What makes companies like Zappos, Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, Disney, Virgin Atlantic, and Coolblue great? Of course, their products and their branding. But what distinguishes them from the competition is their customer service. To be more specific: those companies value their customer service agents. But what makes customer service agents so important?
Staying in touch with customers
C-level executives of large companies become dwellers of an ivory tower all too easily. Naturally, the first department to overlook is customer service. It's an expensive department that doesn't generate value for the company. For this reason, customer service employees are very low on the workforce totem pole.
Understandable as it is, this is a dangerous mindset for any company: one single poor customer service experience can result in loss of brand loyalty, customers, and ultimately, sales. And losing touch with your customer service agents is losing touch with your customers. How often does a C-level executive answer a phone call, interact in a chat session or respond to a Messenger conversation from a customer? Never (well, at least 99 out of 100)! So they don’t know what their customer wants, what they experience, what frustrates them. But at the same time, they tell the whole company how to act and what to focus on. Weird, right?
Agent as your eyes and ears
Agents are the first to hear about success, questions, concerns, and frustrations from customers. Almost in real-time, they see if the marketing department came up with a hit or miss. Agents are the eyes and ears of your company, the canaries in your coal mine. So make sure not to cover their cage with a blanket.
I know of a few companies that make all new hires work in their customer service department for a while, including C-level executives. Doing this will make them appreciate the tough job and give them significant insights into what makes the customer tick. I challenge all companies to do this.
Agents as the knowledge base
Agents are not just your eyes and ears. They also are your genuine and irreplaceable knowledge base. Though there is much to say for advanced knowledge base solutions, those systems have limitations. In general, maintaining your knowledge base is costly. Are you sure your agents are using this expensive solution properly? If it’s natively integrated with your CX platform, chances are agents use your knowledge base quite a bit. However, if the knowledge base is in a separate tab, the chances are that agents are barely using it, and if they do, it may hurt the speed and quality of their conversations.
Use of AI in customer service
As I said before, some companies are aware of the importance of customer service. By making their agents important and giving them the tools to make their work easy, they empower them in making decisions in a human way to help the customer.
One way to do this is using tools that automatically collect agent knowledge to make it available for other agents. Based on historical data AI can match clusters of questions with best answer suggestions. In this way, any agent can use the answers previously given by their colleagues for similar customer questions. In this case, you wouldn’t need a knowledge base; your agents are the knowledge base! There is no need for manual adding knowledge: let agents do their job, and the AI will only get brighter. I can imagine that you’d still need a Q&A, but soon this data will be common knowledge and, therefore, used by the AI. Sounds pretty efficient, right?
Automation makes agents more important, not less
A widespread misconception is that automation will make human customer service agents less important. But, if anything, automation will make agents more important, and - if you get it right - also more intelligent and efficient. Don’t forget that your customers expect more and more from your customer service. Yes, they want stuff to be swift and automated. They often don’t need an employee to buy your product and subscribe to your service. But when things get complicated or don’t work, when they get confused or tragedy strikes in their personal life, they need your human agents to guide them. So, are your agents up for the job?