Article

What is agent experience? (and why it’s good for customers, too)

With businesses laser-focused on customer experience, far too often the needs of agents get overlooked.

By Maggie Mazzetti, Staff Writer

Published June 11, 2021
Last updated June 17, 2021

 

   

     

Companies have long focused on customer experience; some may even say they’re, gasp, customer obsessed. But buzz words aside, all this means is that they’re putting the customer at the center of everything they do. From sales to marketing and support, these companies aim to please at every step of the customer journey.

With such a heavy focus on needs of customers, far too often the needs of agents get overlooked. And in reality, the two are more intertwined than you might think. Happier humans make better employees, and having the right tools to work with also means better experiences for customers.

Here’s why focusing on agent experience is a win-win for any support team:

What is agent experience?

Much like customer experience, agent experience can mean any and all aspects of a support agent’s engagement with a company—from the tools and workflows that make it possible to do their job to the initiatives that prioritize their well-being. Put simply, these factors affect:

  • How easy it is for an agent to solve tickets
  • The quality of their interactions with customers
  • How valued they feel in their day-to-day and as a member of the support team

Why is agent experience important?

Think about the last time you reached out to customer support. Was the agent warm and friendly or could you tell they were just trying to get through the day? Was it a quick and painless chat or did you have to jump through numerous hoops to get an answer? It’s easy to see how agent experience, good or bad, can quickly impact customers.

Poor agent experience can lead to poor job performance, or worse yet, high turnover rate. And high turnover rate can erode a support team’s knowledge base and ultimately it’s ability to better serve customers. It’s no surprise then, that supporting customers really starts with supporting your own people.

Prioritizing agent experience amid new challenges

Over the past year, the nature of how agents work has drastically changed. Companies seeking to improve agent experience must first understand the impact of these changes, and their challenges.

Not only has customer engagement reached record highs, but teams have also been juggling longer hours, new technologies, and the isolation of remote work. No wonder 70 percent of agents report feeling overwhelmed, according to the 2021 Zendesk Customer Experience Trends report.

   

 

Here are just a few of the changes impacting support teams:

  • Customer engagement is up 30% globally, compared to last year
  • 50% of support teams are fully remote
  • 36% of teams have had to lay off agents

 

   

     

These shifting work environments can mean new challenges to consider—both mental and technological. Teams are having to adjust to the changing expectations and needs of customers, all while navigating the difficulties of working remotely. For some, this means staffing new channels or learning new systems; for others, this means juggling the responsibilities of family, or dealing with less-than-perfect WFH setups.

Support teams thrive on collaboration and shared knowledge, but working remotely means that many teams have had to learn new skills and processes just to stay connected. And that’s if they’re lucky.

Only 54 percent of agents reported having the tools to succeed remotely, which means that half are struggling to meet the growing needs of customers without the right tools in place.

Here are the biggest changes to agent work (according to agents)

  • Customer expectations have changed (41%)
  • The questions I get have changed (31%)
  • Longer hours (28%)
  • Leadership’s expectations have changed (26%)
  • I staff a different channel or channels (16%)

 

   

     

3 ways to improve the agent experience

Agent experience and customer experience go hand-in-hand, so any investment you make in your people is also a long-term investment in your customers. So where to start? According to our recent global survey, 55 percent of agents say that a supportive work environment is the most important thing they need to do their job well. And agility, improved technology, and more communication channels also top the list.

According to our recent global survey, these are top three things that agents feel their company could be doing better:

  • Being more agile or responsive to changing customer needs
  • Adding tools to improve remote work
  • Offering new ways for customers to get in touch

Here are some tips to help companies refocus on their employees, no matter what challenges they face:

  1. Make agents feel valued beyond their numbers
  2. Sure, it’s important to focus on the numbers. It helps teams to set goals and benchmark against past performance. But it’s important to remember that your agents are people, too. Putting customers first shouldn’t mean that you’re putting agents last.

    Show agents that they’re a valued part of the team by prioritizing their needs and well-being. This could range from opening channels of communication with leadership to staggering mental health days like “Flexi Fridays”. No one gives their best when they aren’t feeling their best and customers can pick up on the signs when someone is burnt out or not happy in their role.

  3. Work smarter, not harder
  4. Agent time is valuable, so help them focus on the harder problems with technological solutions that make their jobs (and lives!) easier. Don’t know where to start? Try workforce management tools that can automate repetitive tasks like sending an email to confirm receipt of a ticket, or let customers know the status of a return order. Not only does this make it easier to scale your support operation, but it can also insulate your team against unexpected change.

    Leaning into AI and machine learning capabilities, such as chatbots or “smart” digital assistants, can also steer customers to quick answers and prevent agents from getting bogged down with answering the same question again and again.

  5. Listen to feedback
  6. Whether it’s internal ESAT surveys, open door policies, or regular team meetings, managers should be checking in with agents. Issues can’t be fixed if no one knows about them, and often agents have insights that can lead to better products and happier customers. But that’s just the first step. Feedback is only useful if there’s buy-in from the top.

    Business is changing, likely for good, and companies should navigate these next phases in lock step with their employees. Being able to deliver the resources needed to succeed and thrive in this new world starts with paying attention.

The agent experience guide

Make sure you’re doing everything you can to set your agents up for success.