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In the emerging experience economy, the proper management and handling of customer conversations is suddenly one of the most important functions a company has. And just as suddenly, that makes customer service agents among your most important employees. Here are five ways to make these agents your company’s competitive advantage.

1. Let go of the past.

For the last quarter of a century, customer service departments have been cost optimized to the point of diminishing return. Customer service agents have been stripped of their personalities and problem-solving skills in order to adhere to arbitrary service protocols that are out of step with the experience economy. Common practices include: Getting customers off of the phone quickly; re-verifying customers who have already been through multiple layers of identification; using call scripts and workflows in conflict with customer preferences; sitting through quality-control sessions with supervisors that scrutinize every utterance of their interactions; and finally being judged on a satisfaction, effort, or a promoter score that was assigned by a customer which they had little ability to directly influence. Step one is take a giant step back from this. And let most of it go.

2. Balance technology with humanity.

In the experience economy, the retooling of customer service becomes the first place to start in order to create a sustainable competitive advantage, attract the best customer service talent, and figure out how to actually deliver customer experience at a scale unlike ever before. And technology is the first place to look to enact such a change. There is no shortage of new and innovative technologies that will be central to those experiences, especially in a world where devices and customers are connected in powerful new ways. However, there is something more fundamental than the technology: It’s how the agent and the technology come together that creates the “secret sauce” that customers are looking for — and willing to pay a premium to get. Find the right mix.

3. Build connected experiences.

Finding the right mixture of technology and humanity is critical, but the other half of this equation is to build seamless, connected experiences for your customers. Connected experiences empower service agents to be at their very best when a customer needs their expertise. They “set the table” for agents in ways that allow them to impute expertise at the right moment in a given customer’s journey. A connected experience is transparent, knows customer preferences, supplies agents with complete 360-degree customer data, and anticipates escalation paths. Giving customers a connected experience is a crucial element in keeping them from feeling alienated and dehumanized. Give them a smooth ride instead.

4. Let your agents solve problems.

This sounds simple but it is not. A conscious decision must be made to enable your service employees to apply unique insights and problem-solving skills with the best information available to them, every time. Rather than merely following scripts and protocols, customer interaction in the experience economy demands the precise application of human interaction at the appropriate moment — not simply when something has gone wrong and a customer needs someone to gripe to. Unleashing service employees to provide the kind of help they want to provide — when they might be limited by service protocols or company standards — is critical to enhancing their ability to effectively solve problems in a time-sensitive manner. Let them do their job.

5. Let your agents be human.

The best service agents, like anyone doing something they love, have a genuine caring nature and passion for helping people. They will tell you that’s why they come to work every day. And that’s why they feel fulfilled at the end of every day too. When a company taps into that potential, it unleashes the most powerful, authentic form of service possible. This is what customers crave in the experience economy. Moreover, it brings a sense of pride, ownership, and empowerment to the service workers who deliver customer experiences every day.

In March, an Accenture study cited that companies lost $1.6 trillion last year alone due to customers switching providers because of poor customer service. Moreover, the study went on to reveal that customers prefer to deal with human beings instead of digital channels. This underscores the need to optimize the role of the customer service agent. Retooling for the new experience economy might start with technology, but more than ever it also embraces human input. And this starts with the customer service agent. Releasing them from antiquated protocols, balancing technology with humanity, connecting them like never before, and then empowering them to solve problems as only empathic human beings can will deliver a competitive advantage unlike any other.

Learn more about how top agents are becoming customer service trailblazers.