At many companies, the frontline of customer experience—the contact center—isn't meeting customer expectations. Although brands are adopting new technologies to better interact with customers and understand their wants and needs, the answer to delivering the right experience may be simpler than that.

At the very core of customer experience is human interaction, so to truly see return on customer experience investments, brands should invest in their most valuable assets: agents in the contact center.

According to new research from Calabrio, customer demands are increasingly complex, the number of inquiries are swelling to new levels, and agents feel ill-equipped to solve the ever-growing list of customer requests.

There's a lot riding on agent interactions, and the lack of support has many representatives feeling stressed out, abandoned, and stuck in a pressure cooker of expectation. The effects of a burned out contact center workforce can be devastating: 82% of people have stopped doing business with companies because of poor customer experience.

Agents are in the precarious position of failing to meet customer expectations. To help them succeed, brands must take an employee-first approach. By taking the time to understand contact center headaches and investing in the agent experience, organizations stand to gain far more than any customer behavior tracking technology can deliver.

A stronger focus on agents helps brands keep up with customer experience demands, decrease employee attrition, and capitalize on growth opportunities. Here's where to start.

Measure what matters

Often, contact center agents are measured on criteria such as average call handle time or first call resolution, but those metrics encourage agents to get customers off the phone as quickly as possible. To drive desired behavior, managers should instead focus on equipping agents with the right tools to do their jobs more efficiently.

A full 34% of agents say they don't have the right data to adequately handle customer needs, and 21% want more training in their current roles. By collecting data on agent behavior and measuring that against customer data and call outcomes, contact center managers can learn what's working (and what isn't) to better inform agents and train them to succeed.

Agent performance data will not only allow managers to give personalized feedback on a regular basis but also steer best-practices across the department. For example, if a high-performing agent is experiencing high levels of success in solving customer problems, managers can analyze which resources were used and how that person approached the issues, and subsequently incorporate those techniques into training other agents.

Remove old customer experience stereotypes

Customer expectations and communication preferences are changing. Self-service and communication channels are emerging all the time, giving customers faster, easier access to the answers they need. To keep up with those changes, it's only natural that the role of contact center agents evolve and change, too. But that's not always what happens. Many contact centers rely on antiquated technologies and processes, reducing agents to stereotypical script-reading representatives.

Despite the emergence of self-service communication channels, call volume is increasing, indicating that customers are picking up the phones when self-service falls short. The result is that agents are being forced to handle more complex customer issues. Unfortunately, many agents don't believe they can meet customer demands: 60% of agents say their technology is falling short.

With advanced technology—such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and voice integration—becoming mainstream, some brands are already capitalizing on it. Uber and Dominos, for example, give customers the ability to order a ride or a pizza, respectively, using Amazon Alexa.

Such advances put contact centers at risk of falling even further behind the tech tools curve. To be successful, brands must rethink the roles of contact center agents by not only equipping them with the right tools and technology but also treating and training them like high-level, customer experience specialists.

Listen up

Overall, contact center agents are stressed out—and for good reason. They're inundated with a never-ending stream of customer problems. One-fourth of agents say they feel stressed multiple times per week, and half of all agents say they don't believe their companies are doing enough to prevent agent burnout. Customers speaking with agents who are disengaged and overwhelmed will likely be on the receiving end of a poor customer experience—which means they are more likely to take their business elsewhere. Not only that, but agents experiencing burnout are likely to look for other jobs, and that attrition can cost brands dearly.

To combat burnout and turnover, and to promote work-life balance in an always-connected, digital world, many brands have looked for ways to give employees mobility and flexibility. Unfortunately, the contact center has rarely experienced the benefits of the changing workforce.

A flexible work environment and better technology are at the top of agents' priority lists; with new technology, it's finally possible to give agents the flexibility and mobility they crave. The first step is for brands to listen to what agents want and learn about their processes, struggles, and successes. Only then can companies implement solutions that help agents destress and deliver in a big way.

* * *

By taking a people-first approach in the contact center, brands can move one large step closer to customer experience success. When companies implement new processes, tools, and technology to better equip agents to do their increasingly complex jobs... customers, agents, and brands all benefit.

More Resources on Customer Experience

MarketingProfs Customer Experience (CX) Guide

How to Achieve Loyalty & Growth Through Customer Experience Excellence

Why Customer Experience Matters to Marketing: MarketingProfs Master Class Lesson 

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How to Put Employees First in the Customer Experience, and Why You Should

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image of Tom Goodmanson

Tom Goodmanson is president and CEO of Calabrio, a workforce optimization suite.

LinkedIn: Thomas Goodmanson

Twitter: @tomgoodmanson