The effortless customer experience has been the guiding mantra in customer service for the last decade. Yet, to meet rising expectations, companies are realizing that their biggest hurdle isn't the customer experience (CX) - it's the agent experience.
So what's holding companies back from providing an effortless agent experience? At Pier 1, where I manage the Customer Relations department, we faced a number of challenges. After re-launching our e-commerce site six years ago, we realized we didn't have a sustainable service strategy to keep up with increasing demands. Instead of scaling for growth, we expanded our service team by 200%. But our associates were frustrated.
They spent more time dealing with legacy systems and outdated technology than actually listening to their customers. In an effort to improve our CX, we had overlooked the crucial folks who differentiate our business from our competitors. Sound familiar?
Over the last three years, Pier 1 worked to transform its service strategy. In doing so, we established ten principles of an effortless agent experience that focus on both the tools and the work environment in your contact center.
Often, contact centers agents work with legacy systems that are too rigid to evolve with changing customer expectations. Take a moment to rethink your technology stack, with the user in mind.
1. Integrated Systems and Single Customer Records: At Pier 1, our associates were accessing over 20 different systems and multiple sources of customer records. Our first priority was to consolidate and integrate these solutions, providing associates with one, 360-degree customer record using the CRM as the portal. By giving your agents a single source of truth, you improve their efficiency and ability to focus on the customer, instead of system navigation.
2. Intuitive Technology and Modern Communication Channels: Consider the engagement channels you offer your customers and agents to communicate. Are they intuitive tools that help add value to the interaction? By adopting an intuitive and integrated CRM system at Pier 1, we decreased our new hire learning journey time by 50%. We also added modern contact channels, such as chat and text, that our associates use on a daily basis. These convenient channels have allowed our customers to better describe their needs with photos-arming agents with helpful context to quickly resolve problems.
3. Knowledge Base: By consolidating all potential answers into one knowledge base, tribal knowledge and post-it-notes become a thing of the past. After building our robust Knowledge Base, Pier 1's associates no longer relied on that one 'Jedi Master' in the department to answer their questions. They felt empowered and were able to provide more detailed and consistent information to our customers.
It's nearly impossible to deliver outstanding customer service if your agents don't genuinely love their jobs. Infuse your contact center with brand culture, but don't forget to let your agents' individuality to shine through.
4. Training: Give your associates the opportunity to learn about your brand, products, and services. At Pier 1, we don't hire experts in home decoration. Instead, we cultivate it with lessons on products and decoration principles. As a result, our associates have become valued customer advisors, sharing their brand inspiration with each engagement.
5. Coaching and Recognition: Devise an agent-to-supervisor ratio that fosters development and opportunities for recognition. By removing operational tasks from supervisors and allowing them to focus on coaching and engaging associates, our customer relations team continually improves their skills and feels more connected to Pier 1 culture.
6. Agent Empowerment: Arm your front-line associate with the tools and approvals they need to assist customers without the need for escalations. By empowering all associates to make necessary business transactions, regardless of their tier, you boost agent productivity. Even better, you avoid hindering the customer experience by transferring her from associate to manager.
7. Leverage Individuality and Passion: Customers resonate best when interacting with authentic people. Embrace your agents' individuality and encourage them to be themselves when engaging with customers. You've hired them because they are passionate about your products or services, so let that shine through. Your agents will feel more at ease, and in turn, provide exceptional customer service.
8. Eliminate Constraining Metrics: Consider removing (or concealing) KPIs, such as Average Handling Time (AHT), that measure the speed of customer interactions. These metrics put pressure on agents and ignore interaction quality. Instead, strive for quality improvements, keeping an eye on First Call Resolution (FCR), for example.
9. Work from Home: By implementing modern, and easy-to-use cloud-based technology, you open the door to hiring remote associates. At Pier 1, over 80% of our associates work from home after an initial in-office training period. We've leveraged this as a recruiting tool, vastly broadening our talent pool to hire the best associates possible.
10. Stay Connected: At Pier 1, we stay connected with video chat tools, webinars, and routine on-site visits to learn more about new products and service initiatives. Our associates look forward to pancake breakfasts, crazy sock weeks, and product giveaways whether they work on-premise or from home. These events help keep our associates connected with Pier 1's culture and build brand loyalty.
These principles have helped us at Pier 1 cultivate a passionate service team of associates who are empowered to add value to each interaction. Outstanding agent experiences beget world-class customer experiences. While shoppers have unlimited choice in home décor, few brands can compete with our superior CX.
*This post originally appeared on ICMI.
Laurie Simpter is the Senior Manager of Customer Relations at Pier1.