Is improving service agent experience mainly an issue of trust?

I have worked with mobile field service engineering companies for many years, initially managing a small team of computer hardware engineers but subsequently as part of the software industry delivering applications to improve efficiency and customer satisfaction. More recently, I have been involved with large call (contact) centres and the problems they face in anticipating and satisfying customer contact. The challenge is to maximise the productive time of the company’s employees (engineers or agents) and not have excess resource capacity – whilst at the same delivering the best customer experience. And that is not easy – massive understatement! – in either scenario.

one-finger-raisedOne very obvious difference in the experience is the immediacy and impact of the phone-based interactions. Whilst engineers working on-site with customers are in direct contact with customers every day, all of the feedback that is received back at base is filtered through the eyes of that particular individual and inevitably delayed due to the physical logistics. Calls into a contact centre however are happening in the ‘centre’ and can be monitored in real-time – and immediate reactions and adaptations are possible in the light of the agent/customer interactions. Indeed the advent of advanced speech analytics tools means that large numbers of calls can be analysed and the customer experience understood extremely quickly. A responsive enterprise can have in place the necessary processes and behaviours in place to adapt quickly to these insights.

But, most organisations do not have such advanced speech analytics tools in place; they are expensive to implement and there is still a lot of scepticism about their accuracy and true capabilities.  So, how do you build that same level of responsiveness without them? More to the point, why are our service organisations designed to behave in that way naturally?

We build processes and procedures for control and conformance. We want repeatability. We want consistency. An industrial mindset. Perhaps not surprising most call centres are developed to replicate a ‘factory’ with discrete tasks for individual agents – small cogs in the big wheel. We would apparently like our mobile field teams to act the same. We crave visibility of what is going on, and often not for the right reasons. Many managers do not want real-time feedback so that they can improve the customer experience and promote future loyalty. They assume that a significant proportion of their workforce is actively trying to avoid work unless goaded and cajoled and constantly chased up.

Guess what? If you treat people like naughty children, then they behave like naughty children!

My recent experiences in call centres confirm my belief that inverting that mindset pays real dividends. Trusting that people want to do the right things (but making sure you train for the ‘right things’ and reinforce it in every action and communication) – and they do. Give them the freedom to act in the best interests of the customer and company – and they will make good judgements about striking the eight balance. We have an innate sense of ‘fairness’ and it can be relied on to deliver good results. And the same should apply to the mobile field force too – although I have not often sen it in practice.

This, of course will not deliver 100% right behaviours or outcomes. But then neither does the command and control mentality. But, building a positive culture of trust is a lot less stressful – and exhausting – than the constant vigilance that seems to characterise most service organisations today.

Give it a try, you might just be surprised how trustworthy people really are!

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