New rules for Customer Service – Training and nurturing the next generation of customer service agents

10th March 2020 | Aileen Allkins

With the evolution in technology and customer expectations, today’s customer service landscape would be almost unrecognisable to a CS agent from as little as a decade ago. It follows that businesses must consider how this essential job requires a new skillset and a new way to look at training and supporting the front-line employees who work with customers day-in, day-out.

As companies transition more of their applications to the cloud and take advantage of the capabilities this gives them, they need to consider what the implications are for the front-line CS agents whose roles may change as a result of the new capabilities available to them.

Technology creates new service opportunities

Co-Op is a perfect example of a company that went through a cloud transition that changed the demands on its customer service function. The company was struggling with separate systems managing its different lines of business which was problematic as there was no single view of a customer. This impacted quality of service and also the opportunity to provide proactive advice to customers and even upselling opportunities as different CS teams dealt with different customer problems depending on the product/service.

Co-Op moved its processes onto Salesforce’s cloud platform, allowing the business to have a single view of customers’ data. The shift would have placed new expectations on the customer service team as they now would be in a position to help with any customer query and also it would require them to have knowledge of more products and services so that they could advise and upsell the customer. Training on how to “use” the new Salesforce platform is only one part of the training needs. CS agents would also need to be trained on how to transition the conversation from problem solving to advisory to upselling. These are new soft-skills for which agents need to receive training.

A new approach to learning and training

Because customers are increasingly aware that it is possible to have a complete view of them as a customer and to have the first CS Agent who they reach help them with any issue, this is fast becoming their expectation of all service providers. This places increasing pressure on Customer Service organisations to find ways of enabling their front-line teams to be able to resolve the majority of customer issues without having to bounce the customer over to another team. Their knowledge needs to be broad and current. As a result, businesses must now consider how to effectively train agents in the best way to find the right answers for customers and to learn on the job rather than necessarily teaching them the answers during an extended onboarding period.

The introduction of ‘micro-learning moments’ which provide real-time, short, compelling content bursts has proven to be a very useful training strategy. According to the US’ Association for Talent Development, 79% of talent development professionals are using or plan to use this technique in the next year to keep up with the pace of change.

It’s certainly a method that suits the ever-evolving customer service landscape, as more technologies are introduced and expectations from customers continue to grow. This also places yet another demand on the front-line teams as they need to capture their knowledge in real time as they solve new problems so that it is readily available to all other agents who might receive the same enquiry from another customer. CS Leaders need to be looking at new ways to incentivise the CS agents to create, share and use knowledge, and consider that traditional KPIs on call handling and wrap up times will need to change.

Empower the front-line

Businesses must also move away from rigid processes that are typical within the customer service sector. These are often a hindrance to great customer service as they prevent empowerment at the front-line to do the best thing for the customer. There is a need to provide the freedom to a customer service agent to think outside the box when dealing with complex problems and empower and trust them to use their initiative. Building problem solving skills within the customer service team will allow for more autonomy when it comes to dealing with more complex and varied issues.

T-Mobile’s US launch of a ‘Team of Experts’ completely overhauled how customer service works for the telecoms company. It listened to both its customers and customer services team and came up with the best solution – giving customers in various regions of the US their own dedicated “team” of customer care representatives to offer quick and efficient assistance, removing robot voices and confusing push-button menus. By specially training various group of human representatives and making them available 24/7, T- Mobile invested in promoting knowledge sharing within and across teams – creating faster and more agile learning environments.

Focus on the human being

The role of the customer service agent is clearly changing, as are the pressures placed on them. Businesses need to adapt how they look after and train these members of staff beyond looking at traditional metrics. The role is becoming more challenging, with customers demanding more and business offerings evolving at a faster pace. Businesses of any size must understand that they must to adopt a new way of training agents and offer them ongoing opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills.

In order for agents to be resilient and well equipped in dealing with the customer they must be supported after experiencing difficult conversations with an upset customer, whether that’s through a mentor, team meetings or more formal HR or coaching services. Treating the customer service agent as a vital human asset will allow them to flourish and ultimately increase retention and quality of service.

In the race to keep up with, or even get ahead of the competition, businesses must invest in the right type of training so customer service agents fully understand how to maximise new technologies and how to develop the necessary soft skills to support their changing role. It can be the key success factor for delivering exceptional service, increasing positive brand perception and retaining the best and brightest of the Customer Service workforce.