5 Biggest Causes Of "Agent Effort" Within The Contact Centre (And Why They Matter)

Brian Cantor

“Customer effort” is undeniably one of the hottest talking points within the customer contact community.  Organisations big and small understand the pivotal importance of making it easy for customers to do business.

Particularly savvy organisations will not, however, fixate on the word “customer.”  They will instead consider the broader notion of “effort.”

Thanks to that mindset, they will recognise the impact agent effort has on contact centre performance.  More importantly, they will work to reduce the factors that create difficult, frustrating employee experiences.

At the upcoming CCW Australia, speakers, solution providers and attendees will explore opportunities to spot and eliminate sources of agent effort.  To help with that quest, we have provided insight into why “agent effort” matters -- and which aspects of the contact centre tend to create the most frustration.

Why “agent effort” matters

A satisfied, engaged team of agents is the key to a great customer experience.  “Happy agents = happy customers” may be an overused cliche, but it is also an accurate piece of advice.  By subjecting agents to frustrating tasks, the organisation reduces their happiness -- and thus hurts the customer experience.

Agent retention justifiably represents a top contact centre goal.  Frustrated agents are more inclined to depart the organisation.  When they do, they take their valuable knowledge and experience with them.  They also force the organisation to spend additional money on recruiting, onboarding and training.

Contact centre inefficiencies hurt the business.  When agents have to devote undue effort to each interaction, talk time rises and call count falls.  As a consequence, the operation becomes more costly.

Difficult agent experiences hurt the customer.  At the end of the day, customers are ultimately demanding quick, simple interactions.  80%, in fact, prefer fast and easy experiences to “personalised” ones. When agents have to go through cumbersome processes to support customers, they cannot deliver on this demand.  They instead subject customers to slow, frustrating interactions.

Frustrating agent experiences limit the connection.  Agents who spend time navigating frustrating systems and tools are unable to perform a rather important task:  meaningfully communicating with customers.  This lack of communication prevents agents from acquiring information that can prove helpful in resolving the issue.  It also prevents agents from building human connections with customers.

Biggest sources of effort

Disconnected systems

Given ongoing marketplace evolution, CCW Digital’s executive profiling predictably yields some different results each year.

One finding, however, remains utterly consistent:  the challenge of disconnected systems within the contact centre.  Organisations have long identified these disconnected systems as their biggest technology challenge, biggest performance bottleneck and biggest source of agent frustration.

Per our January 2019 study, more than 80% of organisations say their agents typically have to access multiple systems when solving customers.

As agents navigate these various tools, they are subjecting customers to lengthy, non-conversational, utterly frustrating interactions.  They are also developing frustration and resentment of their own.

Both are recipes for a problematic contact centre.

Poor customer insights

It is bad enough that organisations require their agents to access multiple screens and systems when supporting customers.

Making matters worse, the information agents acquire from these systems is not particularly effective.

Few organisations are properly collecting, centralising, analysing and delivering meaningful customer intelligence.  They rarely develop a vivid, 360-degree view of each customer, and they certainly do not use that view to generate actionable, predictive insights about each customer.

Without this actionable intelligence, agents will have to spend more time asking qualifying questions and consulting standard scripts and knowledge bases. This effort is frustrating, time-consuming and ultimately bad for the customer experience.

Unintelligent knowledge bases

In its Special Report on Knowledge Management, CCW Digital discussed the crippling challenges facing today’s knowledge bases.

They are unintuitive.  They contain out-of-date, incorrect and conflicting information.  They offer no analytics or insights into how agents are using the material.

Collectively, these factors turn the knowledge base into a problem -- rather than a solution -- for agents who hope to solve customers.

They struggle to locate the information they need.  When they find it, it is not necessarily the most up-to-date, contextually relevant information possible.

Their experience and performance ultimately suffer.

Unnecessary red tape

Customer contact leaders love to discuss the value of “agent empowerment.”  They, unfortunately, do not walk the talk.

They do not truly empower agents to make off-script, on-the-fly decisions.  In some cases, they do not even allow agents to make independent decisions that would fall under standard procedures.  They require agents to secure supervisor approval for nearly every major decision.

Demotivating (it suggests the organisation does not trust its employees), this approach also yields a slow, burdensome operational dynamic.  Agent effort rises as agent satisfaction falls.

Improper training

Even if an organisation gets the tools and processes right, it does not guarantee itself strong contact centre performance.  It still needs to train agents for success.

In the typical contact centre, training is the antithesis of successful.

Delivered in the form of generic group sessions, it requires agents to leave their workspaces (thus becoming less productive) to gain minimally relevant, unhelpful instruction.

It, moreover, rarely positions agents to make the most of new technology and data.  It may tell them how to use the tools from a high-level perspective, but it rarely empowers agents to dive deep into the systems to gather the most useful, actionable intelligence.

More importantly, it does not empower them to use the rich insights to build meaningful connections.  Far too much of today’s contact centre training is transactional, which is the exact opposite of what agents need to thrive in today’s world.

With customers increasingly handling transactions in self-service, they will only turn to agents for complex matters.  If agents are not ready for these complex interactions, their days will be more difficult and discouraging.