Bruce Swan, European Customer Care General Manager At Panasonic
When you reflect on the oftentouted corporate aphorism: “Our people are our greatest asset,” what sort of emotion does that illicit in you? For some, this mantra this will resonate deeply and passionately, others may greet it with apathy and some may land somewhere in between. Whatever your stance, the inescapable truth is that businesses are lead, operated and administered by people. As working professionals, we likely spend a major portion of our waking lives working, so it makes sense then that we want to be valued as individuals; to feel like we have a voice within the corporate machine. But how loudly is your voice heard and more importantly, what outcomes are realised once it has been heard?
Having worked in the contact centre industry for going on 19 years, I am continually impressed by the work frontline customer care agents carry out on behalf of the organisations they represent. These teams of brand advocates acting as the voice of an organisation, often engaging in more one-to-one customer conversations than any other part of the company, and are relied upon to help customers in their time of need. Sadly not all of these conversations are pleasant; some are harsh and demeaning. Yet the expectation is that these frontline brand warriors remain resilient, composed and professional. I can tell you from experience that at times, working as a customer care agent can feel stressful and isolating. When I worked on the frontlines, my world at work was viewed through the screen in front of me and almost every minute of my day was measured and scrutinised. It was tough to emotionally decompress between difficult calls and I constantly felt like I was battling slow and unresponsive IT systems. BUT, regardless of the challenges, I loved my job. I got a buzz from helping people and solving problems that others couldn’t and liked that my peers came to me for answers. I held a wealth of information in my head about the most current product issues, what customers were asking of the business and which of our processes elicited specific emotions.
As I’ve progressed my career in the customer services industry, I keep revisiting two important questions; how do we democratise the valuable information that resides within the minds of our agents and how do we retain them as brand advocates?
“An agent-customer conversation is a moment of truth in the customer journey. In the few minutes they spend engaging with a customer, they can directly influence the future brand loyalty of that customer”
Many businesses invest heavily in carefully curating and optimising customer experiences. I have been fortunate enough to observe the amazing impact technology has had on some of these experiences; decreasing effort, increasing speed and resetting customer expectations. Those organisations taking a strategic approach to customer service over the next 3 years are investing heavily in hyper-personalisation, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics and remote working, with the ultimate goal of increasing revenue and decreasing costs. The flip side of the proverbial experience coin is the employee experience and for the purposes of this article, the agent experience. An agent-customer conversation is a moment of truth in the customer journey. In the few minutes they spend engaging with a customer, they can directly influence the future brand loyalty of that customer. Just like customers, agents loyalty to a brand is influenced by their experience with that brand; what are the working conditions, how are they treated, are they valued as individuals? A poor agent experience is likely to translate to a poor experience for the customer. So how can businesses address this risk?
Here are three technology-inclusive approaches I had adopted over the past couple of years:
1) Be explicit about the agent experience. Marketing professionals revel in getting to know their customer demographic and meticulously craft journeys to eek out every possible advantage over their competitors. By applying that same logic and creating deliberate agent journeys, from the time the are recruited to the time the leave their post, agents are afforded a much richer and developmental working experience. Effort and friction are replaced with opportunity and engagement, which in-turn drives down attrition and improves agent-based key performance indicators, such as Agent Net Promoter Score. There are a number of cloud-based platforms that support the creation of customer journeys; these can be retooled to create employee journeys.
2) Provide platforms for discussion and idea sharing:Taking the time to sit face-to-face with frontline colleagues and have open and transparent conversations pays dividends. It is an opportunity to tune-in and really listen to what matters to them and builds rapport and trust in the long-run. I have also found that providing a digital platform for sharing information, ideas and updates is incredibly powerful. Agents are empowered to upload videos, text articles and images that bring their idea to life and the comments sections allow others to feedback and build on the idea. It creates a community based on knowledge democratisation and business benefit from the pipeline of ideas and improvements that are generated.
3) Solicit feedback regularly: Businesses traditionally run an annual staff survey, which generally provide insight into broad company-impacting themes. I have supplemented the annual survey with a quarterly agent survey, designed to solicit feedback specific to customer care and the agent’s role. These surveys are short (no more than 10 questions) and anonymous and great care is taken to ensure that the key themes are explored and fed back on. For near realtime sentiment analysis, I have deployed a feedback kiosk on-site. The kiosk has 4 emoji buttons on it, similar to the kiosks you would find in an airport that ask about your baggage claim experience, and the questions are rotated every few months. We ask a simple question like: “How are you feeling today?” and we can identify the mood of our agent population down to 15-minute intervals on a particular day. Using this insight, we can collaborate with our agents to brainstorm ideas to improve the mood during those “down” times.
There is no silver bullet to solving employee engagement. It is an on-going collaboration with your colleagues to identify friction points in the experience and working out strategies to remove them and there are technology tools available to give you teams a voice