Human Beings, Not Human Resources

Growing up, few of us dreamed of being contact center agents. Today, few of us enjoy reaching out to those agents.

The job of a contact center agent isn’t pretty. For some, it’s merely tedious—but for many others, it’s daily agony. While this might sound surprising, the evidence is out there. It’s a hard truth.

For customers who reach out to contact centers, there’s an equally hard truth. Case in point… the frequently-cited statistic that 39% of people would rather clean a toilet than engage with your IVR menu(s) and/or support agents.

It seems that both working as, and working with, contact center agents is becoming less and less desirable.

But there’s still hope for businesses to provide great experiences. While customer expectations do call for highly-skilled agents, a majority (52%) of customers say they’re willing to pay more for better service. So what looks like a problem on the surface is actually an opportunity.

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Dealing with the two hard truths can feel like a constant push and pull, an exercise in trying to balance out what’s best for your customers with what’s best for your agents. Too often, agents get the short end of this particular stick. It can feel like what’s best for the customers is prioritized, and what’s good enough for agents is…well, good enough.

But it doesn’t have to be so difficult, and it certainly isn’t a one-or-the-other proposition. Quite the opposite, actually.

When you think of contact center agents as human beings above all else and support them with coaching, both agents and customers benefit.

The Agent-Customer Connection

There is a clear connection between the two truths. Since we know that an agent’s perceived attitude/emotion directly impacts the customers’ experience, improving agent experience comes with twofold benefits, as happier and better-taken-care-of agents will create happier and better-taken-care-of customers.

When the customers have better experiences, they’re going to be less impatient, less grumpy, and so on…leading to better agent experience as well.This becomes a powerful cycle, then, as happier agents are creating better experiences. Momentum builds.

In fact, this symbiotic chain reaction can continue driving improvement—but only if one incredibly-basic principle remains in mind when talking about customer and/or agent experience:

Support agents are human beings, not just human resources.
Support agents are human beings, and should be treated as such (above all else). In too many organizations (contact centers, especially), initiatives intended to put the customer first can wind up making agents feel like they’re not as important, in turn impacting the customer experience negatively.

In too many contact centers, managers and other leaders wind up dehumanizing their agents with policies and principles that quickly reduce a thinking, feeling human being into a mere commodity—an interchangeable human resource rather than a complex, living, breathing human being.

(The intention here is not to throw shade at HR professionals, by the way. In fact, the HR team is crucial in all of this—from recruitment efforts through training, agent retention, and referral.)

Again, to be clear, by no means is human resources is a dirty word/phrase—it’s just not the most dignified way to think of customer-facing agents.

What happens too often is that a “customer-first” mentality/initiative, while the intentions may be overwhelmingly positive, can drive agents into more narrowly-defined roles—merely keeping the customers happy, regardless of (and sometimes at the expense of) their own happiness and well-being.

Agents deserve an advocate, and philosophies like “the customer’s always right” can undermine an agent’s sense of empowerment and, ultimately, effectiveness.

It’s worth repeating: agents want to help customers, and they want it to be easy and timely. When supervisors hyperfocus on a handful of efficiency metrics or “customer happiness” can drive agents to feel like mere resources (rather than human beings) and to eventually burn out.

In order to meaningfully impact agent experience in any organization, then, agents have to be treated like the complex, three-dimensional individuals they are. When metrics and initiatives make it more difficult for the agent to fulfill their role, or to find meaning in their role, both agents and customers will continue to suffer.
Additional Reading

Check out our Agent Experience ebook, which describes how we quantify agent experience with our new Agent Experience Score metric.