Publication: No Jitter
In a recent survey, we learned how agents feel about the evolving contact center and how they can best serve customers.
“Customer experience” was a big buzz phrase in 2015, and will likely continue to be a priority as companies take more modern approaches to traditional customer service via Web chat, social media, or through the phone.
At the heart of every contact center providing these customer experiences are the agents behind the screen. These anonymous voices play a significant role in a brand’s identity, essentially serving as a spokesperson for the company each time a customer reaches out. And with the avalanche of social media at every customer’s fingertips, a bad customer service experience can easily turn into a public relations crisis.
In an effort to better understand how agents approach their jobs and the customers they serve, Firstsource Solutions, an international contact center solution provider, conducted an online study of more than 250 contact center agents. The results, found in the “Contact Agent Experience Index,” revealed how agents view the evolving contact center industry as it moves to provide innovative services alongside fast-growing digital media channels.
Despite a growing prevalence of Web chat offerings in contact centers, nearly half (47%) of agents surveyed cited talking on the phone to be the most effective channel. This compares to the 26% of agents selecting Web chat as more effective.
But as digital communication channels continue to grow, many wonder how much longer calling contact centers will stick around. In fact, according to Dimension Data’s 2015 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report, digital interactions currently account for more than 35% of all interactions and, at the current rate, will overtake voice in two years’ time.
Call us biased, but 90% of the contact center agents we surveyed disagreed, saying a speaking option will always remain necessary. One agent remarked that a lot of customers still prefer speaking with a representative and not just reading words on a screen. For more challenging product questions or issues, customers often can more easily explain the problem by phone rather than typing in such detail. And especially for older customers, phone is still generally preferred to chat.
Not many people realize that sometimes the agents they are corresponding with aren’t directly employed for the Fortune 500 companies they represent. This is due to robust training that the agents undergo to understand the brand’s products and services. If a brand is working with an outsourcer, the employees technically work for the outsourcer, not the end-brand. Despite that fact, almost all (98%) of the agents indicated they feel a sense of duty to the end client to provide a positive customer experience, going against many consumer’s assumptions that contact center agents don’t care about resolving customer issues. One agent remarked that, without a doubt, the first priority is to make sure the customer is happy with the brand, noting, “I feel more of a sense of duty to the customer. Without them our business would not exist.”
Another interesting insight gleaned from the data was that contact center agents believe that often longer call times actually lead to a better customer experience. When customers call a brand’s helpline, they likely want a quick experience — and 39% of agents said they try to close inquiries in five to 10 minutes when possible. However, 32% of agents said effective problem solving, especially for unique situations, often requires 10 to 15 minutes. For some customers, the extra time spent with the agent signals that the brand cares about them.
Another recent technology innovation in the call center industry is virtual queuing, an option that offers to call a customer back when a contact center agent is available rather than making the customer wait on hold. The majority of agents polled (81%) said they do believe this is more pleasing for customers, but expressed concerns that sometimes customers miss the calls and have to restart the process. Still, it does create a better rapport with customers at the start of the call since they aren’t as aggravated compared to when they sit on hold for extended periods due to high call volumes.
Whether or not a contact center agent is working for an outsourcer or directly with a brand, customers only look at the voice on the other line as a representation for the company they are calling. It’s vital for companies to provide an environment in which agents feel motivated to care about customers and create the best possible experiences for them.