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Elevating the Contact Center Agent Experience (Ax) in the Hybrid Work Era

The dismal state of AX

The contact center agent experience (AX) is the overall experience of the agent across their physical environment, mental well-being, financial well-being, morale, and their day-to-day experience in doing their jobs. One could argue that the last one — day-to-day experience in doing their jobs — is critical to improving the other aspects of AX.

The current state of AX leaves much to be desired, driving up agent churn to 30%-50%, one of the highest among all job types. It is no secret that the job of a contact center agent is a difficult one.

According to Quora, here is what agents had to say:

“The level of burnout due to psychological stress is very high. Anxiety attacks, crying jags, depression, rage, and sleep problems are common.”

“Illness due to physical stress is also very high. Your ability to move around is limited. Bathroom breaks and emergencies are deducted from your break times. Weight gain, heart problems, high blood pressure, back, neck, ear, and carpal tunnel issues are rampant.”

“The constant monitoring, the requirements to do everything ever faster, the inability to move from place to place due to headset, and non-stop back-to-back calls trigger a constant fight or flight response in most people. This usually proves to be unbearable after a while for unmedicated individuals.”

“Our training class had 20 students. We were all placed on a 90-day probation, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but there would only be about five of us left at the three-month mark.”

“I lasted there nine months before I’d had it. Call center burnout is common.”

Here is some worrying news: the job of the agent is poised to become even harder.

The looming AX crisis

A groundbreaking survey of U.S.-based contact center agents, conducted on our behalf by BenchmarkPortal, a contact center benchmarking organization, revealed that AX is poised to fall off a cliff without preventive measures.

  • 76% of contact center agents are working remotely. While this may improve some aspects of AX, these agents do not have a next cube to walk over to if they get stumped by a customer query. Many of them are new to their jobs and their training programs have been disrupted by the pandemic. No wonder 42% of novice agents said they are stressed in their jobs.
  • 63% of the 456 agents who responded, said that customer queries are getting more complex. This is not surprising since routine queries are now automated by self-service.
  • Yet, 64% of the agents said they do not have a knowledge-based tool that can guide them to answers with 33% resorting to neanderthal methods like poring over documents for answers when the customer is on the line.

The escalating query complexity and the lack of access to modern knowledge guidance tools require agents to be highly knowledgeable super-agents. No wonder CX, which is inextricably linked to AX, takes two steps back every time it takes a step forward.

It took a hit again in 2022, according to the latest Forrester CX Index report. They evaluated 221 brands and 13 industries in the U.S.. CX in 11 of 13 industries fell, and yet again, not a single brand in the U.S. met Forrester’s criteria for “excellent” customer service.

The root cause

The big question is why is CX stuck on a plateau? We set out to find the underlying problem. A couple of years ago, consumers told us (through Forrester Consulting) that the lack of agent knowledgeability and inconsistent answers to their questions was the biggest deterrent to good CX. On the other side of the coin, AX has been dogged by the same problems as well — agents have long complained that they get different answers from disparate knowledge silos in their organization. They then lose trust in the knowledge base and start to improvise and invent answers. Moreover, today’s increasing query complexity requires them to be experts in situational problem-solving and process know-how, which is not easy to teach through traditional training. This problem is compounded even more by remote-first hybrid work environments, where they cannot ask a colleague for help. Together, these factors have created a perfect storm to precipitate an AX crisis.

Here is the good news. Knowledge modernization with a hub approach can help handle today’s complex customer queries, turn the average contact center agent into a super-agent, and avert the AX crisis regardless of the work model — remote, hybrid, or onsite!

The Knowledge Hub™ explained

The Knowledge Hub eliminates silos while serving as a centralized, trusted source of correct answers and process expertise, which are also compliant with best practices and industry regulations.

It consists of the following building blocks:

  • Content management, including profiled access to it
  • Multiple knowledge types: data, information, know-how or expertise, and insights
  • Multi-layered personalization, based on context, user, interaction channel, and other factors
  • Intent inference, powered by Machine Learning
  • Search methods: Federated, keyword, faceted, and guided search
  • AI reasoning for step-by-step conversational and process guidance in the flow of customer service and engagement
  • Knowledge analytics for ongoing optimization

The hub unifies and orchestrates these building blocks to deliver wow experiences. Leading organizations are already leveraging it to transform the experiences of not only contact center agents but other stakeholders as well — customers, employees outside the contact center, knowledge authors, and business managers.

Part of the modern knowledge hub, AI-enabled guidance, which most agents admittedly do not have, makes it as easy for any agent to solve customer problems or provide them advice with situational know-how like the best agents can, just as GPS systems make it easy for any driver, even those on a learner’s permit, to navigate the streets easily, even in unfamiliar locations. Forward-looking organizations have already been leveraging the knowledge hub with stunning results before, during, and after the recent pandemic. Here are some examples from our blue-chip clientele.

From horrendous to happy

  • A premier U.S. health insurance firm reduced agent training time for handling complex health insurance queries by 33% even as its agents — over 2,000 of them — had to go remote overnight due to Covid lockdowns. They also consolidated knowledge from 17 disparate systems into the eGain Knowledge Hub for consistent, knowledge-guided service. Agents loved the ease of use of the knowledge-embedded desktop!
  • Multinational Financial Services Provider: Thanks to knowledge guidance for customer service, First Contact Resolution (FCR) jumped 36% and agent training time was reduced by 60%.
  • After implementing knowledge guidance, a mammoth federal government agency deflected up to 70% of incoming calls to virtual assistance, reduced case handling time by 25%, and improved form-filling with granular knowledge assistance within forms. No wonder these powerful capabilities saved them $16M in the early phase of the deployment alone and elevated their agent engagement score to 92% versus their industry benchmark of 67%.
  • UK’s largest mobile operator achieved a 25-point improvement in NPS (Net Promoter Score) and a 35% improvement in FCR (First-Contact Resolution) while reducing agent time to competency by 50%across 30,000 contact center agents and 600 retail stores and enabling any agent to handle any call.

A knowledge hub with conversational and process guidance can clearly help contact center agents succeed even as their job gets harder and regardless of whether they are onsite or remote. Revive your knowledge initiative with the hub and reap the benefits —they are nothing short of transformational!

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Originally published in Execs In The Know

 

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