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Can AI Counter the Effects of Low Expectations for Phone Professionals?

Krystle Jones

We’ve all interacted with customer service contact centers for something – for example, changing a mobile phone carrier or discussing an overcharge on a bill. And we all know what it’s like to be on the customer’s side of the phone conversation. But have you ever wondered what it’s like to be an agent in a contact center? Early in my career, I worked in a global support contact center, and here, at Cogito, I have had the opportunity to visit over 20 contact centers in the US to work with some really great teams. As I’m sure you’d imagine, being an agent is not an easy job, and, as a result, believe it or not, contact centers turn over 30-40% of their service representatives annually.

Here’s why.

Throughout my travels, while every organization is unique, there are still many similarities. For example, the majority have the same setup: closely placed cubicles in large rooms with open seating, the loud chatter of agents resolving customer issues, and supervisors sitting nearby, monitoring call stats for their teams. Agents go through weeks – sometimes months – of training before they begin taking calls. However, in my observations, the biggest missing piece of the onboarding experience is a larger investment in helping agents build a career.

Are companies providing all of the right tools needed to increase employee engagement and advance their careers?

Is there more support that could be provided, such as more effective coaching and mentorship, or advanced assistive technologies?

Despite all of the training and investment in onboarding, most contact centers become a revolving door for agents. There’s a phenomenon called the Pygmalion Effect, where our expectations of others affect their performance – similar to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

With little to no career growth or enhanced skill development, many agents believe that organizations are not invested in their careers, they feel undervalued and commoditized, and, consequently, they perform the way they feel they are expected to perform. This underinvestment in the development of agents costs companies upwards of $8,000 to train and onboard new employees, so when attrition is as high as 30-40% annually, the company takes a big hit too.

Low Expectations Lead to Lower Performance

A 2003 Harvard Business Review article, “Pygmalion in Management,” discusses the impact of employees’ productivity at an insurance company when expectations were low:

"Their relative success, as measured by salary increases and the company’s estimate of each one's performance and potential, depended largely on the company’s expectations. The productivity of those in the lowest unit, 'who were not considered to have any chance of reaching the half-million-dollar mark,' actually declined, and that attrition among them increased."

The authors conclude that influential managers who are engaged and empowering have a positive effect in reducing attrition and creating future leaders for the company. This article most certainly applies to the high attrition in today’s contact centers. However, what happens when managers can’t spend as much time as they’d like with their agents? What happens when agents feel as if they’re not necessarily being set up for success in their roles and cannot get the right feedback and coaching they need to be successful in their jobs? We know that when companies provide additional support to demonstrate their high expectations for agents and offer a path for growth, they’ll see greater agent engagement, higher productivity, and lower operational costs.

Better Customer Experiences Benefit Employees Too

A Cogito-sponsored survey by Frost & Sullivan of over 500 customer service agents noted that 70% responded that their job satisfaction would improve if they could establish a better rapport with customers on calls. 70% also responded that they want to be alerted real-time when a customer is becoming tense or emotional during a phone call.

Ideally, agents would have a supervisor sit alongside them and coach them real time during customer phone calls. But realistically, we know that the operational limitations of the contact center make that impossible. From my experience, Cogito is the next best thing. Cogito’s real time, artificial intelligence platform is an excellent tool that provides agents with immediate insights on their speaking behavior and customer emotion, thus improving the customer’s perception of the conversation. An investment in an advanced technology solution that empowers agents to manage their own service delivery is an investment not only in agent job satisfaction, but in career and company growth as well.

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