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Optimising CX through reducing agent effort

23rd Jun 2022
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Over the past few years, a massive shift in corporate culture has taken place as service leaders have begun to put the agent experience (AX) at the center of their customer service strategy – and for good reason.

The correlation between a positive AX and a positive customer experience (CX) is well-established, and research continues to validate the conventional wisdom that happy agents mean happy customers. According to a recent study by Bain & Company, there is a close correlation between companies with the highest employee satisfaction and those with the highest NPS. This has very real implications for the success of a business, with research showing those brands that record the highest NPS scores post returns almost three times those of the overall market. And this study similarly finds that companies with highly engaged employees outperform competitors by 147%. 

It’s not rocket science - customers will both stay with and recommend companies that consistently provide good service.  And what’s becoming increasingly clear is that taking an inside-out approach to creating an excellent CX by building a superior AX is the way to go. 

The AX disconnect

However, despite this momentum and the wealth of evidence that connects good CX with good AX, disengagement among frontline staff continues to get worse, with 1 in 3 agents considering leaving their job within 1 year. 

This is predominantly due to the fact that, in a rush to provide good CX, service leaders have spent the last decade focused on enabling the customer through automations, self-service and chatbots - but not necessarily enabling their agents. This has led to many brands inadvertently making it harder for their frontline agents. With the successes of self-service, agents are handling more complex and higher-impact customer situations which require the agent’s undivided attention.

So, it’s really not surprising then to see agent engagement suffering, and CX is suffering as a result. ​​A recent report from Gartner found that disengaged agents are three times more likely to deliver high-effort service experiences for their customers. 

Despite efforts to build a more automated service experience, the fact remains that customers often still need to connect directly with an agent - increasingly through digital channels - for a number of high-impact issues. So, how can CX managers and leaders improve the AX for their employees? The key lies in reducing agent effort

Minimizing agent effort

The best customer service interactions are those that require minimal effort from your customer. This concept is grounded in findings that show low-effort interactions make happier customers, reducing both customer churn and operational costs. The same concept can be used to measure and improve agent experience: the easier it is for your agents to do their job, the happier they’ll be, reducing expensive agent churn.

One of the foundational findings of the initial customer effort research showed that effort drivers fall into two categories, "do" and "feel". “Do” drivers are those that describe the actions and exertion required by the customer. “Feel” drivers are the resulting emotional response to the service experience. 

Our research into 1500 frontline agents in late 2021 studied the experience drivers of 1,500 frontline agents, and our findings revealed that agent experience pain points can be classified into the same two categories. The study revealed that 97% of agents feel their workload is too heavy, and 59% feel they are lacking the necessary knowledge to serve customers. Also, 75% said they need to manually select their next query from multiple queues, while 97% feel their workload is too heavy. 

Pain points and effort are clearly high, but here are four steps brands can take to reduce agent effort. 

Step 1:  Automate repetitive agent tasks

One of the easiest ways to minimize agent effort is to automate repetitive tasks. It’s crucial here to be strategic: a hybrid human-bot structure allows you to draw on the strengths of both. Leverage chatbots to complete low-value frontline tasks such as gathering basic customer information and running authentication checks to free up your agents to focus their undivided attention on the customer. 

You can also take advantage of other automated processes such as intelligent routing, type-ahead, and automatic tagging to reduce agent effort. The average agent spends 81 minutes per day trying to decide which query to solve next, a figure which can be cut drastically using intelligent routing. Intelligent routing uses AI to proactively direct conversations based on prioritization of the customer and their inquiry (using customizable parameters) to get the best agent for the problem connected quickly. Similarly, type-ahead saves agents time by enabling them to offer faster responses and using bots to automatically tag conversations prevents your agents from having to do this manually. 

Step 2: Invest in a single unified interface

One of the largest sources of agent effort has been a fragmented user experience, working across many different systems and tool that are ‘necessary’ to serve customers. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to piece together different tools and platforms just to do your job, and there’s no reason multiple channels can’t be consolidated into a single platform. 

Therefore, investing in a seamless, integrated interface is key if you want to achieve an effortless agent experience. Not only does this create consistency in the AX, but also reduces agents’ emotional response to increasingly complex workloads. 

Step 3: Empower Agents with Contextual Knowledge 

Knowledge management is also one of the main predictors of frontline disengagement - if your agents can’t easily access and share the knowledge that they need, their job is much harder. Customers don’t want to have to wait on the line while your agent has to start from the beginning, particularly if this isn’t the first time they’ve got in touch about an issue, and it’s inconvenient for agents too.

Contextual knowledge encompasses all the available information about a customer’s issue, their previous actions and interactions with your brand, and the options available to your agent to help solve the query. It’s important to have a single source of truth, which should be integrated into your CRM. Don’t overcomplicate things for your agents by adding yet another tool for your knowledge base. 

Step 4: Measure agent effort by listening to your agents

Finally, you can’t change what you don’t measure. We’re used to measuring customer effort in the CX world, to the extent that the Customer Effort Score is a foundational CX metric used by organizations to understand churn risk and make improvements. The same logic can be applied to your agents, using the Agent Effort Score (AES) - simply ask your agents how easy the company makes it to solve customer queries. 

Your agents are the experts: no one understands the landscape better than them, so why not make use of their experiences? Establishing a baseline and tracking the AES over time enables leaders to see what’s working, and spot opportunities for improvement.   

Your agents are the heart of your brand and making their lives easier will benefit everyone. These are simple steps you can take, but they show your agents that you’re listening, and you appreciate their work. The more effortless your agent experience, the happier your agents will be - and happy agents make happy customers. 

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