Agent empowerment: what is it, and why is it so important?

Agent empowerment is a divisive subject amongst contact centre leaders. On one hand, encouraging customer service agents to veer from the script can lead to inconsistencies and errors. On the other, agents need the flexibility to do what is necessary for a customer resolution.

Successful agent empowerment requires a delicate balance between process and personalisation; between compliance and creativity. It’s a difficult balance to achieve, but it’s one that will differentiate you from the robotised ‘computer says no’ brand of service so universally hated by customers.

For contact centre decision-makers, it’s time to encourage smaller-scale decisions throughout your customer service frontlines.

Successful agent empowerment will differentiate you from the robotised ‘computer says no’ brand of service so universally hated by customers. Click To Tweet

What is agent empowerment?

Agent empowerment is all about facilitating certain freedoms in the provision of customer support. So, customer service representatives have the power to make decisions about how they help customers.

For management, it’s about recognising that your agents know what customers need. It’s trusting your team to do what they deem appropriate for an adequate conflict resolution. It’s about conceding total control of scripts in favour of more tailored fixes.

And this requires three cornerstones:

  • • Autonomy

An agent with autonomy is an agent that’s (comparatively) free from external control and can act independently. They don’t need to check every time they decide to deviate from the script. Instead, they feel comfortable taking ownership of the issue they’re resolving.

  • • Ability

Giving a team member autonomy won’t create successful agent empowerment without a foundation of knowledge. Autonomy without ability only leads to inefficiency. So, empowered agents must have the training, skills, and tools to make the right customer service decisions.

  • • Aim

Finally, it’s difficult to make the right decisions when you don’t know what your aim or purpose is. Agents must know how empowerment feeds into their contact centre targets. For example, consider the aim of reducing the average handling time (AHT). This would require different decisions than the aim of increasing the rate of first contact resolution (FCR).

What are the benefits of empowering agents?

From an employee perspective, agent empowerment is a vital boost to morale and job satisfaction. It shows that the employer values their skills and opinions. They’re trusted to make the right choices – not treated as a robot doling out responses from a production line. In turn, this feeling of worth can mean that your employees are more confident sharing suggestions and ideas.

Agent empowerment also makes for an increased sense of ownership. When employees are encouraged to apply their skills, they’re more likely to do so. As a result, they can see the value they’ve brought to each resolution, and they’re more likely to make the extra effort.

On the customer side of the coin, agent empowerment makes for better customer experiences. Trusted, empowered agents are more confident. They’re happier. And they’re less robotic. That positive mood will go on to colour all their customer interactions.

Plus, it’s easy for a customer to feel confident with your business when their agent can confidently take their problem and solve it. (Without, that is, jumping through policy hoops.)

Empowering your agents unlocks a host of benefits that span morale, productivity, customer satisfaction and more – provided you do so correctly.

How to empower your agents

Agent empowerment takes more than sending a broadcast message or email telling agents they’re empowered. It’s more than a slogan. It requires planning and effort. And agents need the proper confidence and guidance before they can successfully use their new autonomy.

In other words, you need to create a culture of empowerment. Agents need the adequate internal support with their service decisions. For instance, they need to easily call for support from the IT team or schedule a maintenance visit for a customer.

Then, agents need to understand exactly what they can (and can’t) do. This requires training on how to recognise when they can go that extra mile or make a goodwill gesture. What are they entitled to offer? How long can they spend on a resolution? Without training, agents are more likely to misuse the freedoms you give them.

Empowering agents also means giving them access to tools and information. Without the correct tools and access rights, agents cannot make and implement informed decisions. Chat handlers will need CRM integration so they can access enough information to truly understand the customer’s issue, for instance.

Barriers to agent empowerment

There are also a few barriers and pitfalls to avoid when creating a culture of agent empowerment.

A major hurdle is existing bad attitudes. For example, an ‘us vs them’ mentality towards customers. (Often caused by agents burning out from dealing with frustrated customers.) If agents feel as though the customer is an adversary, it’ll be hard to make the best decisions and apply the extra effort to help them effectively.  

There will be an adjustment period as agents get used to their new freedom and abilities. It’s important not to punish attempts at making empowered decisions. Doing so will make agents fearful of thinking on their feet, and they may be more reluctant to apply themselves in future.

Poor system integration and lack of tools also create a barrier to effective agent empowerment. If agents don’t have easy access to the tools they need, they’re blinkered. It’s also that much harder for them to follow through on their decisions.

The future of customer service is flexible

The age of the customer means that one-size-fits-all, ‘computer says no’ style service no longer cuts it. The future is decidedly more flexible. And this flexibility, in turn, can only be achieved with a carefully implemented model of agent empowerment.

Yes, it can be worrying to veer from tried-and-tested scripts. But your agents aren’t chatbots, and they’ve got skills they can and should apply. Agent empowerment can reduce agent turnover. It can increase first contact resolution. It can improve the office atmosphere and customer satisfaction scores.

Contact centre agents aren't chatbots. You should empower them to turn their flexibility to your advantage. Click To Tweet

Creating a culture of agent empowerment isn’t easy. But few things worth doing are. So, is it time to empower your customer service team?

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