The ‘rise and rise’ of the super-agent
I’ve just been served by a super-agent. I was trying to change my house insurance. Not being able to buy a standard policy my choice was limited. I evaluated two companies. Never has there been so much difference in the experience offered. Both had call centres…..in the UK, both were household names. Both had press 1 for this, press 2 for that welcomes. But that was where my experience diverged. One company,
allocated a single person to deal with the whole process;
who didn’t work to a script;
who apologised for all of the regulatory information that he had to read to me;
who knew what he COULD tell me rather than telling me what he couldn’t
and called me back when he said he would. He even followed up at the time I said would be convenient to me, appearing to want to have me as a customer.
The other company
informed me very carefully what they couldn’t do for me;
didn’t call me back;
treated me like an irritation;
read reams of regulatory information;
and serviced me through multiple agents who didn’t even try to build relationship with me preferring instead to use scripts and tick boxes.
These two ‘customer’ experiences provided a stark contrast between those who care and those who don’t. If people at high touch interfaces don’t WANT to win or keep the right customers and don’t want to make it easy for you to do business with them then it is unlikely that your company will survive in these days of the rise in importance of the customer experience.
So is this single experience of super-service indicative of a change in the way we view our call centre staff? It is all too easy to overlook the importance of the touchpoints that occur every day through a customer’s main interaction point with your company, many of which will be true ‘Moments of Truth’. I would argue that we will see the continuing emergence of super-agents that act to increase our engagement and make it easy (and enjoyable) to do business with.
We are increasingly asking more and more of our call centre agents, new systems that integrate vast amounts of client data from social channels, new regulation and new communication methods. So should we now step back and ask whether our recruitment, measurement and remuneration methods are appropriate for people that should be conveying not just information but your company’s character and culture with accuracy and passion? And how do we know how bad or good we are at these vital activities? A bad person and process will not only lose a customer but will have a knock-on effect through social channels in a far greater way than previously possible, affecting the perception of the organisation negatively and widely. Some companies are already starting to take account of such things as home-working for these super-agents however this may be only the start of a larger trend to nurture these very special people.
With a greater percentage of simple enquiries dealt with now through web based services (either through ease or choice on behalf of the customer) the person-to-person interactions that occur between customer and agent are becoming more complex and less easy to deal with through part-time or ill-trained or remunerated staff. Cross training, greater retention of experienced staff and dare I say it increased remuneration will become more important leading to the rise of the super-agent. They will possibly be home-based, will not work from a script, will be listened to when they sense a trend in enquiries and they will be valued by the organisation as their brand ambassadors. Most of all they will be able to identify a vulnerable (valuable) existing customers or a potential (valuable) new customer and be trusted by the company to go outside the normal processes in order to secure this person, and their value, for the long term. They will surely know what they can do rather than everything they can’t and this will come across to the customer with a belief in the brand which they represent. I phoned Zappos in the US on Thanksgiving this year. The person on the end of the phone seemed happy to be there and went well outside of normal process in order to ensure that my order could be placed – on Thanksgiving!
Perhaps the changes in attitude and the realisation that super-agents will be required in order to retain valuable customers by special care will take some time to percolate through the most traditional of organisations. A change in culture is needed throughout, including measurement systems both inside and outside of call centres. Average Handling Time (AHT) etc. will become less important over the quality of the outcome. Net Promoter Score® may well be replaced by Customer Effort Score or another method that attempts to correlate business performance with how customers really want to be dealt with and that will give an indication of their likelihood to remain and continue to purchase.
Identifying staff that have the ability to become super-agents will become important as will identification of any cultural barriers they may have to treat customers differently depending on their long-term value to the organisation or their likelihood to leave in the future.
It just makes sense though to ensure that the people dealing with your customers are ready and willing to do this. It is unlikely that you will experience a grumpy person in an Apple store but hands up those of you who have been entirely put off a forthcoming stay at a hotel when greeted by someone who clearly doesn’t want to be there. In fact the concept of the super-agent is beginning to be grasped by the major corporations and incorporated into their mass media advertising.
The rise of these super-agents is bound to continue as enquiries that can’t be dealt with through Q&A pages and digital self-help become more complex. You should be ready for this by grasping the nettle now and ensuring that you are nurturing the important people on your front line who have the capability to sing from YOUR song sheet rather than their own.
Author details: Neil Weston is Managing Director of Clareti. Neil is passionate about delivering excellent customer management and CRM. He spends his time leading clients through major discontinuous change always with the goals of practical implementation and delivering achievable goals and defensible financial benefit. His extensive client-side CRM experience and consulting in financial services, telecoms, pharmaceutical and manufacturing gives him a rounded view of the difficulties involved in major company change.