Agent empowerment and your customer service experience

How Agent Empowerment Impacts Your Customer Service Experience

There’s a disconnect in the customer service experience. People are responsible for providing incredible service. Yet, too many companies fail to put their people first and give their agents the support they need to deliver stellar service. Creating positive experiences for your customers doesn’t stop with efficiency and effectiveness. 

There’s a human component that’s missing from your customer interactions because agents don’t feel empowered to do their best work. Turns out, your customers feel the gap and it takes a toll on their customer service experience.

In the 2020 National Customer Rage Study, Customer Care Measurement & Consulting surveyed customers to surface frustrations about customer service. Almost every frustration found can be fixed when you empower  your team. In fact, six of the most frustrating, unmet customer expectations talked to how an agent handled an interaction. Not how fast they handled it. Most customers simply wanted to be treated with more dignity and care.

Learn what customers really complain about

As customers demand better, faster service, companies get caught up in the efficiency game. They lose sight of the people who deliver top-notch service. But bots and technology alone can’t deliver better service. There’s a team of people behind the tech, and a team of people who solve more complex problems when efficiency doesn’t give your customers what they need.

Empowering your agents puts humanity back in customer service. And, quicker, better service comes with it, too.

Here’s how empowering your agents closes six expectation gaps in the customer service experience.

1. Your agents are more confident in their problem-solving skills. And they share that confidence with customers.

Customers want assurance their problem won’t happen again. Not only do customers want agents to fix their problem, but they want to know it’s a long-term fix instead of slapping a Band-Aid on a larger wound. 

Agents who aren’t empowered in their roles won’t give your customers the assurance they need. These agents aren’t confident in their own ability to solve complex issues, so they certainly aren’t confident enough to offer up a long-term guarantee to your customers.

But when you empower your agents, the tables turn. A key source of agent empowerment is better, more frequent coaching and training. When you continuously coach your agents, you’re prepping them to handle any and every situation that might pop up.

If a customer reaches out with an issue that’s new to your agent, the agent doesn’t sweat it. They know they have the resources, team support, and leadership they need to accurately solve the problem. Plus, they have the confidence they need to communicate the fix to the customer. Empowered agents can say, with gumption, that an issue won’t happen again.

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2. Empowered agents show your customers more empathy.

Current state, customers are frustrated that agents don’t put themselves in a customer’s shoes. But in reality, many managers don’t put themselves in an agent’s shoes (even when 70% were once agents). 

Why?

Leaders have new priorities beyond thinking like an agent. Driving metrics becomes top-of-mind over relatability. But to show your customers the level of empathy they seek, you have to lead by showing that empathy to your agents, first.

When you treat your agents like people with lives outside of work, and with real feelings, they’ll pass that humanity off to your customers. And they’ll empathize with your customers when they struggle. 

When a customer starts fuming, your agent, Jan, will remember the approach you took last week when her daughter got sick and she had to call off work last-minute. In a moment where she could react and be combative with the smoke-blowing customer, she’ll follow your model and empathize instead.

3. Your agents feel connected to your company mission and are less likely to burnout.

Empowering your agents means connecting them to your company’s mission. It means living and breathing that mission and showing them the role they play in your company’s success. When an agent feels connected to a larger purpose, it translates to more engaged conversations and a better customer experience. Burnout is all too common among call center employees. According to a study by Gallup, anyone can experience burnout: 

  • 76% of workers experience burnout sometimes
  • 21% experience burnout very often
  • Employees who frequently experience work burnout are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 23% more likely to visit the emergency room.
Too many employees feel burnout at work

While agent burnout ultimately leads to more agent turnover, the initial signs of agent burnout, like exhaustion, mistakes, irritability, and cynicism lurk in your agent-customer interactions, first. A conversation with a cynic tanks your customers’ view of your company and leaves them feeling kicked-to-the-curb. Agent empowerment saves customers from these feelings.

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4. Agents who feel supported provide friendlier, more knowledgeable help.

Your customers reach out to your contact center with one end-game: to fix a problem.

If your agent can’t solve a problem, your customer is undoubtedly going to leave the conversation unsatisfied. Luckily, empowered agents are incredible problem solvers. And they add a little dash of positivity to customer interactions along the way. 

Empowered members of your team have specific training and coaching experiences in their back pocket, so they know how to fix problems on the fly. Plus, you’ve given them in-line feedback, both constructive and positive, and shared real-time analytics to improve their customer approach.

The more  data and coaching you hand off amounts to happier, more knowledgeable agents who can tackle your customers’ most intricate problems. Good thing, too, since 68% and 62% of customers said an agent’s friendliness and resourcefulness, respectively, was key to their positive service experience.

5. Empowered agents feel at ease in their environments, so they’re open to longer conversations.

Not only do customers want their problem solved, but they also want to know why it happened in the first place. Was it user error? Or did a bug pop up in your company’s system? Your customer wants to be informed so they can proactively address the root issue.

But in the age of swift service, agents who feel pulled toward efficiency won’t offer up that explanation. Especially if hanging in a chat for two extra minutes will tank their metrics and get them flagged down by a supervisor.

Empowered agents, though, don’t have to circumvent overly-strict regulations. Because they don’t have any. They’ll take time to explain why an issue popped up for your customer, even if it means missing a KPI. They know if their call goes beyond standard talk time, they won’t be punished for using their best judgment and giving the customer extra knowledge. 

Conversational customer relationships are the only play in an empowered agent’s book.

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6. Empowered agents put humanity back in your customer service experience.

Too many strict regulations and too much managerial control leads to agents who only act as translators during customer experiences. They read from a script, regardless of how well it solves for a customer’s needs. Too much pressure, and too much direction (we’re looking at you, micromanager) makes agents spit out robotic sentences instead of thinking and acting in the best interest of your customer.

In the Harvard Business Review article, Give Your Employees Specific Goals and the Freedom to Figure it Out, John Hagel III and Cathy Engelbert talked about how too much direction stifles creative problem-solving:

“Despite layers of new technology and new thinking, many work environments have not meaningfully departed from this command-and-control structure. Today, many workers have adapted for rigid adherence to the standardized and tightly specified processes that come with it. In this culture, asking too many questions may be seen as a sign of weakness. (Haven’t you read the manual, watched the video, or searched around the internet?)”

Agents who feel empowered take a different approach to the customer service experience. They’re comfortable making decisions without running to their manager for help. Plus, they’re supported, and encouraged, to connect with customers on an emotional level. 

And that emotional connection starts with the knowledge and training to go off-script. Empowered agents go beyond their roles to help customers and ease frustrations.

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We originally wrote this post on March 12, 2019, and we updated it for new insight on June 17, 2021.