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Customer service can be a thankless job. Agents work hard every day to help customers, and while the internet and social media abound with customer service horror stories, very few customers publicize their positive experiences.

That’s why every year, the customer service industry celebrates Customer Service Week, pausing to reflect and recognize the tremendous value customer service agents bring to our society. Contact center agents are the ones who answer the call—literally and figuratively—when things hit the fan, from being stranded on the side of the road to being locked out of an account. They’re often also the first to know and share in our joys, like adding a new baby to your insurance plan and processing your first mortgage.

This week-long celebration focuses on a different topic each day, with today’s focus on “Customer Service as a Profession.”

In this blog, we’ll explore how and why agents’ roles have evolved and seven tips for creating an environment where agents can grow, thrive, and develop a career.

The evolution of customer service

Once viewed as “easy summer jobs,” customer service roles now represent a unique opportunity for a long and fulfilling career serving others. That’s because agents’ scopes have shifted from basic, transactional work to more complex, impactful interactions.

This evolution is due to a variety of factors including, but not limited to:

The shift from physical to virtual commerce.

For centuries, doing business required physically visiting a storefront or office. Need to pay your credit card? Go to the bank. Need to buy some shoes? Go to the department store.

However, we can do all these things and more with modern technology without leaving the couch. So rather than talking to your banker face to face, you engage with agents virtually, moving those agents from physical to centralized contact center environments. As virtual reality and other technologies continue to permeate society, they will undoubtedly continue to influence contact centers.

The acceleration of digital technology.

The shift to virtual commerce gave rise to the traditional call center—first-gen customer support centered around phone interactions. However, with each wave of technological advancement came new channels for agents to interact with customers. So what started as voice-only, single-channel support has been replaced by complex, digital omnichannel environments with agents handling multiple channel types—often simultaneously. Channels like chat, email, SMS, Whatsapp, social media, Apple Business chat—and so on.

Automation and an increase in the complexity of agent tasks.

According to the World Economic Forum’s “The Future of Jobs Report 2023,” organizations estimate that machines will assume 34% of all business-related tasks, with humans performing the remaining 66%. This trend extends itself to the contact center, where agents have traditionally completed many of the same tasks on repeat.

While counterintuitive, automation, coupled with the proliferation of customer self-service options, has made agents’ roles both easier and more complex. By eliminating brain-numbing, cumbersome tasks, agents can better focus on customer needs, boosting satisfaction and fulfillment. Meanwhile, the customers interacting with an agent tend to have issues and inquiries that are too complex to automate.

This complexity requires a higher level of problem-solving, empathy, and focus, elevating agents’ requirements and desired skills across industries. It has also led to the creation of additional contact center roles that agents can progress towards and transition between. For example, quality management, operations, workforce management, and business analyst roles are widespread and create meaningful customer service career opportunities that agents can strive towards.

Shift from cost center to revenue center.

While it varies across industries, until recent years, contact centers have primarily been viewed as necessary expenses rather than revenue generation engines. This perception often influenced the organizational perception of contact center agents, limiting their growth opportunities. However, due to the complexity mentioned above and the increased impact on the organization, agents are now viewed less as order takers and more as resident experts on the organization’s customer experience.

These factors have increased the responsibility and value that contact center agents provide to organizations and customers—making it a more meaningful and fulfilling profession than in years past. However, not all contact centers are created equal. Agent retention, satisfaction, and career progress depend on contact center leaders’ ability to create a culture that fosters long-term customer service professional development.

Here are seven tips to promote customer service as a profession in your contact center.

Seven tips for promoting customer service as a profession

1. Enable flexibility and promote work-life balance.

Given the role’s pace, intensity, and sometimes emotional nature, it’s unsurprising that customer service burnout tends to be high, driving attrition levels higher. Enabling flexibility in work hours, remote and hybrid work, ample time off, and generous benefits can help create an environment of high retention and engagement.

2. Empower agents to solve problems.

Most agents are in customer service to help others, whether in big or small ways. But, when agents lack autonomy to take ownership and solve customers’ problems, they can feel like their roles lack purpose, decreasing engagement and retention. Creating an environment that fosters problem-solving and critical thinking can help agents feel more fulfilled, increasing their likelihood of staying and growing their careers in customer service.

3. Develop soft skills and leadership acumen.

By developing agents’ skills—whether it’s soft skills, leadership skills, or other professional skills—you set agents on a path to success today and into the future. Identify the skills that agents need to excel in their role and adjacent customer experience roles to promote customer service as a profession. You can also help agents flex leadership muscles by tapping into their expertise so they can contribute to your organizational knowledge and success. For example, they can mentor new agents, create FAQs and knowledge articles, represent customer service on cross-functional initiatives, and more.

4. Automate mundane tasks.

While automation in the contact center has increased, there is still an opportunity for many contact centers to automate more processes, such as wrap-up activities. As mentioned, doing so can liberate agents from mundane tasks, making their roles less repetitive and more fulfilling.

5. Recognize agent performance.

As we stated at the start of this blog, customer service can be thankless—but contact center leadership has the power to change that. Even the most humble, dutiful agent will tire without some acknowledgment of their time and effort. Recognizing agent performance can drive engagement and ultimately create an environment where agents thrive, increasing the likelihood of making it a profession. Modern contact center as a service (CCaaS) software like Sharpen provides consumable reports and dashboards that make identifying and recognizing top performers easy.

6. Keep customers front and center.

Again, most contact center agents aren’t just in it for the money—they’re in it for the customers. But after countless interactions in a sterile contact center environment, losing sight of customer needs is easy. That’s why contact center leaders should find ways to deliberately keep customers front and center in everything agents do. Whether sharing customer success stories, training on customer personas, or clearly explaining the “why” behind contact center processes, ensuring agents remember who they’re ultimately serving is critical.

7. Demonstrate a clear career path.

Without deliberate career-focused conversations with managers and supervisors, agents can feel on a dead-end road. However, contact center agents can grow in and across customer service roles in countless ways, resulting in a fruitful professional career. Help agents understand different roles within the organization, how those roles positively impact the customer, and what it takes to transition into that role should they choose.

Elevate your agent experience with Sharpen

While Customer Service Week is only seven days of the 365 days in a year, these tips can help you improve agents’ work lives every day to elevate customer service as a profession. The right contact center technology can also help you ensure agents are empowered with the tools, data, and feedback to create positive work and customer experiences. Sharpen was designed with the thought that empowered agents deliver better customer experiences.

See how you can help promote customer service as a profession with Sharpen today.

Schedule a demo.