In today’s world of hyper-competitive world, companies are constantly on the look out for that edge to differentiate themselves with. It comes as no surprise that first-class customer service, 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 experiences?
Research says that empowering call center agents to make decisions in the moment is one of the best, most efficient ways to boost your customer experiences and ensure they are positive and memorable.
Agents are on the front lines of your customer-relations. Their direct and personal experiences with customers gives them valuable information and insight into how to create and cultivate strong customer service.
Here are 15 tips that you can implement starting today to empower your call center agents:
1. Hire people who are the right culture fit
In order to create a culture of empowerment for your agents, you need to hire the right people to carry that culture.
It's important to first establish what your culture is and what qualities work well within those values. You must first ask yourself: What makes a great customer service person in our organization? Choose 3-6 words that represent the main values you look for. These should be specific areas with which you evaluate and measure your customer service employees.
If you want your customer service agents to be empathetic, innovative, and creative, you need to look for people who exhibit those characteristics. Your customer service culture is important and can only be maintained effectively by the agents you hire.
2. Start with small steps
You can’t just wake up one day and decide to have an empowered workforce, especially if your company has been running on more hierarchical lines. You need your agent's trust and full support.
Empower your employees in small matters first. We often overlook the smaller aspects of agent appreciation but 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 with:
- If your company is operating within a brick-and-mortar model or utilizing a hybrid workforce, let your agents pick the food in the office vending machines.
- The same goes for an 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 can be done in office or remotely.
3. Have a plan in place and reinforce it with process documentation
Building an empowered workforce isn’t an impulsive decision─it will change your company dynamics at all levels. It is important to have a detailed and transparent plan set in place.
Set policy as to how your agents are empowered and to what extent. It is important for your organization to ask the difficult questions and ensure there are answers to those difficult questions.
A great way to ensure policies are set forth and followed diligently is through strong process documentation. Process documentation are documents that everyone in the company has access to. They lay out all the steps for particular tasks that need to be undertaken and repeated consistently.
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 that helps a company work efficiently and productively. According to the Institute for Public Relations, an important form 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 their various job functionalities. It's important to ensure they have the support of all departments.
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 easy access to other departments to get the help they need, it makes interactions with customers that much smoother.
5. Train, train, train
In a world where customer service is at the core of business relationships, it is essential to pay particular attention to call center training. Empowering agents is all about giving them the tools and resources to make informed decisions for themselves.
Following a set of rules and training according to those set of rules is fairly simple but training people to make informed decisions is a much more complex and difficult task.
This is where training, learning, and motivation software come into play. A strong training program can offer a multitude of opportunities to identify strengths and weaknesses. Quality assurance software can provide you with the data you need to drill down on the statistical and performance-based evidence to create targeted training.
6. Capture and share best practices
Don’t just talk about how not to do things wrong. Show your agents the times when everything went right. Let them listen to recordings of your top agents successfully dealing with difficult problems.
Agent empowerment can only thrive when an agent feels supported for their work. The nature of quality assurance tends to focus on what an agent is doing wrong but that doesn't necessarily have to always 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 often.
It’s a great idea to ask your best agents to help with training─it shows your appreciation and respect, and they will have invaluable insights to offer. 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 call center agents means allowing them to make decisions with 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 for mistakes, it is important to look for stronger ways to correct them. Find more opportunities for coaching your agents than for deducting. Make feedback a more fluid process and do not hold agents to unreasonably strict standards. This will ultimately improve their experience and thus, create a foundation of agent empowerment.
8. Involve your supervisors, managers, and team leaders
The roles of your managers and supervisors will change drastically under the new regime. With agents able to make decisions, managers will be acting more as coaches and advisors instead of monitoring rules compliance. This ultimately will be a good thing for your managers and supervisors, as they will have more time to focus on the crucial aspects of their jobs but you will need to get them on board first.
A great customer service leader is one that is able to empower the team. 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.
Here are some ways to leverage your team leaders and managers to encourage agent empowerment:
- Provide tools for the agents to excel, whether that be workforce management, an agent optimization suite, or a robust quality assurance system.
- Show your team trust through directly communication.
- Give your team the responsibility and the space necessary to take pride and in their work.
9. Focus on strong integrations
Give your agents the best information you can. Integrate all customer information into a unified CRM. Logs from past calls, pending requests, social media, email (and everything else you can think of) should be easily accessible. Your agents need the complete picture to make the best decisions.
The beauty of cloud-based technology is that it allows various apps and platforms to integrate seamlessly, allowing companies to custom-build their technology systems and solutions to meet their ever-evolving needs.
This seamlessness trickles down to the agent experience. When an agent has access to seamless technology experiences, it makes their job easier, which allows them to solve customer problems more efficiently.
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.
Empowering your team of agents takes a village. It involves training, learning, motivation, quality assurance, and much more. Fragmenting out every segment of your customer service operations makes it harder to reinforce the goals and objectives of your company.
Dashboards allow for much easier, more streamlined performance management. Having fast access to key metrics and reports eliminates the confusion or oversights that outdated practices (such as multiple tabs) can cause. Having a full view of agent performance allows for you to understand where they are struggling or excelling and how you can coach them up to work to the best of their abilities.
11. Track the right metrics
Data is powerful. While it is important for you to measure the behavior you want exhibited via the metrics that mean the most to your organization, data can also act as a way to inadvertently empower agents.
Allowing agents to have access to their metrics shows them 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 metric alone is enough to judge the quality of an agent's work. It's also important to know that not all metrics are as important for empowering agents. 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.
12. Reward the right stuff
It doesn’t do any good to empower your agents to go the extra mile if you’re still rewarding them based on how fast they get the customer off the phone. Set up your metrics to measure the excellence of the customer service and you’ll see who your best performers are.
Customer service relations are not a one-size-fits-all mentality. Maybe your customer service agent wrote a really great email or maybe your customer service agent diffused a difficult situation and made a customer laugh in the process. 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 assurance 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 = agent empowerment and happiness. They saw their Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) reach 93% after just seven months of utilizing a more robust quality assurance 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 people who don’t have their boots on the ground.
Your customer service is only as strong as your customer service agents. Their experience within your customer service operation sets the tone for your customer experiences. According to Bain & Company, businesses can grow revenues between 4% and 8% above their market when they prioritize better customer service experiences. That prioritization starts with your agents.
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 Slack 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 agents works best when you support initiatives in all ways. 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 unsurmountable odds stacked against them. It can be difficult working from home and juggling 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 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. Get 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─they’re 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 companies where senior managers communicate openly and across the organization about large decisions and progress, respondents are 8.0 times as likely to report success, as those who say this communication doesn’t happen.
Empowering call center agents gives your company the flexibility to create the best possible customer service. The people who know the best action to take in the moment are usually the people who are there facing the situation.
With your agents on the frontline, you want them to feel secure and empowered in their autonomy to make decisions to best solve customer needs.
How do you empower your agents to create top-notch customer experiences?