Many of us have grown accustomed to, if not become reliant on, virtual assistants such as Siri, Cortana, or Alexa. They’ve redefined interactions in our daily lives, providing guidance and assistance, streamlining everyday activities, and even anticipating needed actions. While there is no shortage of ways to use them in our personal lives, have we made the best use of virtual assistants in our businesses? If they can draft and send an email to your mother, can’t they draft and send one to your manager? If they can tell you where the closest French Market is, couldn’t they also tell you what is going on in the stock market?
One area that virtual assistants are perfect for is the fast-paced world of the contact center where coordination and communication among staff is vital to delivering great customer service. We talk a lot about the importance of self-service in the customer experience but rarely, if ever, do we hear about providing self-service to the agent experience. Ian Jacobs, senior analyst at Forrester Research (News - Alert), states in the 2015 report How to Measure and Improve the Contact Center Agent Experience, “Unhappy contact center agents equal unhappy customers. It’s that simple.” The symbiotic relationship between customer and agent attitudes should not be surprising. It’s a natural phenomenon in all human communications. So if we want to create great customer experiences, we need to take a step back to ensure great agent experiences.
One of the most crucial factors impacting the agent experience is the quality of the tools agents use to do their jobs. The Forrester paper noted above found, “Customer service workers that feel happy with the tools they use are more likely to be happy with their jobs and to recommend their company as a place to work.” In fact, customer service workers satisfied with their jobs are more likely to have a positive impact on the customer experience, which can ultimately lead to business growth and profitability.
But how do you begin designing a great agent experience? One of the first things to consider is that agents have the same needs and characteristics for their work experience that consumers have when evaluating a customer experience. For example, Aspect (News - Alert) research revealed the following as some of the most telling profile attributes of today’s consumer:
• increasingly composed of millennials;
• preference for self-service tools;
• desire to communicate across many channels;
• texting a favorite means of communication;
• favor access to the web via mobile phones;
• high expectations of technology;
• readiness to turn to another provider (employer); and
• need to feel valued by providers (employers)
By implication these same attributes/characteristics are found in the agent population. But, unfortunately, at work agents are usually accustomed to complex and awkward agent desktops and user interfaces seemingly created in the 1990s. Outside of the office, agents interact with friends, family, and businesses through responsive, intuitive, and friendly interfaces found on their smartphones. If the agent desktop were to undergo a dramatic transformation, offering the thoughtful design and appeal of the iPhone (News - Alert) to agents, don’t you think that agents would be stimulated to do their jobs in a more effective, productive way? Do you think turnover would continue at the current average of 36 percent per year for U.S. contact centers? Suppose agents and supervisors could use conversational speech (a la Siri) or conversational text (a la Google (News - Alert) search) either on site or remotely for interactions with their workforce management system? Wouldn’t that enhance the work life of the agent?
Many enterprises have invested in creating wonderfully engaging mobile apps to simplify customer communications. Agents can readily see that the technology their employers use to engage customers pales in comparison to the technology provided to them. It sends a strong message about the way enterprises perceive their employees. The reality is that a single agent can affect the loyalty, lifetime value, and churn risk of potentially thousands of customers.
Each agent has a significant amount of power that can impact the brand and profitability of an enterprise in a material way. Enterprise virtual assistants offer an easy, efficient way for employees to get information, manage schedules, and respond to rapidly changing business demands.
Mike Bourke is senior vice president and general manager of workforce optimization at Aspect Software (www.aspect.com).
Edited by Maurice Nagle