smiling man speaking on a landline phone
PHOTO: Berkeley Communications

Many elements need to come together to provide an optimal customer service experience. The contact center is a place for optimization, engagement, service, specialization, enablement and support. Unfortunately — despite investments in people, processes and technology — the contact center still has a lot of room for improvement.

According to a 2017 article on the International Customer Management Institute's site, “businesses are doing an adequate job of resolving customer inquiries — with an average of 60 percent first-time resolution rate according to our study.” This means 40 percent of customers’ issues aren’t being resolved within a single engagement.

Clearly, “adequate” call centers aren’t good enough. Successful companies don’t strive for adequacy. Successful businesses strive to surprise and delight their customers, not disappoint and frustrate them. And internally they want to create a productive, satisfying environment for their customer service agents with a good return on investment.

Perhaps it’s time for companies to change the way they approach contact centers? To reap the benefits of customer and agent satisfaction on a sustained basis, they might need to challenge some of their old assumptions. 

The ubiquity of mobile devices and the ability to have a digital relationship with the consumer has changed the way that companies utilize and deploy contact center agents. Today, companies prioritize improving consumer-agent voice interactions with scripts and other training techniques. Armed with a headset and a smile, some voice agents can barely stem the tide of incoming calls, much less provide an exceptional customer service experience for each caller. Other companies expect their agents to blend this duty with email and chat services, making the task even harder. According to the ContactBabel report "The US Contact Center Decision-Makers' Guide 2018-19," “While it is theoretically possible for an agent to cope with four or more [chat] conversations at once … it is far more realistic to expect a well-trained agent to deal with perhaps two or three conversations concurrently.” In general, the smaller the company, the more likely it is to expect agents to flip-flop between contact channels, slowing down the rate of resolution.

There’s another way.

1. Embrace Specialization

Separate voice agents from digital agents and train both types to be the best at what they do. Specialized training and skillsets aren’t a new idea. When Henry Ford created his Model T in 1908, he quickly learned that delegating specific tasks to specific people could improve productivity. Five years later, he instituted his famous assembly line, which decreased assembly time from 12 hours to 2.5 hours, increasing efficiency by more than 20 percent.

Modern businesspeople can follow a similar route by cutting out excessive and unnecessary multitasking. According to the American Psychological Association, “Doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity. Although that shouldn't surprise anyone who has talked on the phone while checking E-mail or talked on a cell phone while driving, the extent of the problem might come as a shock.” 

The study found that the human brain isn’t wired to multitask efficiently. Applicants who cite it as a job skill might just as well be suffering from ADHD.

Related Article: Multitasking? You're Killing Yourself for Nothing

2. Maximize Productivity

This segues into the next point — teaching agents shortcuts that maximize efficiency and customer satisfaction. Believe it or not, it’s okay to take shortcuts if it makes customers and employees happy. Think of it like math: as long as one understands the process, it’s not necessary to use long division if there’s a shorter way to solve the problem. 

Job training should involve teaching employees to tell the difference between necessary and unnecessary procedures. One example of this is how some retail stores place greeters by their entrances and encourage employees to repeatedly ask shoppers if they’d like to reserve a dressing room, despite employee reports that some shoppers feel intimated by the greeters and hounded by the dressing room attendants. While other customers feel welcomed by greeters, any unnecessary policy that isn’t improving procedure should be let go.

Listening to your employees can boost morale. Ford’s assembly line may have increased productivity, but research reveals that a division of labor that involves a mind-numbing level of repetition can reduce employee satisfaction. Allowing employees — i.e., the people who are actually doing the job on the ground floor — to implement their own work strategies will increase morale, as well as productivity, in a way that Ford’s assembly line perhaps couldn’t.

Related Article: Collaboration Matters Most for Frontline Workers

3. Think Innovatively

Digital messaging requires a different way of thinking and speaking, a specific mindset and lingo. It’s OK to write more casually when messaging. It’s OK to use emojis when messaging. It’s OK — no, necessary — to offer customers leave-behinds in the form of URLs, so they can self-serve in the future. Things that are expected in digital messaging may not be possible with voice, but everything comes together when companies avoid blending tasks, focus on specialized skillsets, and leverage their knowledge to create best practices that help customer service agents become the best at what they do.

Business is entering a new era in customer service. There’s room for improvement as companies scramble to make digital service enabling and engaging. It’s time to embrace the opportunity to deliver the experience that both the consumer and the agent want, optimized for their needs and the needs of the business.

Why blend when specializing is more effective?