In Pursuit of Super Agents

Look over at that workstation! It’s a customer service agent handling emails… no, it’s a sales agent handling calls … no, it’s a tech-support agent handling chats… no, wait – it’s…it’s…it’s…SUPER agent!

Super agents (a.k.a., universal agents) are the stuff of contact center myth and legend. They’re faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to handle all customer issues – via any channel – in a single contact. Super agents are what contact center managers and supervisors dream about, what they wish for before blowing out birthday candles.

But myths and legends don’t resolve customer issues and foster brand advocacy. Dreams and wishes aren’t sufficient for driving success in today’s multichannel, multifunctional contact center. What’s needed are actual super agents.

The trouble is, actual super agents may not actually exist. But don’t let that stop you from trying to obtain them.

The pursuit of super agents is a journey – not a destination. Don’t expect to quickly assemble a team of agents who can proficiently handle all contact types (service, sales, tech support, etc.), master all contact channels, and who can effectively toggle back and forth between inbound and outbound. But DO create a culture that focuses on maximizing the potential of every agent – a culture that helps and inspires each employee to come as close to the super agent ideal as possible. Here’s how:

Look for super agent potential when hiring. As already mentioned, you’re not likely to find candidates who will hit the ground running as super agents, but there’s a lot you can do to ensure you attract and acquire super candidates who’ll likely thrive in your multichannel center. Effective recruiting/hiring tactics include:

•    E-cruiting. Online recruiting not only reaches more candidates than traditional recruiting does, it also increases the chances of finding candidates who are web savvy and who, thus, are likely to know a thing or two about email, chat and social media interactions. Effective e-cruiting tactics include posting compelling “super agent” job ads on third-party career websites (e.g., CareerBuilder, Monster, Simply Hired, Indeed) and on social media sites – namely LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

•    Employee referrals. Nobody knows the multichannel agent position and what it takes to excel in it better than your existing (and hopefully super or near-super) agents, so be sure to encourage them to continuously refer talent – and incentivize them for their valuable recruiting assistance.

•    Multichannel applicant assessments. Attracting promising applicants is only half the battle; you still need to assess each candidate to see if they indeed have what it takes to perhaps someday don a super agent cape. There are a number of good assessment solutions available that can enhance hiring success for multichannel, multi-functional contact centers. Such solutions test each candidate’s soft skills, sales skills, technical skills, writing and typing skills, multitasking skills, and phone voice. Most also include a personality and work habits assessment to help ensure that seemingly talented candidates aren’t complete sociopaths.

Provide super training. A super hiring program isn’t enough – your center must have training programs aimed at developing new and existing staff into diversely skilled service (and sales and support) gurus.

A strong training program for today’s multi-everything contact center includes things like:

•    An overview of the various contact channels and contact types the center handles, including the use of recordings/transcripts of ideally handled contacts that show agents what optimum interactions look (and sound) like.

•    Instruction on how to naturally and non-invasively transition from service/support to sales – showing agents that selling, when done right, is not diametrically opposed to service/support but rather an important component of it.

•    A clear explanation of the key performance metrics (e.g., Service Level, Response Time, Contact Quality, First-Contact Resolution, C-Sat, Sales Conversion Rate) the center measures to ensure efficiency, stellar customer experiences and optimum revenue generation.

•    The style and tone of writing the company prefers when handling text-based (email, chat and social) contacts, as well the appropriate use of text templates to enhance response speed, accuracy and consistency without coming off as scripted/impersonal.

•    Comprehensive instruction on the center’s various desktop tools & applications (e.g., knowledge bases, screen pops, web collaboration tools, etc.) and how to use the resources provided to elevate service, sales and support.

The best training programs incorporate a diverse range of training methods to enhance learning and keep agents engaged. Such methods include role-plays and simulated customer interactions, e-learning (great for quick learning “bites” during idle periods), transition training (a.k.a. “nesting” – handling new contact types in a controlled and heavily supervised environment), and peer mentoring (which can be very effective for cross-training agents on new skills and channels).

Empower and engage top talent so they stick around long enough to get close to the super-agent ideal. What’s the point of developing super agents or near-super agents if they leave the contact center soon after they’ve become highly valuable and diversely skilled resources?

The best contact centers work hard to keep top talent highly engaged and in place for years by unleashing them to work on special projects, lead task forces, and serve as mentors and subject matter experts. Empowering star agents to share their expertise in such ways not only helps to retain them, it raises the skill and performance levels of the peers with whom they work and interact, thus providing the center with a whole slew of healthy “baby” super agents.

Warning: If you somehow manage to find/develop any true super agents – reps who can proficiently serve, sell and support via phone, email, chat and social (and effortlessly toggle between inbound and outbound) – be sure to keep it a secret. Otherwise you risk having those agents scooped up by scientists and taken to a lab for intense study, or to a museum that houses customer service rarities and treasures.

 

 

About the author

Author of Full Contact: Contact Center Practices and Strategies that Make an Impact. He has written hundreds of feature articles, case studies, blog posts and research reports on contact center best practices trends and challenges. He is founder and principal of Off Center, which provides a variety of resources to educate, inspire and entertain contact center professionals. Levin is the former editor of ICMI’s pioneering publication Service Level Newsletter, as well as its highly regarded follow-up journal Call Center Management Review.

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