5 things contact centers need to address

5 things contact centers need to address immediately to retain their best agents

I have a friend who quit her job because she was bored and overworked. On the surface, "bored" and "overworked" might seem mutually exclusive. If you're busy, how can you be bored? Unfortunately, it's a combination that occurs all too regularly in the workplace, especially in contact centers.

Contact center agents often face long shifts full of repetitive, mind-numbing tasks. That alone can lead to high employee attrition. When you add in other factors such as antiquated technical tools, subjective performance evaluations, and poor remote agent management practices, you have a blue-ribbon recipe for disastrous agent churn rates.

The reality is that the workforce is different than it was just three years ago. Labor shortages have put employees and job seekers in the driver's seat, and they have new demands and expectations. When contact centers more proactively enhance the agent experience, retaining top performers and keeping agents satisfied and on the payroll long term becomes much less of a problem.

investing in agents stats

Five steps to improve the agent experience and reduce turnover

A contact center agent's job doesn't need to be filled with overtime and tedium. The right technology can transform the nature of an agent's responsibilities from boring to rewarding. Modern technology can also relieve the frustration of working with antiquated tools, ensure agents are engaged and well-managed wherever they work, and provide coaching that leads to better performance and CX.

Let's take a closer look at ways contact centers can leverage technology to keep more of their best agents.

1. Reimagine your workforce model for digital-first agents

The events of the last couple of years have fundamentally changed how and where contact center agents work. When the pandemic-related lockdowns began, businesses scrambled to set up their agents to work from home so customers could still receive support.

Now that agents and businesses have experienced the benefits of remote work, it's safe to say that it’s here to stay. In a survey NICE CXone conducted of over 1,000 contact center decision-makers, it revealed that 70% of contact centers expect they will continue to have agents work from home after the pandemic.[i]

This doesn't mean all agents will work remotely. The 70% of contact centers that plan to continue at-home agents will likely use a hybrid workforce model in which some agents work at home and some work onsite.

As you can imagine and might have experienced, a hybrid work model adds complexity to how employees are managed and engaged. A grim statistic from Forrester reveals that one-third of attempts to implement a hybrid workforce model will fail,[ii] but that isn't because the concept lacks merit. Rather, poor execution holds the blame.

Simply tweaking existing practices won't do. Organizations can use this opportunity to reimagine their workforce models to keep their digital-first agents engaged, supported, and performing well.

Part of the appeal of working from home is that it provides agents with more work/life balance. An at-home work setup means they can meet their kids at the bus stop or make a quick grocery store run during the day. This also means that flexible work locations necessitate flexible schedules. An agent may want to split her shift so that she works six hours while her kids are in school and another two hours after they've gone to sleep.

Other things contact center leadership can do to include in a reimagined agent experience model include:

  • Implement flexible eLearning programs that provide on-demand, multimedia training to all agents, regardless of their locations
  • Make an instant messaging app part of the agent desktop so agents can see who's logged in and receive quick support when they need it
  • Have regular one-on-one video coaching sessions
  • Provide all agents easy access to individual and team performance data so they can better self-manage while staying connected to the team
  • Have experienced at-home agents mentor new hires and provide guidance about effectiveness while working remotely

So since remote work is here to stay, it's time to implement a permanent, reimagined agent workspace solution.

Related resource: The Inner Circle Guide to Agent Engagement and Empowerment

2. Implement unified, integrated technology

Working with siloed contact center applications can add frustration to an already stressful job. When different systems that contact center agents use aren't integrated, agents aren’t able to perform as efficiently or effectively, and such a smorgasbord of resources negatively impacts both agent and customer experience alike.

Unintegrated systems require agents to toggle through multiple applications while helping customers, which is inefficient and increases the risk of errors. According to one study, 96% of survey respondents have systems that require agents to use multiple applications during a single interaction.[iii] Depending on the industry, the number of systems contact center agents have to navigate is daunting.

ICG agent engagement

Figure 1 Source: NICE: The Inner Circle Guide to Agent Engagement and Empowerment

Contact center technology that is integrated with customer relationship management (CRM) applications enables several capabilities and benefits:

  • Reduces after-call work by automatically updating your CRM with contact center interactions data
  • Reduces agent effort with a unified CRM and contact center desktop that eliminates the time spent navigating between separate applications
  • Improves contact handle time by automatically delivering a holistic view of the customer’s history directly to your agent’s desktop so they can quickly determine the next best action and personalize the conversation

A unified agent desktop puts additional agent tools into a single interface, including knowledge bases, ticketing systems, performance management solutions, and eLearning applications. When everything they need is at their fingertips, agent experience is improved by eliminating inefficiencies and producing more successful customer interactions.

There's still plenty of work to be done with integrating all the systems contact center agents use. A recent Salesforce study found that only half of the agents report they can find all the information they need to do their jobs on one screen.[iv]

agents who agree

Figure 2 Source: Salesforce: Fourth Edition of the “State of Service” Report

Notice the discrepancy between high and low performers. It's not a coincidence that a healthy majority of high performers have integrated solutions in their contact centers.

3. Improve agent experience with automation

Remember my friend who quit her job because she was bored and overworked? Contact centers that automate repetitive, rule-based tasks can avoid sentencing their agents to this same dismal fate.

Historically, 10-15% of an agent’s time is spent on the post-call wrap-up.[v] We already discussed how to reduce wrap time by automatically documenting interaction details in CRM systems. Automation can further reduce both wrap time and overall handle time.

Tools such as robotic process automation (RPA) work side by side with agents to relieve the burden of repetitive tasks. RPA digital robots perform processes such as:

  • Logging into systems
  • Copying and pasting data in multiple applications
  • Inputting data into multiple fields—in multiple systems—with 100% accuracy

These capabilities enable the robots to perform tasks such as changing customer addresses in several different applications and opening new claims.

Relieving agents of these mundane tasks enables them to focus more of their energy on delivering a superior customer experience. It also changes the nature of their jobs. Their responsibilities are less task-focused and more centered on complex problem-solving.

Salesforce determined that 51% of agents want more challenging work,[vi] and 77% of agents say automating routine tasks allows them to focus on more complex work.[vii] Leveraging automation can be an effective way to improve the agent experience and decrease employee attrition.

4. Upskill agents with real-time, personalized coaching

According to an article published by CMS Wire, 27% of employees strongly agree that feedback helps them do their work better.[viii] That seems fairly low to me, especially since career development is typically pretty important to high performers.

It would be interesting to get the contact center agent to take on this. With traditional quality assurance methods, there can be a significant time lag between when an interaction happens and when the agent receives feedback about it, which reduces the effectiveness of coaching. Would 27% of agents strongly agree that this delayed feedback is helpful? Maybe not.

AI-powered real-time interaction guidance can get that number to 27%, and beyond. Real-time interaction guidance provides agents with contextual feedback the moment interactions take place, empowering agents to improve the outcome immediately.

the power of ai 

Using sentiment analysis enables the tool to determine if the customer is feeling negative, in which case the software coaches the agent on soft skills that have been proven to increase customer satisfaction.

soft skills

As an example of sentiment analysis prompting the use of soft skills: if the customer and agent keep interrupting each other, the software will interpret that as negative customer sentiment and prompt the agent to engage in active listening. Receiving consistent, in-the-moment coaching will help agents meet their customer satisfaction (CSAT) targets and steadily become more proficient at building rapport and delivering satisfying CX.

To hone agent skills so they can enrich the customer experience, read the eBook, “7 trainable soft skills for outstanding agents (as modeled by cartoon characters).”

7 skills asset preview

Not only can artificial intelligence improve the agent experience, but it also improves business results. For example, businesses that use AI have higher customer retention and satisfaction than those that don't. Case in point:

micrographic AI capabilities for agent

Figure 3 Source: NICE: The ROI of Real-Time Agent Guidance: How AI helps align agent performance with customer expectations

5. Align agent performance reviews to measurable, realistic outcomes

The best performance reviews are ones that have no surprises because they're consistent with previous feedback and based on objective data. If you want to send a high performer heading for the door, surprise them with negative feedback during a performance review.

A hybrid workforce model adds bias to the performance review process. Supervisors may be subconsciously preferential to who they can see. It can be difficult to review the job performance of someone who works remotely, and easy for supervisors to assume the worst.

play to strengths

To remove bias and make performance feedback fair for all agents, a best practice is for organizations to align reviews to realistic and measurable outcomes. Fortunately, nearly everything an agent does is measured. Contact center leaders should pick the metrics that matter most, set reasonable targets for each agent, and give agents real-time access to their performance results.

Contact centers can’t afford to lose their top performers, but the current labor market has added even more urgency to reducing and preventing employee attrition. Implementing these five methods can help businesses improve the agent experience and reduce the number of agents—particularly high performers—that are walking out the door.

Learn more: Real-time interaction guidance helps you keep more of your top performing agents

High performers want to continually improve their skills, but it can be difficult for supervisors in busy contact centers to spend adequate time developing every agent. Read how real-time interaction guidance can fill that development gap. Download "The ROI of Real-Time Agent Guidance: How AI helps align agent performance with customer expectations" and get started on improving your agent experience.

[i] NICE CXone: 2020 Customer Experience (CX) Transformation Benchmark (2020)

[ii] Forrester: Predictions 2022: Customer Experience (2022)

[iii] NICE CXone: The Inner Circle Guide to Agent Engagement and Empowerment (ContactBabel) (2020)

[iv] Salesforce: Inside the Fourth Edition of the “State of Service” Report (2020)

[v] NICE CXone: The Inner Circle Guide to Agent Engagement and Empowerment (ContactBabel) (2020)

[vi] Salesforce: State of Service: Insights and trends from over 3,500 service leaders and agents worldwide (Third Edition) (2019)

[vii] Salesforce: Inside the Fourth Edition of the “State of Service” Report (2020)

[viii] CMS Wire: How Contact Center Agents Benefit From In-the-Moment Guidance (2021)