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How To Properly Give Your Customer Service Agents Autonomy

How To Properly Give Your Customer Service Agents Autonomy

Autonomy doesn’t simply mean opening the floodgates for agents to do whatever they want. This is an evolutionary shift that can happen through multiple strategies and steps.

When customer service agents say, “I’ll be happy to help you with that,” they actually mean something else.

They mean that they’re happy they have the go-head and the ability to help a customer with a particular problem.

Working in customer service becomes more challenging when you run into exceptions to the rule — where there is an unusual request that can’t be fulfilled without asking someone else for permission. Or when there’s some grey area in a policy, but the agent isn’t authorized to use their own judgement.

Companies have policies and approval processes for a reason, but when enforcing them gets murky, it can have a negative impact on the customer experience.

These are the moments when customers who were initially happy to get through to an agent right away get frustrated. Now, the agent has to put them on hold to figure something out, or to re-route them to their supervisor.

Agents obviously don’t like these moments either, because it creates extra work to have to hunt down their already-busy supervisor. These are employees who are often closely scrutinized over how many tickets or cases they’ve handled on a shift, and who are evaluated based on how quick they’ve been in helping customers.

Businesses might have been leery of giving their service agents too much autonomy in the past because of how important those customer relationships are. If they make the wrong decision, a bad situation might get worse. A customer might part ways with the company forever.

There’s also the risk that if agents are given autonomy, they will bend the rules too often, possibly losing the company money or creating new expectations from customers that can’t be met.

Contrast that with the degree of autonomy we’ve given everyday objects, from doors that open and close on their own to cars that can drive themselves. Shouldn’t agents be more empowered too? In doing so, it helps them feel more engaged on the job.

With more agents working remotely, meanwhile, the time to revisit how much autonomy they’re given is more important than ever.

Autonomy doesn’t simply mean opening the floodgates for agents to do whatever they want. This is an evolutionary shift that can happen through multiple strategies and steps:

1. Close Off Any Training Gaps

Companies need to be able to standardize the way service agents learn about their products, services, policies and common troubleshooting tips. The danger is simply putting the training on autopilot and not doing a de-brief before agents go back on the front lines.

Whether you’re training a new group of agents or doing a refresher with an existing team, make sure there’s time to address questions that often begin with, “But what about when . . . ?”

There may be nuances to a policy that you can clarity at the outset to make agents less likely to come running over a minor exception or issue.

2. Play ‘Escalate Or Act?’

In your next team meeting, walk through some of the most common scenarios you’ve seen, based on data from actual cases, about scenarios where challenging decisions came up.

Encourage agents to flesh out the details from the data if any of the scenarios resonate with them personally.

Make into a sort of game where you see if they know when they should, in fact, escalate an issue to you or someone more senior.

They might not realize there are some scenarios where they have the green light to handle it themselves.

What you’re trying to do here is clarify misperceptions about what they’re allowed to do, and to build confidence in determining where they can act with autonomy.

3. Emphasize The Value Of Storytelling

Agents may not always be authorized to solve every issue that comes up, but there’s one thing that’s usually within their power to control: how they capture information about what happened for the benefit fo the entire company.

Customer service management platforms only work if every agent actively contributes their learnings on a daily basis. This can be seen as a chore, or it can be positioned as an area where they are helping identify areas of process improvement.

Explain that the more detailed and relevant the data, the more likely you’ll be able to figure out their degree of wiggle room in making in-the-moment decisions.

4. Make It Easy To Connect And Brainstorm

You don’t want an agent to get up from their desk and go in search of the right person to discuss a challenging customer issue. If the customer service team is decentralized and working from home, it won’t be possible anyway.

Fortunately, there are plenty of tolls available to help team members reach out to each other and collaborate. Many them are as fast and easily using text messaging or social channels.

As you adopt these tools, think about how you might use colour codes or key phrases to denote the urgency of a message, or which team members are most readily available to help.

5. Give Them The Most Complex, Critical Cases

Agents can get comfortable handling routine questions and complaints. Companies might enjoy the peace of mind of knowing that agents are focused and productive on the usual issues. Long term, though, it’s not really the best use of their time.

Use chatbots, online customer communities and other self-service tools to address the majority of what typically comes in. Then you can spend more time developing agents to wrestle with the most demanding kinds of cases. That will definitely make them feel more autonomous, and it will improve your customer satisfaction levels too.

Don’t forget that there’s also a sense of autonomy in being able to grow revenue for the company. Think about using the data at your disposal to help agents not only resolve problems, but upsell, cross-sell and to experience the freedom that comes in moving your career forward.

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