It's Friday afternoon and a customer service agent is on their last call of the day. They're going on a much-needed three-week sabbatical while they welcome a new addition to the family. They enjoy their job and have excellent rapport with customers.
The call is like many handled by call center services, it's about a problem that needs addressing. The agent fixes the problem, confirms that the customer is satisfied, and goes into the final wrap-up.
That's when it's revealed that the customer is a former employee of the company. A person who became disillusioned with the policies of the company and left. Today's call was their last attempt to see their problem fixed or quit the company as a customer too.
The wrap-up turns into a bit of an emotional outpouring for the customer. Their faith in the company and humanity, in general, is restored by this one interaction. It's one for the books.
Call Center Services Upgraded
The above tale is a slimmed-down version of an actual interaction in a call center. It demonstrates the power that call center services agents wield in being a voice for a company.
However, that's not where the story ends. Despite the goodwill produced by the agent to the customer, the call ended with the customer being lost and the agent quitting.
That too is a demonstration of the volatility of any interaction between the company, the customer, and an agent when power is stripped from them.
On this particular call, despite the agent winning the call and being done for the day, a manager with something to prove got in the way. Seeing a long call time, they decided to interrupt and demand the agent hang up.
This put the agent in an extremely unfortunate situation that illustrates the difficult tightrope that call center customer service agents walk.
Companies employ customer service specifically to be liaisons, bridging the sometimes complicated gap between the customer and the company. This can leave agents feeling trapped in undesirable situations.
On one side of this equation is the rock that is the customer. Customers are important to a company and they need to be catered to (up to a point) but treated fairly according to well-founded policy.
In the quest to placate and retain customers, customer service agents tend to get thrown under a lot of buses. When the customer accuses a previous agent of bumbling or promising a solution that didn't appear, it's important to agree with the customer in the moment.
However, agents don't need to feel like any given call with a customer could be the straw that sees them headed to unemployment. Agents should know that the company has their back. It's difficult to trust the words of angry customers lashing out.
Support means putting into place well worded and transparent systems that let agents know where they stand. Job security goes a long way to increasing morale and increasing productivity.
One of the best ways to empower customer service agents is to give them effective tools.
Effective tools include:
- Solid IVR systems that route properly, nobody likes to get the wrong department
- Lines that don't drop on the agent side
- Delays on inbound systems so dropped calls can be reconnected
It's also important to avoid problem areas with the tools provided.
- Poor CRM systems that are difficult to navigate
- Nebulous, hard to discern policies
Both of these make calls a slow, stuttering nightmare for all parties.
Rarely are agents all-in-one, terminal ends. They are part of specialized teams that exist to solve issues with expertise. More importantly, multiple departments make customers feel that they are being taken care of.
What's in a name? Everything to a disgruntled customer that escalates on first contact to get to a manager, crisis team, tech support, or another specialized agent.
Ensuring thorough integration of departments makes these hand-offs feel official and go smoothly. Work department hand-offs into any customer services training for call service agents.
The Hard Place
On the other side of the equation is how an agent is expected to interact with the company. Agents work for the company and don't need to give away the farm to placate or help customers.
Agents, and all employees, do better when they feel they have some leeway to act. Following the exact letter of policy leaves them feeling like robots, spouting the company line and being paid to turn a blind-eye to reoccurring issues.
Offering autonomy in how solutions are found (within bounds) invites creative problem solving and job satisfaction. When an agent is empowered to offer incentives and gestures to the customer, they can go into interactions with confidence. As the saying goes, better to have it and not need it then need it and not have it.
Allowing agents input on their scheduling and rotation also means they show up wanting to work, not angry they are being forced to do so.
Of course, a call center works through metrics. There have to be some standards to gauge how policies are working, the general tone of customers, and the efficacy of agents.
But metrics can become cold and, again, robotic. Once the nuance is stripped away from interactions, agents are left in the cold.
Too strict and the only agents who can work are those who pass the blame and refuse direct interaction. Too loose and everyone spends all day chatting and nobody is on their toes to improve.
Metrics should be employed with a light touch and be only a part of the overall evaluation of agents.
Environment means a lot to job satisfaction. An agent given the nod of approval from the company to work at home gains a lot of confidence from that autonomy. With today's technology, it's simple enough to do, empowers agents, and saves the company in floor space and utilities.
Back to the story of the call. When the manager stepped in, the call unraveled. The agent turned curt in trying to end the call, the customer sensed the shift and suspected managerial interference.
It completely reversed the goodwill produced. The former employee was now a former customer, vowing to spread every last bit of outrage they could muster to anyone who would listen.
The agent was disheartened. They couldn't help the customer and saw that the company cared more about the math than the people. They would leave on their sabbatical, never to return.