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How agent effort impacts customer experience success

Reducing customer effort is unquestionably a critical aspect of winning and maintaining customer loyalty. It turns out, so is reducing agent effort.

These two elements are intrinsically linked and say a lot about your company, customer experience (CX) expert and bestselling author Matt Dixon recently told TELUS International: "It's very hard for your employees to deliver a low-effort experience for your customers if you deliver a high-effort experience to them as employees."

During an exclusive event with TELUS International, Dixon shared that the amount of effort a customer care agent has to expend to meet your company's quality assurance standards is something to keep a close eye on. Unchecked, agent effort can even cause customer disloyalty to creep into the picture.

The trouble is that too often, in an effort to reduce customer effort, companies inadvertently increase agent effort. Before long, much to their chagrin, they find that they end up raising effort levels for everyone.

What is agent effort?

Agent effort is the amount of work a customer care agent has to invest to satisfy a customer according to your company standards. It can be measured with one, straightforward metric: the agent effort score.

Companies arrive at their agent effort score in different ways, but a simple method is to flip the script on the conventional customer effort survey and send a post-interaction survey to your agents instead. A single question will do the trick — ask your agents how much effort it took to support the customer. How frequently you request input from your team members needs to makes sense for your company, whether that's every 10th interaction, once per week or a different cadence entirely.

If an agent struggled to find accurate information on an outdated knowledge base, tried skimming through dense policy documents and ultimately spent several hours in direct support of one customer — the agent's survey response will signal a high degree of effort. If that experience is replicated over a number of agents and a long timescale, it'll show in the form of a high agent effort score. On the other hand, if supporting your customers is a cakewalk, the inverse is also true; quick and painless resolutions of customer touchpoints will contribute to a low agent effort score.

How to lower your agent effort score

The great paradox is that making things simple and easy can be complicated and difficult. Lowering your agent effort is no exception, especially at the outset. It's well worth the effort, though. Here are three ways to lower your agent effort score:

Technology can lighten the load

As customer-facing self-serve options and AI-powered chatbots grow in popularity, the cases making it to agents are the complicated ones. For those with "digital co-workers" — robotic process automation (RPA) and chatbot solutions that augment the traditional workforce — a digital workforce management platform like Intelligent Insights can help companies by clarifying scheduling and how to optimize the human-bot split. Ensuring that technology lightens the load on human agents as much as possible is essential, freeing them up to assist with more involved queries.

And when those queries come in, your agents should be supported with self-serve resources too. Ensure that the resources your agents refer to is kept in a knowledge base that acts as a single source of truth for reliable information.

Empowerment goes a long way

Beyond tech, having team members who are empowered to make certain judgment calls without getting manager backup helps to reduce effort for everyone involved. Take note, however, that this level of empowerment won't happen overnight or by accident. To get there, companies need to take learning seriously and offer ongoing training and development programs to their agents.

Education and empowerment are essential to reducing effort and contributes to caring corporate culture, an important consideration when thinking about the bigger picture. Employee turnover rates can be very expensive for a company, and fostering a workplace of engagement often leads to longer tenure with an organization.

Is it time to revisit your policies?

As Dixon told TELUS International, a major contributor to agent effort comes from being hamstrung by company policies that make it difficult to create simple customer experiences. "Ask your representatives, 'what are the things that make this job hard?'" Dixon advises, adding that it also helps to listen to recorded calls to pinpoint moments of agent frustration or confusion, where it's obvious a company policy creates unnecessary friction in customer care. Are your policies overly prescriptive, dictating how agents must provide support, and perhaps even expecting them to reference promotions? Are your agents reporting that customers are questioning your policies, leaving your agents in the middle?

Asking these questions and doing these exercises doesn't mean you'll uncover the need for unwieldy or expensive changes. You may find things like making information easier to find, or simplifying processes and policies, is all it takes to improve the overall agent experience.

Why your company needs to rethink effort

The amount of effort associated with your CX can make or break your brand. You can't have an easy-to-use product or service backed by an approach to customer care that's frustrating and cumbersome. Even if your product is a little more advanced or requires greater explanation, doing what you can to reduce customer effort is still highly valuable.

At the same time, it shouldn't come at the expense of high agent effort. They are in a symbiotic relationship; making things difficult for agents is costly, and ultimately trickles down into your CX delivery. The impact on your company is likely to be compounded further with high customer and employee attrition.

Reduce effort across the board by re-examining how and by what standards you measure success, then work to eliminate points of contention. Reconsider or update policies that don't serve your brand or your bottom line and invest in your agents by equipping them with technology that makes lives easier. A low-effort environment is, at the end of the day, a more cost-effective one.

And of course, make sure to communicate any changes openly and transparently, and invite agent feedback to ensure you're making genuine improvements. Your CX teams know your customers' pain points better than anyone, and want to help you to reduce effort — for them, and for your customers.

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