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The Impact of Agent Experience on Your Customers

Author: Marli Tucker

Businesses frequently focus their efforts and budgets on improving the customer experience. With predictions from global researchers like McKinsey finding that “improving the customer experience can do far more to drive profitable growth than raising advertising spending or lowering prices,” it makes sense to invest in customer experiences. When these experiences are exceptional, they become iconic, and so do the companies that provide them.

But have you ever paused to consider how the experiences of service agents might influence the overall customer experience? With all the talk in the media about job losses and displacement due to automation, has anyone asked contact center agents how they feel about the onset of technology and its challenges?

In order to answer these questions and explore further, we surveyed both consumers and agents nationwide to examine customer experience more closely. Through these studies, we turned the focus on the agent, gathering their viewpoints and experiences to see how these aspects affect a customer's overall interaction.

I know what you’re thinking, can an agent’s experience really affect customer service so much? With survey results from over 500 agents nationwide, the answer is simple - yes. 

What creates a disappointing customer experience?

Originally, chatbots for customer service first emerged as an alternative to Interactive Voice Response (IVR) units. While they initially showed a lot of promise and were well-received, they ultimately fell short in terms of delivering quality service experiences, leaving users frustrated and disappointed. This expectation echoed the original hopes for IVR systems, which forecasted the ability to eliminate the need for human agents entirely and automate all processes. But, this expectation never fully developed and basic chatbots only offered a slight enhancement compared to IVRs.

Imagine how frustrating it is when you know exactly what you want from your customer service experience, but the IVR or Basic Chatbot fails to provide the best option and lacks understanding for your requirements. What’s a good example of this? Let’s look back at the first iteration of PayPal's chatbot. When a user stated, "I've got scammed," PayPal's chatbot responded with an enthusiastic "great!" 

While slightly humorous looking back, this lack of understanding clearly shows the limitations of basic chatbots for customer service and the need for more advanced, understanding AI-powered virtual assistants. An Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA) that is capable of truly comprehending your intent can provide the right solution or, when necessary, intelligently connect you with a live agent. This level of understanding results in a higher satisfaction scores across the board for top criteria. 

The Biggest Customer Frustration 

Around 79% of customers find it highly irritating to have to repeat their problem more than once when dealing with customer service. In fact, this was noted by consumers at the “biggest customer service frustration.” This problem isn't as common with AI as it is with traditional customer service methods, like when using basic chatbots or live agents. 

For example, if there's a problem with your bank account or you're having trouble with travel plans, repeating the issue doesn't seem as bothersome because these are critical situations. But when it comes to less pressing matters, like a cable outage, it can be really irritating to keep saying, "my internet is down" over and over. So, the level of frustration can vary depending on the situation.

Why are we seeing this shift or increase in preference for IVAs?

IVAs also allow customers to create their own journey and customize their own service experience, so instead of following a basic decision-tree style conversation in a predetermined flow, like an IVR, you're allowing people to ask questions naturally without having to be forced through a service flow. The more complex a request gets, the more consumers would rely on an IVA for self-service rather than a basic click-button bot and that trend carries across industries. 

Many businesses continue to rely on basic chatbots and struggle to see results. When it comes to automating customer service, conversations can take many different forms and without natural language understanding, these bots are bound to disappoint users. It's not surprising that systems with natural language understanding have a higher success rate because they're better at comprehending the customer’s initial needs. Progressing from decision-tree programmed bots to a more engaging natural language dialogue represents a significant advancement in AI.

How do Agents Feel about the Use of AI?

One of our initial objectives was to conduct research on people's perceptions of conversational AI and automated interactions. We were not just interested in understanding customer expectations and perceptions when dealing with AI and intelligent virtual assistants, but also how agents feel about these technologies.

How's your contact center doing when it comes to meeting customer expectations? Right now, there's a bit of a gap in many contact centers when it comes to using tools and tech that can help make things less frustrating for customers.

Having the latest technology is super important. It's what makes a contact center run smoothly and helps solve customer problems quickly and efficiently. And it's not just about the tech—it's also about creating an environment where every customer's history is right at your fingertips. This way, you can provide a personalized service and show customers that you really understand their needs.

But here's the thing—even with all this tech, there's still one big issue that's frustrating customers: having to repeat themselves over and over again. This is a problem that needs to be solved, and fast.

And let's not forget about data entry. The less time customers have to spend entering data, the better. They're not here for that—they want to talk or chat with a real person who can help them out.

So, in a nutshell, we need to use the best tools and technology out there to make things run more smoothly, improve the customer experience, and make sure customers aren't left feeling frustrated. By doing this, we can close the gap between what customers expect and what they're currently getting.

Agents are often thought to be at risk of losing their jobs or being displaced by AI, but the opposite is actually true. This technology is more valuable for agents than for any other role, and many agents already know this. Contrary to popular belief,  advancements in AI don't spell doom for our hardworking agents. In fact, they could actually be the key to unlocking their true potential.

So What Do Agent’s Really Need?

When it comes to what these agents value most, it’s no surprise that respect and competitive compensation naturally top the list. However, the importance of advanced tools and technology that can alleviate customer frustrations is super important to agents. In fact, 88% of agents believe that such resources are vital for contact centers.

Contact center agents are also expressing a need for advanced technological tools that can swiftly and accurately predict outcomes. Their aim is to reduce the time spent searching for information, thus enabling them to spend more time interacting with customers and less time on procedural tasks. For instance, in a five-minute call, they might only spend one minute genuinely engaging with the customer due to other responsibilities such as wrapping up the call or juggling multiple screens. This time could be better utilized in problem-solving and advocating for the customer, areas where automation could play a significant role.

Believe it or not, agents don't have a problem with Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVAs). In fact, 77% of them think IVAs are a win-win for both customers and agents. When agents are happy in their jobs and feel engaged, they're even more interested in having the right tech tools. They view AI not as a threat, but as a tool that enhances their performance.

The fusion of AI and human workers is creating improved experiences for customers and employees alike. This trend is particularly noticeable among younger agents who are more inclined to embrace technology in their roles. 

However, there's a clear gap between the current state of contact centers and the evolving expectations of agents. It's crucial for contact centers to bridge this gap and provide their agents with the resources they need to excel. Time to step up the game, perhaps?

Why Implementing Agent Assist Technology is Vital for Contact Centers

Many contact center employees today are digital natives, including Millennials and Gen Xers. Having grown up with technology, they expect their workplace tools to mirror the technology they use daily. Some of these individuals have never known a world without the internet, and they anticipate their work technology to be as advanced as the devices they hold in their hands.

While many contact centers and organizations are prepared to implement this technology, they may not fully understand the expectations of their workforce. We hope our research highlights the urgent need for adopting these technologies. The demand from agents is high, and the skepticism from consumers is lower than you might think.

It's interesting that agents know what good and great looks like from a customer experience perspective and they want to fulfill that and they're telling us in this 2023 Agent Experience Benchmark survey exactly what the top ways to do that are, but many agents are probably frustrated. 

For contact centers, they typically have a 40 or 50% turnover rate - the highest in most industries because they aren’t giving their agents the tools and the tech to make their jobs easier, and then most of the time, when customers are calling in, they're calling because they can't figure out the solution to their problem on their own so their patience is already short and they might be angry or frustrated as soon as the call begins. 

One advantage of modern Agent Assist Technology is the ease of integration. There's no need to dispose of your current technology because AI-powered tools can directly integrate with your existing system. Therefore, there's no excuse to delay its implementation.

So how do we help agents? With Agent Assist Technology.

How does Agent Assist Technology work? 

Imagine this: a customer can't find the return policy on your website and calls into the contact center requesting to ask an agent, "Where's your return policy?" With AgentAsisst, the page automatically pops up on the screen for the agent while on the call in real time. They can send it to the customer via chat, text, or email with just one click. No need for the agent to go hunting for that info - pretty cool, right?

When implementing a new agent assist technology, starting with basics like these is usually the best approach. It's like when you first build a website; you start with simple FAQs and gradually tackle more complex transactions. Our solution allows you to identify the 'next best action' and gives precise suggestions on what to say or do. The agent even gets several options to choose from, tailoring the response to fit the situation perfectly. If the AI's suggestion is 99% there, but needs a slight tweak, no problem! The agent can adjust any part of the response.

Our Agent Assist tech can also auto-fill information. So if there's something that needs to be found elsewhere, it can fetch that data. Whether it's details about the customer's account or anything else, the goal is to provide easy access to all necessary information. Gone are the days of agents saying, "Hold on, I need to check another system." Our tool extracts all necessary data and brings it back to the agent, saving them from juggling multiple tasks.

AI automation for agents exponentially improves the experience and increases the productivity of your most important contact center asset, your agents, setting them up for success so they can deliver the best possible customer service experience.

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