Agent Autonomy: Choose The Carrot, Not The Stick

March 21, 2015

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It’s hard to decide between the carrot and the stick when it comes to managing a customer service team.While it may be tempting to take on a authoritarian approach in handling your chat agents, sometimes the stricter regime doesn’t always guarantee greater success.

In particular, the question of whether it is better to give agents the autonomy to decide which chat requests to answer, when to answer them and how many requests to handle at once arises. Alternatively, should these chats be automatically assigned so you don’t entertain any possibility of agents slacking off and choosing chats that are seemingly easier to resolve?

Picking the carrot over the stick is always a risky move. It involves offering the reward of autonomy and placing your trust in people in hopes that they respond kindly to such a gracious move. However, at Zopim, we believe in agent autonomy and here are the reasons why

The Agent Knows Best

While it may seem like any employee’s first priority is finding ways to do the least amount of work, this isn’t always true (besides, it’s not like we won’t be keeping an eye on them). Giving your agents autonomy is only natural, as only they know the optimal number of chats they can handle at a time. Although our research indicates that agents can handle 3-4 chats simultaneously, it is merely a benchmark that shouldn’t be treated as the gospel truth. Complex questions take longer to resolve and may require more attention from the agent. In contrast, if a customer doesn’t respond after initiating a chat, the agent has the freedom to take more chats.

Customers Loathe Waiting

60% of customers hate waiting longer than a minute for customer support. Although it seems counter-intuitive, granting autonomy to agents actually reduces wait times as compared to automatically assigning chats to them. Think about it. When a chat is automatically assigned, a canned response is usually sent to the customer telling them that an agent will be with them shortly.. However, if the agent is currently occupied by a particularly tricky request, it may be some time before he is able to provide assistance to the assigned chat.

Customers are not waiting fools. They’ll know something is up if it takes an agent particularly long to respond after a canned response is issued. When the agent has autonomy, the waiting time is reduced because they will only accept a chat when they’re confident of handling it and once a chat is being served, responses never take long.

No Walks Through the Cherry Garden

Allowing agents to cherry pick the chats they want to serve might lead to the marginalization of customers who ask particularly difficult questions (since it’s potentially possible for agents to pick the easier, less time consuming questions). Hence, assigning chats to agents can seem like the perfect solution to this problem. However, cherry picking isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For example, certain agents might be more familiar with a particular topic or an agent might be able to speak the customer’s language. In any event, a compromise would be to direct chat requests to agents and give them the autonomy to choose when to answer them. This way, they don’t get to cherry pick from a list and neither do they become overwhelmed when they’re suddenly flooded by numerous chats they are incapable of responding to.

Keeping Tabs

Whether autonomy is granted to your agents or not, analytics is an important feature you should pay attention to. These numbers can shed light on the productivity of your agents and allow you to determine the optimal number of agents required considering your chat load. Beyond that, these numbers also provide a safety net for admins who fear that autonomy will disrupt productivity rates in the company. Knowing when your agents are overworked (many missed chats) and when they have the capacity to take on more chats (low waiting times) can allow you to stage an intervention before things spiral out of control. Rather than assigning a predetermined number of chats to your agent, analytics can help you observe agent performance and determine their efficiency while they’re working at a comfortable pace.

Conclusion: Pick The Carrot

Granting your agents autonomy may seem like a big step in managing your customer service team, but there’s honestly no reason to fear. Allowing your employees to work at a comfortable pace while closely monitoring their productivity levels can benefit both their mental wellbeing and your company efficiency.Sometimes, a little trust can go a long way and. Allowing your agents the freedom of autonomy can result in more efficient chats with shorter problem resolution durations. When workers have more autonomy, they tend to become more productive and help build a strong company culture that respects the work of the individual.

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