Making Customer Service Personal

April 24, 2018

If you want personalized customer experiences from your Contact Center, personalize your agent experiences.

Routine contact center calls are increasingly being handled by Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems. That means agents are handling the remaining calls, which are increasingly complex. This calls for critical thinking and personalized problem solving. Contact center customers desire a personal connection, along with an effective and efficient experience.1 This connection requires better-skilled and more engaged agents. A highly-engaged agent creates a more effective connection with the customer and an improved customer experience. But one size does not fit all; creating agent engagement requires the right strategy and personalization.

An investment in employee engagement initiatives can lead to improved business outcomes, according to a 3-year study cited in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology.2 This impactful research looked at the organizational commitment of 755 retail bank employees and correlated it with financial performance and customer satisfaction. The study conclusively established a direct causal link between employee engagement and customer satisfaction.

If agent engagement is central to an improved customer experience, how can contact centers better engage agents? Some business people think professionalism requires distance and detachment, but great customer service is about building relationships. Consider how you can bring humanity into contact centers by treating agents like unique individuals with distinct desires and ambitions.

How do you develop agents who have that personal touch?

  1.  Select your agents based on their ability to learn, adapt and grow. This helps organizations keep pace with the growing complexity of customer problems. Validated assessment tools can materially improve your ability to hire candidates with growth potential and positive energy.
  2. Have your managers explore with new hires their personal purpose and meaning. Connect their personal interests with the mission of your organization for better alignment. Also pay attention to how well managers are addressing the identified individual needs. This can be monitored through frequent engagement surveys and improved through action planning.
  3. Prepare managers to conduct personalized career planning conversations. Some agents will simply want to get better in their agent roles, perhaps wanting to be recognized as leading practitioners. Others will want to grow into team leadership responsibilities. Both are great, but managers cannot successfully treat them the same.
  4. Incorporate Adaptive Learning into your agent learning pathways. Changing requirements require us to change the way we think about development. Adaptive Learning is gaining traction in complex workplaces because it analyzes learner responses and personalizes learning to their specific needs. Algorithms with artificial intelligence can personalize courses so it seems agents have personal coaches. These individualized programs start at an appropriate knowledge level and develop agents at a pace that challenges, without overreaching. The AI future is here – it’s up to us to leverage it.

We recently worked with a retail bank that committed to building respect into all interactions. But words weren’t enough; they knew they needed to model respect in agent interactions first. The unit leader smartly showed respect for agents by implementing a myriad of interactions, including regular skip meetings and focus groups. Demonstrating respect can be as simple as listening intently and acting upon what is heard.

Agent engagement increased and customer satisfaction improved by ten points. Of course, there were other contributing factors, but intentional listening and follow-through contributed. This is an example of starting with managers and agents and “pulling through” the desired organizational behaviors to customers. The linkages demonstrate that your time will be well spent engaging agents and leads.

1Forrester Customer Service Index
2Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology: Investigating the temporal sequence of commitment and performance at the business unit level. Silvan Winkler, Cornelius J.König, Martin Kleinmann, Published: 15 March 2012


Ed Holinski is Senior Director, Solution Strategy and Development for Performance Development Group.

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