Why Poor Agent Experiences Happen (and How to Fix Yours)

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Smart companies have known for years what research is just now starting to show: the better your agent experience is, the better your customer experience will be. It makes perfect sense, too: if the people you trust to help your customers aren’t happy at work, they won’t be motivated to make sure your customers are happy.

You might expect that this clear link would lead to companies doing all they can to foster the best agent experience possible. But agent experiences continue to suffer at many companies. That’s why you’re here: you already know agent experience matters, but you also realize that knowing is only half the battle—saying “agent experience is important” won’t miraculously fix it.

Your agent experience will only get better if you take a deliberate approach to improve it. That means first seeking out direct and indirect evidence of a poor experience. You’ll then need to address agents’ workloads, pay, career development, or whatever other root causes are driving that poor experience.

Signs of a Poor Agent Experience

The first step toward fixing a poor agent experience is identifying the problem in the first place. Without clear evidence that your agent experience needs work, you’re unlikely to get the support and resources you need to fix it. Here are a few telltale signs of a poor agent experience.

Indirect Signs

Sometimes, you can see evidence of a poor agent experience even before you attempt to measure it directly.

For example, low (or falling) customer satisfaction scores suggest the agent experience may be suffering. After all, if the customer experience is poor, it stands to reason that the agent experience may also be poor.

You can also see evidence of a poor agent experience in high (or increasing) churn/turnover rates among your customer service agents. If agents aren’t having a good experience working for your company, they’re likely going to look for a better experience elsewhere. Expected churn rates for customer service jobs vary widely, so for the clearest picture, look at your company’s historical employee churn data. If churn is trending upward among your customer service agents, it’s time to take a hard look at your agent experience.

Similarly, high (or increasing) absenteeism among customer service agents suggests problems with the agent experience. If agents are skipping shifts, they’re probably not excited about coming into work.

Direct Signs

Even if the indirect signs above don’t suggest a poor agent experience, it may still exist. A good way to find out is to get agents to tell you whether (and how) their experience could be better.

The most proactive and direct way to do this is through employee surveys. These anonymous feedback mechanisms can help you identify potential problems in your agent experience.

There are numerous solutions that can help you execute an employee survey, from highly polished, professional solutions like Great Place to Work to simple online forms like the ones you can create in Google Drive.

The exact questions you’ll want to ask will likely depend on your company, but as a starting point, here are 50 employee survey questions grouped by the themes they’re meant to address. You’ll see that most of them are yes-or-no questions (such as “Do you think your manager values your opinions?” and “Do you feel empowered at work?”). These are useful for quantitatively analyzing your results, but they don’t necessarily tell you why agents answer the way they do—in order to better understand the agent experience, make sure your survey includes opportunities for agents to give open-ended feedback and share their opinions.

Another useful way to gather information about your agent experience is by conducting exit interviews with departing customer service employees. Use this time to ask frank questions about why agents are leaving, as well as what suggestions/feedback they have for improving the experience for their former colleagues.

4 Common Causes of Poor Agent Experience (and How to Fix Them)

Each agent’s experience is unique, and the issues you need to address may vary from other  companies—they may even vary from person to person. Here are some of the most common agent experience-related issues that companies face and suggestions for addressing them.

Unsustainable Workloads

Customer service management and executives say that agent workloads are one of the biggest challenges that they face. It’s also an understandable contributor to a poor agent experience. Fortunately, there are a few ways to address agent workloads.

One way is to implement or expand the self-service options you offer customers. By investing in things like training videos, a knowledge base, manuals, and other self-service options, you give customers the chance to get their issues resolved without needing to reach out to customer service. This can reduce your support volume and take some pressure off of your team.

It’s also worth looking for other ways to reduce customer support volume. This can include things like making product improvements and investing in creating a better user experience. (Your customer service agents are a great place to start when coming up with ideas—they will undoubtedly be able to tell you what customers’ top complaints are.)

You can also make workloads more sustainable by giving agents the tools to do their jobs more efficiently. This can mean something major, like switching to a new customer service software platform, or something more modest, like creating additional canned response templates that your agents can use to answer tickets more quickly and increase the number of tickets they can handle per hour.

Lastly, consider the possibility that you simply need to hire more people. Sometimes, this really is the only answer. If you’ve done all you can to reduce support volumes, it might be time to grow your customer service team.

Low Compensation

Research shows that compensation is one of employees’ top sources of frustration—it’s the #1 response to the employee survey question, “If you had a magic wand, what’s the one thing you would change about [your organization]?” To resolve this source of poor agent experience, consider the following approaches.

First, ensure you’re paying enough. Compare your agents’ pay to what they could expect to earn for similar work:

  • In your geographical area
  • At other companies in your field (such as your competitors)

It’s not just about top-line pay, though. Benefits are more important than ever—according to the Work Institute’s 2020 Retention Report, the percentage of interviewees citing benefits as the most important reason for leaving has more than doubled since 2010.

While you’re looking at agents’ overall compensation, look for opportunities to make changes that create value for both employees and the company. A great example of this is remote work—it eliminates commuting-related costs (both time and money) for employees and can save companies office-space-related costs like rent, utilities, and maintenance.

Lack of Respect in the Organization

Another top challenge for customer service management and executives is that other stakeholders lack an understanding of and respect for the role that customer service plays in the organization. One side effect of this is that organizations may exclude customer service from participating in decisions that (often negatively) impact agents’ work.

One way to elevate customer service throughout the company is to put all employees through customer service training. Made famous by companies like Disney and Zappos, this involves having team members across all teams spend time working in customer service. As a result, team members better understand the challenges that customer service agents face and gain respect for the skills and knowledge that the customer service team possesses.

It’s also important to involve customer service in strategic decision-making. Giving customer service a seat at the table helps the company make more customer-centric decisions, which will benefit both customers and the agents who support them.

Lastly, foster collaboration between customer service and other departments. For example, you could have customer service team members attend new product demos or planning sessions and give input. Or you could have your marketing team sit in on a weekly customer service team meeting so they can hear how customers think and talk about your products.

By having other departments work closely with customer service, you create opportunities for relationships to develop and for respect to grow. This can lead other teams to consider the impact on customer service when making decisions about their own work.

When encouraging collaboration, it’s critical to lead by example—ensure that department managers collaborate in a visible way so that employees across departments see that the company truly values this teamwork.

Lack of Career Growth/Development Opportunities

It’s natural for employees to want to grow and develop. When they don’t see a way to do so at their current company, they become disengaged and often leave—according to one report, career development was the top driver of employee turnover in 2020.

While some companies make career development clear and explicit—often with pre-defined tracks for agents to follow as they gain experience—that isn’t the case everywhere. Here are a few other ways to address career development so that it doesn’t become (or continue to be) a source of poor agent experience at your company.

  1. Create a mentoring program that gives agents help charting their career paths—and helps them get back on course when they feel stuck.
  2. Add or expand education benefits: encourage agents to develop new skills by subsidizing their ongoing professional education. If these benefits already exist but agents are not taking advantage of them (less than 10% of employees do), survey or talk to agents to find out why not so that you can address the root cause.
  3. Make discussing career paths a central part of employee reviews. Emphasize to agents that you value them and want them to grow with the company but that they need to be active partners in that development process. Set goals around not only performance but also career development.
  4. Highlight and celebrate team members’ growth and development. This reminds agents that career growth is indeed possible at your company and encourages growth-minded customer service agents to pursue their professional development with renewed vigor.

A Great Agent Experience Doesn’t Happen by Accident

It’s all well and good to pay lip service to agent experience, but saying it matters won’t magically make yours any better. If you want to enjoy the benefits of a great agent experience, you have to put in the work to learn what yours is like and fix the parts that are broken.

Use the ideas above to start measuring and improving your agent experience today.

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