The role of the Customer Service agent is expanding as organisations realise their contact centre houses valuable skills that can be utilised across the business.
A recruitment shift is happening in customer services. The contact centre has traditionally been considered a function which attracts entry-level talent with fewer formal qualifications and less room for career progression, yet organisations and job seekers alike are now recognising that this hub of the business can be the ideal starting point to build key skills and company knowledge for an upward career path.
Direct customer interaction often starts in the contact centre. As the eyes and ears of a business, customer service agents typically provide the first ‘human’ touchpoint between a company and its customers in an increasingly digital world. They hear first-hand what customers want and need, and liaise with them to build a rapport. A fast-paced and ever-changing environment, the contact centre is the front-line of most businesses.
Time spent in the contact centre, fielding customer enquiries and complaints, and nurturing customer relationships, whether through calls, emails, live chat or social media, equips customer service agents with unique, first-hand insights into your customers. At the same time, this work touches every business department, from marketing and sales through to technical support and finance, as they strive to find resolutions to customer issues. They also often interrogate your products in such a way that gives a wealth of experience which can be shared with the wider business.
This exposure to the wider business gives customer service operatives a holistic understanding of an organisation from the inside-out. By continually connecting with multiple departments to share customer feedback and challenges, they quickly learn about the different roles within an organisation and the power of their insight. Coupled with the unique knowledge gained from speaking to customers on a daily basis, many agents develop core skills that can be transferred to other roles within a company. It’s also talent you don’t want to lose to a competitor. The challenge is to retain it.
We consider training to be crucial to attracting and retaining our customer service agents. We ensure they fully understand our service and processes, as well as our customers, enabling them to take ownership of issues that customers raise. This allows them to develop deeper customer relationships, at the same time as working with other colleagues to solve problems and roll out service improvements.
Richard Branson’s wise words are directly applicable to the contact centre: ‘Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to’. Since a lack of opportunity to advance within an organisation is the second most common reason millennials leave a company, graduates in customer-facing departments should not be considered temporary resources, but instead provided with adequate training to nourish their skills.
As managers, it’s our responsibility to create an environment where this can happen. We need to provide the encouragement, support and opportunities our agents need to grow and develop. This doesn’t mean over-promising, but instead providing support so that when opportunities or promotions arise, they’re ready to take them. Our contact centre provides a fantastic launchpad for our agents to expand into other roles within our company. In fact, around 7% of our employees who start in the contact centre move on to other roles and departments. Every agent is different so it’s important to identify and nurture individual talents.
Your agents have the potential to become your customers’ and your company’s biggest advocates. When changes are made to products or services that directly affect customers, it’s the former agents who will immediately consider the impact and know the right people to involve. We can demonstrate this using the famous ‘Lean Startup’ methodology, used by some of the world’s most successful companies. The methodology replaces the traditional ‘build it and they will come’ approach to product development, with customer-centric processes focused on customer feedback and iterative design. It’s former agents who are well-equipped to provide this feedback.
Companies are increasingly understanding the value of great customer service and placing more emphasis on the role of their contact centre. In fact, nearly three-quarters of buying experiences are based on how customers feel they are being treated and 93% of customers are likely to make repeat purchases from companies that deliver brilliant customer service. Keeping your agents happy and fulfilled is a sure way to help your company grow and thrive. Take Simon Donaldson from Ikano Bank. He started in a customer-facing role and now heads their Customer Operations. Likewise, Abigail Johnson, the Chief Executive Officer of Fidelity Investments, made sure she gained experience in the customer service function on her journey towards becoming CEO.
Without understanding your customers, you risk developing products or services they don’t want or need. Without customer feedback, you can’t innovate to stay ahead of competitors. And without paying customers, you don’t have a business. Happy customer service agents create happy customers.
About the Author
Stewart Kitson is Head of Customer Service at SmartDebit. Stewart is an award-winning, highly successful and trusted Head of Customer Services professional, with over 15 years experience, who builds long-lasting, productive business relationships internally and externally. As head of Customer Service and training, Stewart has successfully developed SmartDebit’s strategic vision and translated this into operational deployment and delivery.