Emily Witt and Nicholas Feinig contributed reporting to this article.
Consumers rely on customer service agents for help with everything from address changes to insurance claims. But frontline agents are leaving their jobs en masse, citing burnout and lack of flexibility – a recent Salesforce survey found 71% of agents have considered leaving their job in the past six months alone!
We interviewed 40 contact center agents and supervisors, diving into their experiences to learn how companies can better support agents and stem this “Great Resignation.” We learned:
- Agents want to work for companies that trust them to solve customer problems, empower them with technology, and offer upskilling and training.
- Supervisors struggle with being effective managers when they’re no longer in the same location as their agents. New technologies can help, but risk alienating agents.
As we analyzed the data, we identified four principles for human-centric agent management:
1. Center agent experiences
Tools like artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are increasingly effective at handling simple cases, but they can lead to customer frustration when deployed poorly or in a complex workflow. As one agent explained, “We have a feature on our website that they can click to send us a note. However, if the note is something that the system doesn’t recognize, which seems to be about 80% of the time, they get an email saying they need to call us. So they call us and they wait an hour to talk to us for us to say ‘oh, well we received your email. Was there anything else you needed?’”
Automated or not, the goal is the same: the best possible outcome for customers and agents.
What you can do: First, include agents in the process of evaluating and testing technology. Next, acknowledge your agents’ skills and value in how you think about contact center burnout. They aren’t just a cost center – they are a strategic pillar of your customer experience. Finally, focus on use cases that help agents – or customers –find information to solve problems. Automated or not, the goal is the same: the best possible outcome for customers and agents.
2. Build trust with transparency
There is a trust crisis in contact centers. Agents often don’t know how they’re evaluated or when they’re being monitored, while supervisors can’t always tell if a remote agent is on-task or “if they are doing dishes while they’re on a call.”
Recognize that remote agents face new challenges.
What you can do: Make it clear, whenever possible, that a call is being monitored, and incentivize supervisors to provide feedback in a timely manner. Provide clear evaluation metrics with actionable tips to improve performance. And recognize that remote agents face new challenges – from internet connectivity issues to suboptimal workspaces – and encourage them to communicate these issues so you can troubleshoot them together.
3. Evolve key performance (KPIs) to fit the moment
Metrics help companies measure and improve results, but they rarely paint a complete picture. Customer satisfaction scores, for example, are useful for benchmarking, but can’t tell you if a customer was already frustrated by a chatbot by the time they’re routed to a live agent. Over-indexing on some metrics can even penalize agents for a job well done.
Consider building a relative feedback system, where agents and supervisors both score a call, then discuss its outcome and opportunities for improvement.
What you can do: Supplement the usual metrics with outcomes-based measures. For example, in addition to “average call time” you might also measure an agent’s impact on customer lifetime value. Consider building a relative feedback system, where agents and supervisors both score a call, then discuss its outcome and opportunities for improvement. These communication-centered, outcome-driven approaches can help reduce contact center burnout.
4. Train intentionally
Remote training is challenging for agents and their trainers. New hires used to get hands-on training, and shadow more experienced agents before taking solo calls. Today, most learn in large groups and entirely online – one agent we spoke with “88 people in a Zoom training session!” As a result, said one supervisor, “It’s getting harder to retain people because they get half the training we used to give them.”
Use existing monitoring tools to let remote agents shadow someone more experienced.
What you can do: Use technology in your favor. For example, create a digital buddy system to give new agents collaboration-as-training. Use existing monitoring tools to let remote agents shadow someone more experienced. And make upskilling part of intraday management – provide short digital training modules that teach a new product or skill, and incentivize agents to complete them.
A human-centric approach, putting your employees at the heart of what you do, to contact center management is critical for work-from-anywhere success. These principles can help future-proof your contact center against more disruption. To learn more about this research, check out deep dive into research-backed principles for helping contact center agents from our research and insights team.