Good EX Makes Great CX: 3 Steps to Agent Retention

Brian Trampler
CX Senior Product and Strategy Manager, Black Box

If Customer Experience (CX) was stressful before the pandemic, it has since gone through the roof. Consider this: 96% of CX agents feel acute stress at least once a week and 33% of them feel acutely stressed multiple times per week. 70% of agents say they're handling 7.2 more calls per day than before.1

The Great Resignation combined with pandemic-accelerated agent stress means one in three agents are considering leaving their jobs within a year, further contributing to current labor shortages. Even agents themselves say retention is one of a contact center's top challenges. These same agents also feel that their companies aren't doing enough to address their job stressors.2 That can affect the agent's ability to provide good and empathetic customer interactions and puts a negative filter on just about every metric.

If agent stress is the problem, how do we identify the root cause of CX stress in order to fix it? Let's take a look.

Agents leave CX jobs for different reasons. One of the most common and at the top of the list for most agents is dealing with rude customer behavior. During the pandemic, consumer demand went way up; so did consumer tempers and bad behavior. Agents dealing with customer rudeness are stressed and feel underappreciated.3

The desire for a better work/life balance remains another top challenge as 65% of CX agents are currently working remotely or in a hybrid model, and 75% of agents prefer working remotely.4 Other challenges include salary, poor training, and poor technology. One in four agents (28%) says that better technology should be an urgent priority in the next 18 months.5

Agent burnout and turnover is expensive and damaging to a business. It's estimated that global agent turnover rates run between 30% and 45%.6 The cost associated with hiring an agent can be $10,000 to $20,000 per person.7 Once you add on the operational costs of lost productivity, hiring, onboarding, and training, including your time, and lower morale as other agents pick up the slack, the real cost can be double that.

These are some pretty sobering thoughts. A day in the life of a CX agent can be frustrating. Take my own experience. Recently, I needed a replacement shipped to me for a product that arrived damaged. When I called (good old phone calls increased during the pandemic8), I was quickly assisted, but the agent was unable to complete the transaction. The system was down. Because they had all my information, the agent, very courteously, told me to expect an email detailing the re-purchase of the returned item to be charged to my credit card on file. The email never came. I had to call back to finalize the transaction, a small annoyance. But I felt badly for the agent, imagining her going through the same returns process multiple times trying unsuccessfully to complete the return/repurchase as the system came back online.

So CX agent stress is not only being affected by the increased volume of customer interactions (good or bad), but also by technology.

Almost half of customer service agents feel they have the technology they need to do their job, but their job satisfaction isn't increasing at the same rate.9 That means that more than half feel they don't have the technology or access to information that can actually help them solve customer issues, as evidenced by my own experience and the results in the CX: The Human Factor report. Of the agents surveyed, 43% said their tech systems consistently crash; 37% said tech does not help them complete their jobs faster; and 11% said the tech is not suitable for remote work.10

So what strategies and tactics can you use to make your front-line CX agents feel appreciated; have the data and connections needed to solve issues; and get the training they need to be empowered? For those of us who think about how to improve the customer experience, I believe a three-prong philosophy can go a long way.

  1. Better interactions lead to better outcomes. Look at how your agents interact with customers. The agent who is personable and empathetic on the phone may not be able to communicate that way via social, chat, or email.

    The first suggestion is to route interactions to the people best suited to respond on that channel. Secondly, monitor the agent's connection to your technology. If they don't have access to the tools they need due to poor connectivity or a downed network connection, reroute the call to an agent who does. Monitor calls for VoIP quality. I don't know how many times I've disconnected and redialed a help number due to poor or garbled conversation or background noise that causes issues.

  2. Every quarter, validate that your platform is working effectively for your agents. This doesn't mean you've chosen the incorrect platform. It may mean that you're presenting information on too many interfaces and need to consolidate. If your staff is now remote, and they are only using the laptop screen you sent them home with, can you really expect them to provide the same level of service as when they could leverage more screen real estate? Maybe an integrated agent window can be designed that provides a better experience no matter where (or when) your agents are online supporting customers.

  3. Would service integration amongst varied platforms help your agents provide more successful outcomes? Are you able to leverage the APIs that your platform provides? Or do you need assistance giving your agents a simplified experience, while still allowing access to a knowledge base? Do your channels all flow into the same tool? Are you overwhelming your agents with too many interactions at once? Your customers can tell. Alleviate the information overload and bottleneck with agent management tools that engage the right agent at the right time.

You may not be able to change everything, but we are here to help you take the small, medium, or large steps to improve your impact and your agent's ability to become a CX hero. Your goal is better CX for your customers, better Employee Experience (EX) for your agents, and better agent retention for you.

The Black Box Customer Experience team stands ready to assist you with our GPS mindset. We can provide guidance, improve or replace platforms, and design services via API or platform integration that increase satisfaction. Let our GPS mindset help your CX support superhero agents. To learn more, download our full Customer Experience (CX) Architecture whitepaper by solution architect Oleg Velgorsky.

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About Black Box

Black Box® is a trusted IT solutions provider delivering cutting-edge technology products and world-class consulting services to businesses across the globe in every industry. The breadth of our global reach and depth of our expertise accelerate customer success by bringing people, ideas, and technology together to solve real-world business problems.

  2. Ibid
  9. Ibid
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