Even with the dramatic increase in communications channels and the introduction of AI and machine learning into customer support ecosystems, the success or failure of a customer service organization still ultimately comes down to how effective its human agents are at resolving queries, and how they use the right support tools and customer channels in order to do so.
This means that hiring and retaining strong, qualified agents remains supremely important, perhaps even more so in an era of rising customer expectations. Yet we found in a recent survey that we did with Canam Research that right now, unfortunately, it’s more difficult than it is easy.
When customer support leaders were asked in our survey “Which best describes how easy or difficult it is for your company to hire qualified customer service agents?”, more than half (56%) responded that it’s “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to hire qualified customer service agents. This, compared with the 32% who said it was “very easy” or “somewhat easy”, points to a struggle to find the sort of human agents required to both manage the new reality of inbound, asynchronous communication from email, web forms and social tools, while also having the people skills to and ability think on the fly to effectively resolve tickets that start as phone calls.
Moreover, 52% of respondents said that their average customer service reps stayed with the company less than two years, meaning that there is strong turnover within the field that has half of companies churning through entire customer support teams in a very short period of time. This can make it somewhat difficult to build and retain institutional knowledge, and it also requires a constant, ongoing search for qualified new employees in what is clearly a relatively difficult hiring environment.
Here's what we've seen that can help address these trends.
First, there are the sorts of common-sense, employee-level investments that customer service leaders can make it their teams. This piece by Masud Hossein, "5 Ways To Improve Employee Retention in Customer Support", does an excellent and straightforward job of recommending many of the best ways to coach, develop and retain wavering employees, while making a workplace attractive for new agent hiring.
Technology also has a key role to play here. Many of our customers believe that the ideal model for a modern customer service operation is one in which AI-powered automation plays its role for the most boring, annoying, repetitive tickets that can (unfortunately) be the foundation of a contact center, while humans play theirs.
Segmenting ticket types this way frees CSRs/agents from repetitive manual tasks, which frustratingly often involve multiple systems, and instead allows them to tap into their innate critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and thereby focus on transactions that require an emotional connection with a customer. Which, let's face it, are the types of tickets that are way more fun, interesting and human than account status lookups, refund requests and order inquiries.
It's no secret that those companies who use customer services as a competitive advantage, as opposed to a cost center, are the ones who are seeing strong differentiation from their competitors as well as increasing returns. Those who intelligently use automation where it makes sense not only have happier customers - but happier service agents as well.