In today’s hyper-competitive world, where companies are constantly searching for an edge that sets them apart from the competition, it’s no surprise that first-class customer service is the secret to thriving.
A strong customer experience, along with quality products and services, ensures that your company stands out from the rest. But where is the best place to start when you’re looking to boost customer experience?
The answer: Empower contact center agents to make decisions on their own. Research shows that empowered agents are those who are engaged and satisfied at work. Every step you can take toward engaging and empowering your agents will boost contact center agent efficiency and create a positive and memorable customer experience.
Here are 15 tips that you can implement immediately to empower contact center agents:
1. Hire agents who are the right culture fit
Creating a culture of empowerment for your agents starts with hiring the right people who embody your contact center culture.
First, establish what your culture is and what qualities work well within those values. Ask yourself: What characteristics make a great customer service agent in our organization? Choose a few words that represent the main values your organization is looking for. These should be specific areas that are used to evaluate customer service agents.
For example, if you want your customer service agents to be empathetic, innovative, and creative, you need to hire people who exhibit those characteristics. Your customer service culture is important and can be maintained effectively by the agents you hire. When your agents share similar values, your organization can better empower contact center agents.
2. Start with small steps
In order to empower contact center agents, it’s important to have their full trust and support. Empower your employees in small matters first. While it’s easy to overlook the smaller aspects of agent appreciation, those are often the things that mean the most. Lucky for you, it’s easy to start with the small steps. Here are a few ideas to get started:
- If your company is operating within a brick-and-mortar model or using a hybrid workforce, let your agents decide on the food in the office vending machines.
- Allow agents to choose their own appropriate office dress code. Get their feedback on what makes them feel comfortable to wear if they are still going into the office.
- Create a Slack channel for agents to share ideas and suggestions.
- Let agents choose their own incentives, such as their favorite candy or a book they have on their reading list. This is a great option for in-office or remote workers.
- Consider integrating gamification, both to build a fun culture and boost contact center agent efficiency. Let your team members choose how they’d like to participate.
Show that you value their opinions on small matters and you’re much more likely to have their full buy-in when you move on to larger matters.
3. Have an agent empowerment plan in place and reinforce it with process documentation
Building an empowered workforce isn’t an impulsive decision. It is important to have a detailed and transparent plan set in place to ensure contact center agent efficiency remains high.
Set detailed guidelines for how you plan to empower contact center agents and to what extent. Strong process documentation ensures everyone in the company has access to the same information so there is never a question about transparency. The documents should lay out all the steps that need to be followed and repeated consistently for all contact center agent duties.
Taylor Burke, Program Manager, Education & Communication for Healthy Paws, is a strong proponent of customer service process documentation. At Healthy Paws, they are able to provide answers to virtually every kind of scenario life can throw at an owner — or as Healthy Paws calls them, pet parents.
4. Give your customer service team the resources they need to succeed
Communication is one of the strongest organizational functions to help empower contact center agents. According to the Institute for Public Relations, one of the most important forms of organizational communication is inter-departmental communication. But, how does this affect agent empowerment?
It’s simple: your agents need to be able to get the necessary assistance to implement decisions and effectively perform every function of their jobs. They should have support from every department at all times.
For instance, if there is a problem with their computer, with the software they use for work, or an issue with any of their other work-related technology, can they easily call for assistance from IT? When an agent has quick access to other departments to get the help they need, it allows for more contact center agent efficiency and a stronger-than-ever customer experience.
ENJOYING THIS ARTICLE?
Sign up for our newsletter
5. Train, train, train
Because customer service is at the core of business relationships, it’s essential to pay particular attention to contact center training. To empower contact center agents, provide them the tools and resources they need to feel confident in making informed decisions for themselves.
Following a set of rules is fairly simple, but training people to make informed decisions is much more complex and often calls for targeted learning. Quality management software will supply many opportunities to evaluate agents’ strengths and weaknesses, identify where they need the most help, and create targeted training.
6. Capture and share best practices
Empowering contact center agents is not about telling them everything they did wrong. In fact, the opposite holds true. Pointing out where team members went wrong can have a demoralizing and discouraging impact over time. For true empowerment, show your agents examples of when they did something right.
Agent empowerment can only thrive when an agent feels supported and appreciated. The nature of quality management tends to focus on what an agent is doing wrong but that doesn’t always have to be the case. Train your quality analysts to take note of what agents are doing correctly and encourage them to share that positive feedback with the team frequently.
It’s a great idea to ask your best agents to help with training because it shows appreciation and respect for their work. This will also allow your management staff to have more time to focus on other important aspects of their roles.
7. Don’t punish agents for making mistakes
Empowering contact center agents means allowing them to make decisions without consequences. If you punish someone for trying to implement one of your initiatives, you’ll lose the trust of the entire team.
Mistakes are very useful. A report published in Scientific American found that our brains actually grow as we learn from our past mistakes. These mistakes build pathways that eventually lead to success if we leverage that information properly. In other words, we should harness the mistakes made by agents because they have the ability to move your organization one step closer to a desired outcome.
Instead of punishing mistakes, look for stronger ways to correct them. Find more opportunities for coaching your agents, make feedback a more fluid process, and do not hold agents to unreasonably strict standards. This will ultimately improve their experience and create a foundation of agent empowerment.
8. Involve your supervisors, managers, and team leaders
The roles of your managers and supervisors are likely to change when you shift to focusing on agent empowerment. With agents able to make decisions, managers will be acting more as coaches and advisors instead of monitoring compliance with rules. Ultimately, this will be a good thing for your managers and supervisors, as they will have more time to focus on the crucial aspects of their own jobs.
A great customer service leader is one who is able to empower contact center agents. This can be done by training agents to become even more skilled themselves. It’s important for managers to provide all the tools for the team to excel in their day-to-day roles.
To leverage your team leaders and managers to empower contact center agents, here are some key strategies:
- Provide tools for the agents to excel, whether that be workforce management or a robust quality management system
- Use direct lines of communication
- Give your team the responsibility and the necessary space to take pride in their work
9. Focus on strong integrations
Integrating all customer information into a unified CRM will give your agents up-to-date, useful information. Logs from past calls, pending requests, social media, email (and everything else you can think of) should be easily accessible for everyone in the contact center. Your agents need complete, detailed information in order to make the best decisions.
Cloud-based technology allows for seamless integration of apps and platforms, giving organizations the ability to custom-build their technology systems and solutions to meet their ever-evolving needs. When an agent has access to seamless technology experience, it makes their job easier, which promotes contact center agent efficiency. It’s a win-win!
10. Give your agents a usable, unified dashboard
Don’t trap your agents in multi-tab hell. A unified, easily searchable interface will help them find the right information at the right time so they can make decisions quickly. Fragmenting out every segment of your customer service operations makes it harder to reinforce the goals and objectives of your company.
Dashboards are also useful for your supervisors and quality analysts when it comes to quality management. They allow for easier, more streamlined performance management. Having fast access to key metrics and reports provides an understanding about where agents are struggling or excelling and how you can coach them to meet their peak performance levels.
11. Track the right metrics
Data is powerful. While it is important to measure behavior, data can also act as a way to empower contact center agents. Giving agents access to their metrics allows them to monitor how they are doing and how they can improve, especially if the data is presented in a neat and organized manner, like a bright graphic or chart.
To give complete and thorough feedback to contact center agents, it’s important to use well thought-out quality metrics. No one metric alone is enough to judge the quality of an agent’s work. It’s also important to know that not all metrics are useful for agent empowerment. It’s necessary to understand which metrics work best to uplift and motivate agents and which ones are more relevant to other areas of your customer service operations.
First call resolution percentages or metrics based on customer loyalty will tell you more about what you need to know to monitor and test your empowerment initiatives.
12. Reward the right stuff
Empowering agents to go the extra mile isn’t helpful if you’re still rewarding them based on how fast they get the customer off the phone. Show your agents that you trust them to take the time they need to make things right with your customers by tracking metrics that measure the excellence of the customer service.
Measuring the success of customer service experiences is not one-size-fits-all. Maybe your customer service agent wrote a really great email or was able to defuse a difficult situation. Whatever unique approach your agents have to handling customer service problems, be sure to recognize them for their contributions.
Recognition and motivation go hand-in-hand. Badges are a great way to recognize agents for the way they handle customer interactions. Scott’s Cheap Flights has found a great deal of success by incorporating a badging system into their quality management process.
Nicole Rinker, Member Success Team Lead for Scott’s Cheap Flights, explains a bit of background on their badge system, “Our scorecard is broken into six sections like diagnosis, knowledge, and policy. If you score the highest in that section, you’ll get a badge. So for diagnosis, it’s the doctor badge. For knowledge, we have a scholar badge and so on.”
In this case, recognition equals agent empowerment and happiness. Scott’s Cheap Flight watched their Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) reach 93% after just seven months of using a more robust quality management system that emphasized agent recognition.
13. Listen to your agents
Set up focus groups where your agents can discuss their frustrations and brainstorm ideas. They might be able to see opportunities invisible to others in the organization who don’t have their “boots on the ground.”
Your customer service is only as strong as your customer service agents. Empowering agents to create an outstanding customer interaction pays off — an Adobe study showed that companies focused on customer experience grew 1.4 times faster than those that didn’t.
Agent empowerment succeeds when your agents feel like they have a voice in your customer service operation. Provide them the proper channels and outlets to express themselves. If a workplace instant messaging platform isn’t your preferred means of communication, a community wall is a great place to alert employees of important company announcements and an even better place for your employees to converse with one another.
14. Be flexible with schedules
Empowering your contact center agents works best when you support their initiatives. Let your agents pick their schedule preferences. You could put up a trade board where they can swap shifts or even set up a system for them to set their own breaks.
With more and more companies continuing to run their customer service operations remotely, agents have insurmountable odds stacked against them. It can be difficult working from home and juggling contact center agent duties, as well as the responsibilities of home life. Allowing agents to feel they are supported in what works best for their schedules means they will be more attentive when they are on the clock.
Some agents prefer to work certain hours. Some agents would rather take their hour break in short, 15-minute segments. Companies that allow their team members to have flexible work hours are more likely to see highly engaged and empowered agents, who are working according to a schedule that promotes more productivity from them.
15. Involve your team in the big decisions
Let your agents know the reasons behind management decisions and ask for their feedback. You don’t need to follow every single one of their suggestions, but knowing that you value their opinions makes your employees feel more engaged. Treat them like valued team members, not just robots to do your bidding. If they know the company’s goals and plans for the future, they can make decisions to support them.
Communication, specifically, contributes the most to a company’s success, which in turn will empower agents. According to McKinsey & Company, at many companies where senior managers communicate openly across the organization about large decisions and progress, respondents are eight times as likely to report success, compared to those who say this communication doesn’t happen.
Empowering contact center agents gives your company the flexibility to create the best possible customer service. With your agents on the front line, you want them to feel secure and empowered in their autonomy to make decisions to best solve customer needs. Interested in learning more? Schedule a demo today.