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Personalizing the customer experience. This expression has become a buzzword in the market, but the trend is here to stay. Many often debate and overcomplicate what personalization means, but it boils down to a few key concepts: treating customers like humans rather than numbers and making their lives easier by solving their problems faster and anticipating their needs. That’s it.

While there’s a strong business case for customer experience personalization, doing it well can be easier said than done. For example, according to Salesforce’s 2022 State of Service Report, 73% of customers expect companies to understand their individual expectations and needs. Still, recent Deloitte research shows that more than 50% of customers say personalization efforts feel off-target and don’t meet their needs, preferences, and interests.

Companies may be falling short on personalization for a variety of reasons—including overlooking the agent’s critical role in the process. The internet is rife with articles about using AI-powered self-service and automation to personalize at scale, but fewer focus on your agents’ ability to create a more personalized experience—human to human.

Let’s cover four key ways you can help agents deliver better, more personalized experiences and take personalization to the next level.

1. Provide easy access to a 365-degree view of the customer

If you’re like most companies, you’re sitting on a gold mine of customer data, and effectively using it can enable your agents to take personalization from just knowing their names to knowing their needs.

To do so, your agents need easy, fingertip access to all relevant customer information. And this doesn’t mean access to four different systems with bits and pieces of information that agents have to puzzle together to see a cohesive story. We mean one complete and aggregated view.

A unified, 365-degree view of the customer can help agents respond to the interaction at hand and anticipate additional customer needs—needs your customers might not have yet identified.

Data related to the current interaction

Providing agents with information about the current customer interaction seems obvious. However, it’s still not uncommon for an interaction to route to an agent with little context. Shocking, but true.

From the first moment an agent engages with your customer, they should be able to answer questions like:

    • Did the customer input information into the interactive voice response (IVR) system?

    • Have they already engaged with another agent about this same inquiry?

    • What other channels have they used to try and solve their problem?

Empowering an agent with the information they need to understand and acknowledge the customer’s journey for that specific interaction prevents the customer from repeating themselves and enables the agent to provide a smoother, more thoughtful experience.

Related to their overall customer journey

Your customer journey is an amalgamation of many individual interactions with your brand, product, and people. When interacting with a customer, agents should be able to understand the holistic customer journey at a glance, including details like how long they’ve been a customer, their previous contact center interactions, purchase history, customer status or standing, previous issues, and more.

The data should be displayed in an absorbable and actionable manner so that agents can explicitly acknowledge these data points to the customer when appropriate. Capabilities like AI-powered summarization can surface the most relevant customer journey information to the agent at the right time to help them resolve the inquiry at hand and anticipate future needs.

For example, let’s say an agent at a credit union receives a contact for a customer who needs help unlocking their mobile app. The agent is happy to help them do so, but while looking at their account, they see that they also have an upcoming payment due and offer to process that transaction for them now. So, in addition to resolving the customer’s initial issue, they’re able to anticipate the customer’s needs and personalize the experience.

2. Develop agent empathy

Empathy is a key component of personalization. Making your customer feel known, seen, and heard and properly acknowledging their relationship with your company goes a long way in building loyalty.

In a recent conversation with CCW, Adam Settle, Chief Product Officer at SharpenCX shared the following:

“Unique and personalized experiences start with better questioning to understand problems, empathy, and helping the customer feel valued–soft skills can still be your best efficiency and effectiveness gains.”

While we often think of empathy as a trait individuals innately do or don’t possess, you can actually train agents to exhibit more empathetic behaviors. You may not be able to transform them into the most empathetic person in the world, but they can learn how to act and speak in a manner that’s more empathetic.

Provide both good and bad examples of personalization

We often assume that agents know what good and bad looks and sounds like, but that’s not usually the case. Provide a secure, HR-approved mechanism for agents to listen to real-life examples of both good and bad service interactions—including their own.

Challenge them to reflect on:

    • What did and didn’t go well.

    • How it could have been handled differently.

    • How the words and actions exhibited by the agent influenced the customer’s demeanor and satisfaction.

This exercise encourages agents to walk in your customers’ shoes and can provide an eye-opening perspective that helps them provide more personalized experiences going forward.

Train on soft skills

So much of contact center onboarding and training is focused on operations—processes, systems, and policies—because they’re objective and easier to train on. But many agent’s really need development on more intangible soft skills.

The exercise above is one example of hands-on soft skill training. Others include activities and sessions focused on:

    • How to ask probing questions to really understand the customer’s needs.

    • How to exercise active listening.

    • Words to use and avoid in customer conversations.

    • How to take ownership and follow through on a customer’s issue.

While the subjective nature of soft skill training can make it feel harder to execute, the time investment will pay dividends in more personalized experiences.

3. Give agents some autonomy and flexibility

Contact center policies, while necessary, can often impose a rigidity that sucks all the humanity out of an interaction. Helping agents understand what they can and can’t do and when they should or shouldn’t get a supervisor involved is important.

But they must also understand things aren’t always black and white. Teach them that when in doubt, they should dig deeper to understand what’s best for the business and the customer—rather than coldly stating a policy and sending the customer on their way.

In the same CCW conversation, Adam Settle shared this on the topic:

“Our goal should always be to solve the problem the first time–and you really can’t do that if you’re trying to rush through an overly formulaic script… Treating people as humans and not trying to rush them may still be more efficient in the long run… In our own studies, we’ve found that a focus on the quality of interactions–and not just the efficiency– actually leads to better efficiency when you look at the broader picture.”

That autonomy and flexibility to personalize the customer experience might also extend beyond the individual interaction. Heart-warming personalization stories from pet supply retailer, Chewy, go viral every year. The stories include things like agents sending flowers when they learn a customer’s pet has passed away and other similar touchpoints that acknowledge something important in a customer’s life. These activities, however, are only possible because Chewy has empowered its agents with some level of autonomy to go above and beyond for customers. While there are undoubtedly bounds and guidelines involved, agents can better personalize their interactions.

While the Chewy story attracts attention—because everyone loves a good animal story—there are unsung heroes in contact centers every day who take similar actions, whether it’s calling back a customer to follow up on an issue, personally taking ownership of a problem even when they’re not required to, and more. The common thread, though, is autonomy, flexibility, and empowerment.

4. Enable agents to meet customers on their channels of choice

We live in an omnichannel world, and customers fluidly move across channels from one moment to the next. But when agents are limited in how they can interact with a customer, it limits their ability to personalize the experience. Personalization isn’t only about how much we know about the customer but also how much we accommodate their unique needs—including their channel preferences.

For example, a customer calls the contact center to report that they never received a recent order. It’s taking the agent a bit longer than the customer expected to investigate the issue, and now it’s time for the customer to pick his daughter up from dance class.

He knows the call will drop when he enters his building’s elevator, so he asks the agent if he can move this interaction to text or if the agent can call back or email him once she’s found the answer. In a contact center that values personalization, the answer will be a resounding, “Yes, no problem.”

Unfortunately, though, the siloed nature of many contact center’s omnichannel handling capabilities makes this challenging.

The good news is that the best omnichannel contact center platforms, like SharpenCX, make it easy for agents to move between channels on the same interaction with the toggle of a button.

In this example, the agent’s ability to meet the customer’s need and personalize the interaction might make the difference between him feeling satisfied and resolving the issue within this one interaction or him feeling annoyed when his call drops and he has to call back again later.

Embrace the power of personalization with Sharpen

Personalizing the customer experience is critical but not easy. However, your agents have untapped potential to take your personalization to the next level, and these four tips can help.

The Sharpen team will also be with you every step of your personalization journey. For more tips on improving your personalization to overcome contact center challenges, check out our ebook “Embracing the Power of Personalization.”

View the ebook