In the past, customer service teams and contact centres did just about everything except manage their agents’ experiences.
From self-service to apps and chat bots, Australian brands have had customer experience (CX) on centre stage for several years.
But recent events have highlighted the need for precedence on workers, and indeed it’s only now that companies are beginning to consider the employee experience (EX).
Last year, a supermarket chain in Australia was forced to shut down almost all its customer services phone lines. What was usually a workplace teeming with conversation fell silent.
It wasn’t because of a network outage or a surge in call volumes. It was to manage the wellbeing of its workers. As consumers battled their own adversities throughout 2020, the company’s customer service agents faced torrents of abuse despite doing their best to assist the aggressors on the other end of the line.
Meanwhile, an Australian financial services company faced consistent challenges around attrition, with staff walking away from multi-generational team at record rates as fatigue from ever-expanding call queues and workloads took their toll.
Household brands in retail, healthcare, utilities and even emergency services experienced much the same, all the while managing their own internal change, including learning to work from anywhere, managing burnout and so on.
As Lawrence Mitchell, a mental wellbeing coach and the founder of Raw Energy, says, organisations have an obligation to enable an equilibrium between wellbeing and productivity. They cannot focus solely on the latter: making money.
Employees can no longer be left out from customer journey maps. Here are the three fundamental steps to creating experiences that matter for your customer service workers:
Are you okay?
The World Economic Forum has placed the cost of mental-ill health at $2.5 trillion per annum. The data beyond the headline figure is arguably even more worrying: the COVID-19 pandemic caused 55 per cent of working adults to be stressed due to changes in work routines and organisation, 49 per cent felt lonely or isolated working from home, and half now struggle to achieve work-life balance.
The unfortunate truth across the customer service industry is that while brands regularly survey their customers to gauge sentiment and satisfaction levels, the same is rarely done for agents.
In fact, in a room full of experts of the contact centre sector, just one of the dozen senior delegates worked for an organisation with a formal survey to ascertain the wellbeing of its workers at the beginning of each week.
This is a glaring oversight: you can’t even begin to provide positive CX without first getting the EX right.
It is critical to give all due consideration to surveying your agents to determine their work and mental loads, but ensure you analyse metrics beyond their traditional, historic value.
As well as reviewing the responses you do get, consider those that you might not. An agent failing to respond, or consistently responding late, could indicate a need for intervention. Similarly, managers can examine the length of an agent’s calls, the number of times it is placed on hold, and the amount of times a call is transferred.
Invest in tech to back your agents
In a modern environment, artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to identify difficult situations an agent might be facing and intervene with tactics that enhance the EX.
For example, calls where swearing or aggression were exhibited can initiate post-interaction surveys so that an agent’s supervisor can check in, see how they are and how they felt about the interaction.
The predictive analytics offered by AI – such as chat bots – can also be used for this purpose. While listening in to conversations between agents and customers, the machine learning behind AI can pull information from multiple data sources to provide agents with suggestions in real-time.
Based on pre-set identifiers, such as the type of language used and the subject matter, a chat bot could suggest that they stop and do some breathing exercises, offer resources to manage their immediate wellbeing, and even recommend training courses to hone soft skills.
Create an action plan
When devising an action plan, it must be part of a broader, strategic mental wellness strategy – one that also recognises that agents are not clusters of workers, but individuals living and working under a unique set of circumstances.
Comprehensive communications tools play a major part in supporting this as they come with the added benefit of generating data that can be analysed to glean insights into the overall wellness of their teams. The fact that this information can be accessed in real-time means time traditionally spent labouring over spreadsheets can be better spent talking to staff, and actually enacting change.
The tactics informed by the strategy don’t need to be especially complicated, and organisations can start small by investing in features designed for a specific purpose before expanding their solution to cater for additional practices, teams, and departments.
Of course, any features you set up should be done so on secure platforms to ensure data privacy, particularly with teams working from home across a range of devices.
In the current climate, the decisions made today will have a profound impact on the future of the digital workplace. Now is the time to realign workflows and processes to not just create ongoing flexibility, increase operational agility and minimise risk, but establish permanent mechanisms to support workers.
Anthony Brown is the Director of Solution Architecture and Design for Avaya in Australia.