And How to Prepare Agents for the Job
The days of the call center, a center where service to customers over the phone alone is handled, is long gone. In the early 2000s centers slowly started expanding the number of channels and started calling themselves contact centers. This trend continued and the number of channels continued to grow, turning contact centers into multi-channel centers where customers can choose to get in touch with companies using the channel of their preference.
The progress that the industry has made is mind-boggling. According to Dimension Data the norm for contact centers today is to support up to 9 different channels. And 85% of contact centers today employ multi-channel agents.
Providing high-quality customer service in a multi-channel environment is a tremendous, but highly rewarding, challenge for centers. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the impact of handling multiple channels has on agents and strategies you can apply to prepare agents for the job.
The impact on agents
Businesses have come a long way and have invested tremendously in integrating new channels into their service mix. But, in the end, it all comes down to the agents. Even the best-in-class technologies cannot create first-class service experiences if the agents don't know appropriately handle customers on those channels.
Even though, the current trend is that customers get a consistent and continuous experience across different channels (coined omni-channel), this is not necessarily the same for the agent. The amount of applications they need to use to service customers on different channels has increased over the years and is currently at, on average, 5 different systems. Not only does this increase costs (i.e. agents need to be trained on using those systems and these systems need to be maintained), it also has a negative impact on agents' job satisfaction. As happy agents create happy customers, companies should invest in creating a seamless experience for the agent as well.
On average, multi-channel agents handle 2-3 channels consecutively. One could expect that handling multiple channels increases stress and therefore agent motivation. But the reality is quite the contrary. Many agents actually like the increased variety of the work and the opportunity to learn new ways of communicating. Specifically, 85% of agents like handling service requests on social media or other digital channels.
How to prepare agents for the multi-channel challenge
Every single channel has its own quirks and requires its own way of communicating. This isn't rocket science, but it isn't common understanding either. When preparing (newly hired) agents for the job multi-channel agent, we recommend our customers to go through the following stages;
1. Training on the fundamentals
The first step is to build a strong foundation of knowledge on the channels the agent will support. Even if the agent has extensive experience with service over the phone, don't underestimate the difference between providing service over a spoken medium (e.g. phone) versus a written medium (e.g. social media or email).
Agents should understand the characteristics of the medium they are communicating through. What do people use the medium for, how long can messages be, what type of messages can be sent, how public are these messages, what the common etiquette on those channels, etc.
Next, as the majority of new channels are written media, agents only have written words at their disposal and cannot rely on intonation any longer. So, teaching agents the impact of their word choices and providing them with techniques on how to phrase things in positive and in intelligible way is vital.
Finally, share your company's communication guidelines; including tone-of-voice, the usage of emoticons, the usage of canned responses, etc.
After having the fundamentals in place, make sure your agents can get familiar with putting this newly acquired knowledge into practice in a simulated environment. Try to mimic the real-life situation as well as possible. This goes for both the conversation, but also for the mix of channels and the amount of concurrent conversations.
Make sure there is time for self-reflection, where agents self-assess their performance based on what they learned in their training.
Now it's time to put this all in practice. However, our experience is that many agents need to gain some confidence before they can really shine. An excellent mechanism to create that confidence, is to start with side-by-side shifts, where the new multi-channel agent pairs up with an experienced multi-channel agent. This is where the last open questions are answered and where the new agent gets accustomed to the actual work. How long this period should last is very different between agents and centers, but is usually ranges between one day and two weeks.
4. Continuous support
Finally, make sure that multi-channel agents get the same kind of support as the phone agents. That means integrating new channels in the quality monitoring form, coaching agents on a regular basis and providing continuous learning programs for agents to constantly improve their skills.
How The Call Center School can help
The Call Center School provides off-the-shelf e-learning courses for contact center employees. For multi-channel scenarios there are different options that you could benefit from, depending on the current skill level of the agent.
The Multi-Channel Agent - an affordable bundle containing fundamentals training for providing support over the phone, email and social media. More info >
Digital Customer Service - equips agents with the fundamental knowledge needed to support customer on social media. More info >
Email Essentials - This course enables your agents to provide top-notch customer service through well-written and properly structured emails. It covers the important topics of structure, punctuation, and word-choice. More info >