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Contact center agent experience needs massive overhaul

Research shows several areas in which contact centers are failing their agents and what changes organizations are making to improve the experience and reduce turnover.

Gone are the days when it is acceptable to have greater than 40% turnover rates among contact center agents.

Leading organizations are revamping the contact center agent experience to improve business metrics, such as operational costs, revenue and customer ratings; and a targeted agent program keeps companies at a competitive advantage, according to the Nemertes 2019-20 Intelligent Customer Engagement research study of 518 organizations.

The problems

CX leaders participating in the research pointed to several issues responsible for a failing contact center agent experience:

  • Low pay. In some organizations it's at minimum wage, despite requirements for bachelor's degrees and/or experience.
  • Dead-end job. Organizations typically do not have a growth path for agents. They expect them to last 18 months to two years, and there always will be a revolving door of agents coming and going.
  • Lack of customer context. Agents find it difficult to take pride in their work when they don't have the right tools. Without CRM integrations, AI assistance and insightful agent desktops, it is difficult to delight customers.
  • Cranky customers. Agents also find it difficult to regularly interact with dissatisfied customers. With a better work environment, more interaction channels, better training, more analytics and context, they could change those attitudes.
  • No coaching. Because supervisors are busy interviewing and hiring to keep backfilling the agents who are leaving, they rarely have time to coach the agents they have. What's more, they don't have the analytics tools -- from contact center vendors such as Avaya, Cisco, Five 9, Genesys and RingCentral; or from pure-play tools such as Clarabridge, Medallia, and Maritz CM -- to provide performance insight.

The enlightenment

Those in the contact center know this has been status quo for decades, but that is starting to change.

One of the big change drivers is the addition of a chief customer officer (CCO). Today, 37% of organizations have a CCO, up from 25% last year. The CCO is an executive-level individual with ultimate responsibility for all customer-facing activities and strategy to maximize customer acquisition, retention and satisfaction.

The CCO has budget, staff and the attention of the entire C-suite. As a result, high agent turnover rates are no longer flying under the radar. After bringing the issue to CEOs and CFOs, they are investing resources into turning around the turnover rates.

Additionally, organizations value contact centers more today, with 61% of research participants say the company views the contact center as a "value center" versus a "cost center." Four years ago, that figure was reversed, with two-thirds viewing the contact center as a cost center.

Research shows there are five common changes organizations are now making to improve the contact center agent experience and reduce the turnover rate.

Companies are adding more outbound contact centers, targeting sales or proactive customer engagement -- such as customer check-ups, loyalty program invitations and discount offers -- and they are supporting new products and services. This helps to explain why, despite the growth in self-service and AI-enabled digital channels, 44% of companies actually increased the number of agents in 2019, compared to 13% who decreased, 40% who were flat and 3% unsure.

The solution

Research shows there are five common changes organizations are now making to improve the contact center agent experience and reduce the turnover rate -- now at 21%, down from 38% in 2016. These changes include:

  • Improved compensation plan. Nearly 47% of companies are increasing agent compensation, compared to the 7% decreasing it. The increase ranges from 22% to 28%. Average agent compensation is $49,404, with projected increases up to $60,272, minimally, by the end of 2020.
  • Investment in agent analytics. About 24% of companies are using agent analytics today, with another 20.2% planning to use the tools by 2021. Agent analytics provides data on performance to help with coaching and improvement, in addition to delivering real-time screen pops to help agents on the spot during interactions with customers. Those using analytics see a 52.6% improvement in revenue and a 22.7% decrease in operational costs.
  • Increases in coaching. By delivering data from analytics tools, supervisors have a better picture of areas of success and those that need improvement. By using a product such as Intradiem Contact Center RPA, they can automate the scheduling of training and coaching during idle times.
  • Addition of gamification. Agents are inspired with programs that inject competitiveness among agents, by awarding badges for bragging rights, weekly gift cards for top performance and monthly cash bonuses. Such rewards improve their loyalty to the company and reduce turnover.
  • Development of career path. Successful companies are developing a solid career path with escalations into marketing, product development and supervisory roles in the contact center or CX apps/analysis.

Developing a solid game plan that provides agents with the compensation, support and career path they deserve will drastically reduce turnover rates. In a drastic example, one consumer goods manufacturing company reduced agent turnover from 88% to 2% with a program that addressed the aforementioned issues. More typically, companies are seeing 5% to 15% reductions in their turnover rates one year after developing such a plan.

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