure recovery? Can you make any process changes to empower them to solve customer issues on their own?

Can Agents Find the Information They Need to Solve the Problem?

So, maybe your agents are empowered to solve problems and make decisions in the best interest of your customers, but can they easily access the information to troubleshoot and resolve the issue? Since providing technical support most consumes agents’ time, they must have real-time access to the data and tools needed to quickly and efficiently handle the interaction.

Many organizations document processes and information, but then bury it on a Sharepoint site. Doing so requires agents to search for the information they need or go ask their manager or peers. Even worse, all documentation might be disseminated via desk drops forcing agents to search for the papers around their cubes! Empowerment can be facilitated by a knowledge management tool that enables agents to quickly search for information, or actually delivers the information needed  based on the type of call or interaction. While implementing a knowledge management solution is not easy, it can be the key to true agent empowerment.

Reflect and move the needle

Today’s customers expect to have their problems solved quickly, efficiently and on their terms. For that reason, agent empowerment is more important than ever. While a shift in your organization’s empowerment culture will not happen overnight, it all starts with reflecting on your current conditions and moving the needle where possible.