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Drive Employee Engagement: How Automation Leads to a Better Agent Experience

Strengthen your contact center and better serve your customers by making work more satisfying for agents.

Strengthen your contact center and boost agent retention by making work more satisfying for your agents. [Getty Images]

Fifty-two percent of U.S. workers are considering leaving their jobs this year. How about your service agents?

Customer service professionals face many challenges on the job — including inefficient processes that lead to irate customers. Even before the pandemic, annual turnover for contact center agents averaged 30% to 45%, according to The Quality Assurance & Training Connection.  

On top of the old pressures, agents now face a host of new ones due to technological innovation that is quickly changing their roles. As artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and automation increasingly deflect the easy customer issues to bots and self-service, support agents tackle more complex problems that need the human touch. The good news is this work is more engaging than repetitive, manual tasks. Yet many service professionals need new skills to keep pace. 

The way service teams work has also changed, creating training and team cohesion challenges. Support agents used to sit side-by-side in large call centers, where they could easily flag down a supervisor or turn to their neighbor for help. Today, most service leaders plan to keep teams remote or hybrid for the long term. 

These factors affect workplace engagement for agents — and companies need to address this to stay competitive. Support agents are the people closest to your customers, with a direct impact on customer loyalty and revenue. Eighty-nine percent of consumers and 92% of business buyers say a positive customer experience makes them more likely to make another purchase, according to Salesforce’s “State of the Connected Customer” report. 

Strengthen your contact center and boost agent retention by making work more satisfying for your agents. Encourage connection, learning and community in your service organization, and eliminate friction that causes frustration. This improves the employee experience for agents and customers (70% of executives agree an improved employee experience leads directly to improved customer experience, according to Forbes Insights Research). In the end, improving the employee experience benefits your business.

Here are three ways to start today:

Free up agents’ time by automating lower-level tasks

Companies can show respect for employees by committing to their professional growth and freeing time for satisfying work. For example, agents can attend a training that improves their emotional intelligence, equipping them to better serve customers. With more time available, agents can more patiently attend to customers with difficult, nuanced issues. 

Yet how do you carve out time for upskilling and complex work when agents need all their working hours to complete existing service tasks? The answer is to streamline simple, repetitive tasks through customer service automation, so that agents aren’t so bogged down. 

For instance, how many people reach out to your support team just to update their address? Most people would rather not have to call in — it’s a waste of time for the customer, and an unsatisfying, repetitive manual task for the agent. Deflect those cases by automating the change of address process, then inviting customers to participate via a bot or an online portal. 

You might think employees would resist automation of their tasks (and some do), but in my previous role as a startup founder I experienced the opposite. I’ll never forget the insurance agent who cried from relief a few years ago because we digitized a manual process, eliminating the need for him to call customers when their bills were overdue. This freed him to do more of what he loves: meet with customers.

The same is true for your service agents. Great customer service agents stay in the career because they enjoy helping people. It’s far more satisfying to help when the problem you’re addressing requires a human touch — and you actually have the time to give it.

Remove friction to boost employee engagement

Another way to improve employee experience in the contact center is to remove friction that causes frustration. Clunky technology and processes are often to blame. Streamline everything — from how cases arrive in an agent’s queue, to how managers monitor contact center performance, to how service agents improve their skills. 

For example, consider the goal of getting the right case to the right agent at the right time (at Salesforce, we do this through omni-channel routing). Often we think about this as a key to a better customer experience.

But accurate case routing also creates a better employee experience. When customers get help faster, agents hear fewer people complaining about how long they’ve been on hold, or venting about three agents who couldn’t help them earlier. Fewer fatiguing customer interactions mean agents are less likely to throw up their hands and say “I quit.” 

You can use technology in the contact center to remove friction for all your customer service roles. Help managers with real-time contact center performance analytics that, over time, reveal agent skill gaps and identify areas agents need training. Help your agents grow professionally by deploying bite-sized training modules they can do between cases. Help planners by providing data to help them more accurately forecast demand, and optimize capacity planning and agent schedules so the right skills are on hand when customers reach out. Our Workforce Engagement product helps you do all of this.

As performance insights about your contact center increase, everyone wins: planners do their jobs better, managers have more visibility, and agents gain the skills they need to meet customer needs. The continuous improvement and career growth creates a better experience for all your employees, so employee engagement grows. 

Invest in company culture so people feel they belong

But it’s not enough to improve your technology alone — you also need to pay attention to your culture, which affects how people feel about their work. Ideally, a company’s culture flows directly from its values. 

To be tangible and effective, culture can’t just be values slapped on a wall and never discussed. It needs to be deliberately propagated. Leaders need to articulate their vision and values — and repeat themselves often — so everyone hears the drum beat and steps to it. This is even more critical in the work-from-anywhere world. 

As a pulse check on your culture, regularly survey employees on their wellness and productivity. This helps quantify whether company values are being lived out, and identify areas for improvement. Do agents feel connected to one another, even in a remote environment? Do they respect and learn from their managers? Do people feel accepted at work? Do they feel their teams are there for them when they fail? 

Based on the results of your survey, put programs in place to improve your employee experience for the contact center. Perhaps your service team needs more virtual events to connect to their colleagues. Maybe they need more flexibility in their schedules. Or it could be that you need to improve inefficient processes that are wasting agents’ time, irritating customers, and resulting in low morale. Employees will tell you what is needed to improve their jobs. The key is to ask.

Clara Shih is CEO of Salesforce Service Cloud, the world’s #1 customer service, digital service, and field service solution that powers 360-degree customer experience conversations. A digital pioneer, Clara has been named one of Fortune’s “40 under 40” and “Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs,” Fast Company’s “Most Influential People in Technology,” and a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum. Clara is a member of the Starbucks board of directors and serves as Executive Chair of Hearsay Systems, a privately held digital software firm she founded in 2009. She graduated #1 in computer science at Stanford University, where she also received an M.S. in computer science. She also holds an M.S. in internet studies from Oxford University, where she studied as a U.S. Marshall Scholar.

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