The changing role of the customer service agent
Contact centre advisors have always been at the frontline of delivering customer service, initially over the phone and then through a range of other channels from email to chat. The role has never been static but is now seeing a rapid transformation.
Consumers are now able to find answers themselves through self-service, removing the need to email or call. In fact, 83% of consumers surveyed by Eptica are happy to use web self-service systems in order to help themselves and over half (54%) would like to get answers through intelligent voice assistants. However, their remaining questions tend to be more complex and, with many consumers now contacting companies more often compared to five years ago, the volume of queries is increasing.
Both trends have an enormous impact on the workload of the contact centre advisor. With simpler queries increasingly automated, agents now need to focus on the more complicated requests that consumers have, leading to longer, more involved conversations that require different skills and support in four key areas:
1. The need for empathy
As the interactions that agents have with customers move from the transactional to the complex, they are likely to be more involved, emotionally charged and crucial to loyalty. Customers expect the agents to demonstrate that they understand their problem and to then provide reassurance to them. That means agents need to be able to put themselves in the customer's shoes and to build a rapport with them quickly. This doesn’t just affect phone calls - it applies equally to digital channels such as email and chat, where agents don’t have the benefit of being able to listen to the tone of the conversation. Technology, such as AI that analyses incoming digital messages and highlights factors such as sentiment, helps prepare agents to respond accordingly.
2. The ability to problem-solve
Clearly, more complex queries are also less likely to be answered with a simple response and may even be on a topic that is completely new to the advisor themselves. Agents will need to be able to quickly understand the situation and use their skills and judgement to provide a solution. This requires them to be empowered and given the training to solve issues independently, or to bring in people from across the business to help where necessary. They will also need to be measured differently - looking more at customer satisfaction metrics such as NPS, rather than the time spent dealing with each call.
3. Higher levels of knowledge and expertise
We live in a knowledge-driven world where customer expectations are rising continually. For example, customers are looking to engage with brands that match their own values and therefore want to know more about everything from how a company creates its products, to how it looks after its staff. This means the agents of the future will need to become ambassadors for their brands, able to retain and share information on a wide range of subjects. While they will be supported by technology, such as centralised knowledge bases, that deliver information to their fingertips, agents must have the ability to deliver these answers to customers in ways that strengthen the relationship. Agents that build expertise in specific areas, for example through language proficiency or technical understanding, will be particularly vital to contact centre success.
4. Omnichannel communication skills
Being able to communicate has always been a central part of the contact centre advisor role. However, in many companies agents have been split into ‘typers’ (handling written and digital interactions) and ‘talkers’ (answering queries on the phone). As brands adopt a more omnichannel approach to meet customer needs, agents will need to develop their communication skills so that they are equally at home responding across a number of channels.
These are big changes in the role of the contact centre advisor. Their jobs will be more complex, but at the same time more rewarding and engaging for them as individuals. This should be matched by greater recognition from their employers of their importance, with agents supported, engaged paid and developed based on the greater value their jobs deliver.
It is therefore vital that brands help advisors to develop these skills and give agents the support through technology to deliver the experience that consumers demand. To help companies adapt, Enghouse Interactive, Eptica’s parent company, has teamed up with Call Centre Helper and Mpathy Plus to run a webinar on the Advisor of the Future on 27th February - click here to learn more and book your free place.