Automation and Agent Happiness

Robbert Dijkstra, CEO

Happy employees are essential for a satisfying customer experience. But where employee happiness matters most, it is the lowest: at contact centers. Among the many factors that cause agents to be unhappy, one aspect is often overlooked: automation.

Happy contact center agents. Not.

Do you want happy customers? Make sure you have happy employees. Because if your employees hate their job, they will not be nice to your customer. Period.

The above is true for every segment of your business. But it probably matters most in customer service. Customers often turn to customer service because they have an issue and are not pleased. Dealing with customers in those situations takes sensitivity, skill, and high job satisfaction. 86% of customer service executives acknowledge that, aGartner survey shows.

The irony is that precisely where it matters most, employees are largely unhappy. So much that the unhappiness of contact center agents has almost become a cliche. If you want data, just look at the turnover rate. The average contact center turnover rate in the US is between 30-45%. Employees ages 20-34 are likely to stay for just one year.

High turnover rates are, of course, expensive by themselves. The cost of training and onboarding new staff is high. But we are talking about contact center agents here. Their unhappiness has a much more significant impact than just increasing training costs. It threatens the customer experience. And again: losing customers is the real pain here.

Why contact center agents are not happy

So, why are contact center agents so unhappy?

The answer seems obvious. Just ask yourself: what is not to hate about many aspects of the job? Repetitive work, lack of appreciation and recognition, few opportunities for professional development, low pay: those factors alone can make a poisonous cocktail.

On the other hand: I have been on the phone with highly motivated call center staff, who seem to believe in their work and in their brand. Almost one-third of agents are on the job because they sincerely want to help people.

But they get frustrated. And a lot of their frustrations have to do with automation.

Demoralizing automation

First, agents already feel a lack of appreciation and recognition. Treating their job as something that somehow has not been automated away yet, only confirms this feeling. As long as automation is a way to eliminate the human factor in customer service, it will demoralize agents. But human agents are valuable and irreplaceable in customer service. Automation can make their work easier and more satisfying. In our experience, it is the agents that are most happy about our AI solutions, even if management is not totally convinced yet.

For instance, one of our main features is an autocomplete suggestion. This feature saves agents a lot of time, and maybe more importantly, redundant typing. What is not to love about this for the agent? It is automation made for them. It makes agents happy, or as one agent wrote in a poll: ‘awesome, less typing!’

Failing systems

Second, it is also working with automated systems that highly frustrate agents. NICE inContact and ICMI polled over 150 agents across 20 different industries. They published their results in The State of Agent Experience and Engagement in Today's Contact Centers. As it turns out, it is not poor management that annoys agents most. It is not even rude or angry customers. It’s the systems they work with. 30% refer to inadequate or hard-to-use systems as the main reason they can not do their job properly. More than other factors combined: angry customers and annoying management.

For example, some agents have four or five systems open while engaging with a customer. That is just too much to handle, especially if they are expected to handle multiple conversations at the same time. It is almost like a game of simultaneous chess. Very few people have the mental capacity to pull that off. It is a pain for agents. It also is a pain for your business because it makes concurrency extremely difficult. One of our first solutions was a relatively simple URL recommender: based on the conversation, our AI would suggest a relevant support page to refer to. This saved the agent the hassle of looking it up on a separate screen: happy agents.

The way to go: automating toward agent happiness

Again: automation can make agent’s work easier and more satisfying.

“In some instances, the best technology investments have been derailed by employee factors, such as (...) low morale or commitment”, Olive Huang, research vice president at Gartner, says.

Maybe. But it may also be the other way around: some technology investments have derailed because they were damaging for employee morale and commitment.

Contact center automation should consider the employee with every step. That’s what we try to do at Deepdesk. We learned a lot just sitting at the agent’s desk. What annoys them, what is helpful, where can we make it easier for them? A lot of our features are the fruit of those observations.

Automation applied smartly, can be a great tool for improving employee happiness and productivity. It may be the fastest and easiest way toward improving customer satisfaction.

Read more on how automation impacts customer churn and retention.

Happy agents, better conversations

Increase NPS, without the cost: Deepdesk's AI technology helps customer support agents to have more fulfilling customer conversations.