Figures show that contact centre agents have a direct influence on the customer experience. More research is currently being undertaken to find out what contact centre tools, methods and measures are available and can be deployed to assist an organisation achieve the optimal agent/customer experience. So says Ebrahim Dinat, COO at contact centre solutions provider, Ocular Technologies.

He adds that the company’s software partner, Aspect, coined the term “contact centre engagement cycle”, to describe the significant, continuous and symbiotic influence that agent and customer have on each other.

“If the agent is really enthusiastic and positive, it will affect the customer in a positive way. If the customer is angry, the agent will perceive it, and sometimes the agent gets angry as well. The attitude of one party will definitely affect the other, and this dynamic can often induce antagonistic spirals if negative feelings come in or virtuous spirals if positive feelings come in. The secret for the enlightened contact centre is to take steps to ensure that agents start with as much positive energy as possible to create those virtuous spirals, and to do this, agents need to feel really empowered and engaged in their jobs,” according to Mike Bourke, SVP and GM for Workforce Optimisation at Aspect.

Senior analyst at Forrester, Ian Jacobs, confirms that contact centre agents have a huge impact on customer experience. “Unhappy contact centre agents equal unhappy customers. It’s that simple. Contact centre agents who feel disengaged, unhappy with their job or their lot in life, or are simply having a bad day can make a customer’s contact centre experience seem like root canal surgery. Given that, measuring how happy and engaged agents are and then improving the agent experience should be a priority for any company focused on driving improved customer experiences,” he says.

Technology, however, represents only a piece of the puzzle, maintains Jacobs. He explains that firstly, not all contact centre tools drive positive agent experience. “For example, tools too focused on making the agent experience efficient risk allowing agents to just breeze through tasks and disengage their mind — and their judgment — from the processes of serving customers. Secondly, while tools are important, they are not the only issues that influence the agent experience,” he continues. “Improvement begins with measurement and benchmarking.”

Jacobs illustrates this with research that was released by Forrester. Entitled How to measure and improve the contact centre agent experience, delves further into the finding that show:

* Agent surveys have not provided contact centre pros the insight into agent experience they need. Using HR-style surveys turns up the usual array of woes: bad bosses, bad coworkers, or bad coffee. Contact centre pros cannot tackle these issues, even though they may be important to the overall work environment. On the other hand, targeting surveys to technology issues provides actionable insights on how to improve the contact centre experience.
* Standard agent metrics often don’t give a clear picture of the agent experience. But contact centre systems produce voluminous data. Within that giant haystack reside many valuable needles that contact centre pros can analyse to create agent experience metrics tailored to a specific company’s agent pool.

Dinat points out that customer and agent engagement are primary objectives of the Aspect WFO suite, which is available and deployed by Ocular Technologies in southern Africa. It was recently renamed Aspect EQ Workforce Optimisation, where “EQ” stands for Engagement Quotient. The Engagement Quotient takes into account both the level of customer engagement and of agent engagement.

“Progressive contact centres are looking for innovative ways to empower their employees to take more control over their own schedules, while still meeting the on-going need of the enterprise to properly serve customers. Employee-driven scheduling practices supported by the right WFM technology can really improve the agent experience, since viewing and changing one’s schedule are traditionally among the most common yet frustrating tasks.

From the employee’s perspective, these regularly used features can be a constant reminder either that the enterprise cares about their employees and has made it easy to self-serve or that the enterprise does not care and forces the agent body to use a clunky and awkward UI that wastes the agent’s time. Aspect invested quite a bit of thought into redesigning those features in our Aspect EQ WFM user interface. Recent versions of our WFM solution include dramatically simplified schedule trades, sequential shift bidding between two or more agents, a schedule trades bulletin board, time-off requests, vacation balance checking and more for the employee in an intuitive interface,” says Bourke.

“Given all of the attention to the importance of the customer experience in recent years, it’s not surprising that contact centres would be re-thinking their approach to delivering customer service. In an environment where low cost has been the primary objective for decades, the increasing importance of quality customer experiences is a significant disruption and requires a new culture, processes and technology. Forrester makes a strong argument that the agent experience is a primary contributor to the customer experience. Aspect has been an advocate of that thinking for quite some time, and it shows in the capabilities and features of our workforce optimisation portfolio.”