When we came up with the idea to visit some of our customers’ contact centers, we knew we’d learn a thing or eight about agent engagement. However, some of those things came to us as mild — or, in the case of #6, major — surprises.

Recently, out on the Customer Service Trailblazer Tour, we stopped in at the Farmers Insurance customer service center in Austin, Texas. Here, then, in no particular order, are eight surprise takeaways we learned at this tour stop.*

#1: Blend the Agent Experience with the Customer Experience

“Agent and customer experience, they're going to go hand in hand, so you don't want to separate what an agent experiences or a customer experiences. You want to blend them together. It's got to be seamless. You don't separate an agent experience or a customer experience. You blend them together and that's how you're going to make that customer/agent experience awesome.”
-Ali Khan, Director, Salesforce Center of Excellence, Farmers Insurance

#2: Listen to Your Agents

“So, Farmers, I believe, is trying to go towards the area of making sure that the agents are heard. I know that they listen to them. I think it's important to hear the agents since they are out there dealing with our customers, handling it first hand.”
-Charlie Young, Service Advocate, Personal Lines Underwriting, Farmers Insurance

#3: Embrace New Technology

“Well, especially in today's market, technology is everything, right? Change in that arena is inevitable. I mean, the horses are coming. You can either run with them or you can get trampled. Technology is a big deal because it allows us to be more instantaneous in what we do, and it allows us to give the insured more options in terms of what they can do themselves.”
-Brandon Beard, Senior Service Advocate, Farmers Insurance

#4: Your People Are Everything

“For us, our people are everything. I mean, think of it. We think of them as rock stars, and they're really the lifeblood of the brand and the interactions our customers are truly having. I really think of us as a pyramid, and if you think of the typical pyramid where you kind of have the senior leadership at the top and then you kind of have your front lines there, invert that pyramid, because the most important people are the ones who are having those interactions every day with our customers. We really focus on equipping and empowering them with the understanding of the brand, and then giving them that ability to deliver in the moment. Happy and engaged employees — translate that to our customers and to our external agents, and that's where we really have things now working in a virtuous cycle, and delivering on the brand.”
-Dexter Johnson, Head of Service Operations Strategy and Service Delivery, Farmers Insurance

#5: It’s All About Engagement

“In our operation, it's all about engagement. Engagement with our [insurance] agents, especially, and what they value most is the service we can offer them. You know, timely service, the right service, the right answers, and, basically, if there's a problem, correcting that problem and doing it fast.”
-John Igum, Director, Austin Business Insurance Center, Farmers Insurance

#6: Customer Service Reps Have Seen It All

“Oh, we get all kinds of things. I've had a guy call in and find out that his wife has a ‘mister’, another person on his policy that he was not familiar with, and [who] was cheating on him, that came up over a phone call without us realizing that that was the situation.”
-Sean Perry, Senior Service Advocate, Farmers Insurance

#7: Personalization Is Key

“Other industries have really raised the bar when it comes to personalization. But with respect to insurance, personalization is so table-stakes right now. You can't have a conversation without a base level of knowledge about who they are, where they might be coming from, what other policies they have with Farmers, and what are the kinds of interactions they've had recently. What we are trying to accomplish as an organization in terms of making our customers smarter about insurance, personalization is at the core there. Personalization is key to it all.”
-Leigh Rouse, Director of Customer Care, Farmers Insurance

#8: Training Will Have to Evolve Faster

“So, [with] the workforce meeting the product in the cloud, I think it changes who you want on your team too. They have to be able to embrace the technology, because they will see more ways to improve it, and to make it work for them, and work for the customer.

So it changes a little bit of who we will hire in the future. It changes the profile of our advocates, of our agents. So that's a piece of it, but it also means our training and our onboarding and the services we wrap around our agents and employees today has to look very different. It has to be more flexible. It has to be more nimble. It can't be as prescriptive as we have today, because the type of call that they get on any given day is changing at a rate that is much faster than we've ever seen. So, in the past, you could use training programs that you didn’t have to switch out for years. That's not the case anymore. Our training, our coaching, our support, has to be nimble and know that the type of call they're going to receive could change tomorrow.”
-Chanda Sperry, Vice President, Direct Services, Farmers Insurance

More than ever before, customer service reps have a direct stake in a given company’s customer-satisfaction rating. When customers interact with a brand, this first layer of contact has an outsized role in determining customer loyalty and retention. By giving agents the best tools, they have a better chance to do better work, retaining customers and delivering on brand promise. Increasingly, giving customer service agents the power to do great work is becoming less of an option and more of a necessity.

Learn more about Service Cloud, or how Salesforce for Service can change the way your agents can contribute to your company’s success here.

* Answers are edited for clarity and brevity.