Critical Thinking Agents in the New World of Customer Service

At one point, it didn’t matter what type of business you were talking about or even the industry they were operating in – the job description of a customer service agent was essentially a hard and firm framework that most organizations were fine with following.

Even though these were hardworking people, you were still talking about someone who had to crank out responses to customer problems and questions as fast as possible. They were following a rigid script or macro and their most important metric was volume. They had to get people off the phone as fast as possible to move onto the next call – it wasn’t much more complicated than that.

It’s safe to say that this era is long over.

Thanks to the advent of concepts like artificial intelligence, solutions like chatbots are taking away more of this “low level” work with each passing day. Volume isn’t just lower on the list of priorities – for most businesses, it’s no longer on the list at all.

There’s still work to be done by live agents, but the rules have changed dramatically. These positions not only require critical thinking, but agents now have to put time and care into researching the proper responses for a more personalized, proactive approach to customer service. The script that agents previously followed has been thrown out and today, they need to be detail oriented and must know how to write and speak logically and intelligently.

To that end, the term “customer service agent” may itself be something of a misnomer at this point. In truth, that position likely doesn’t exist anymore – at least, not in a way that is appropriately filled by a human.

Instead, businesses of all types now need a small army of Critical Thinking Agents at their disposal. This is true for a wide range of different reasons that are certainly worth exploring.

The Advent of the Critical Thinking Agent

In other words, agents need to be smarter and more effective than ever to perform well in an AI-based world. An organization needs people who are able to address trends in calls and customer contacts in a way that ushers that insight towards people in management positions where it belongs.

Likewise, the types of requests  that these agents are responding to are getting more and more difficult all the time. It’s no longer possible to write a “one size fits all” script that will allow someone with limited knowledge to address every possible issue or complaint a customer might have in the first place.

Make no mistake about it: the customer doesn’t care if their problem isn’t listed on your script. They just want their resolution, and they want it faster than ever.

So how do you get these Critical Thinking Agents for your own business? It certainly isn’t easy. But with the right approach, you’ll quickly find that it’s a lot more straightforward of a process than you previously thought.

Intelligent Support Begins and Ends With Intelligent Agents

Part of the reason why Critical Thinking Agents have become so important in the last few years in particular is because the idea of customer support, as we know it, is changing. What we used to think of as “Level 1” support is now essentially going away, offloaded to a series of increasingly sophisticated AI-powered bots who can handle things just as effectively as a script or a macro ever could.

Likewise, a variety of self-help solutions are also significantly reducing the volume of “Level 1” tickets that are being created in the first place. Not only have Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) resources proven to be very helpful to that end, but you also have Help Center Articles, crowd sourced support like forums and user generated help articles and more. When coupled with many of the effective ticket deflection strategies that a lot of businesses are also running, the support landscape has changed immeasurably.

Because of that, what we used to know as “Level 2” support has now become “Level 1” support. Thus, there’s an increasing need for smart, empathetic problem solvers who are both empowered and who rely heavily on common sense at the same time.

At Goodbay Technologies, we have a firm belief that this process begins and ends with the agents themselves. If you interview correctly to identify ideal candidates as soon as possible, then train correctly to make sure they’re an appropriate fit for your business and its users, you therefore empower them to use their brains to your advantage. Oftentimes, this can take one full year of implementation to truly “get things right” but if you do things properly, the results aren’t just positive.

They’re enormous.

Finding the Right Agents Begins With the Right Process

While it’s certainly true that Critical Thinking Agents are always unique (and should be by design), they all tend to share a few key qualities:

  • They’re college educated.
  • They have high emotional intelligence.
  • They’re empathetic.
  • They have sound judgment.
  • They’re coming into your organization with previously existing experience necessary to make the biggest impact possible.

College education is key, for example, as oftentimes these agents will have significantly expanded their own critical thinking skills through a lifetime of relevant education. When recruiting these Intelligent Agents, it’s also important to find candidates with previous work experience in world leading CS organizations or BPOs. That way, you’ll spend less time training someone on the basic framework of the job and can spend more time integrating them into your own unique organization.

To find the widest array of candidates, look at people who are already the top performers in their career. Get recommendations from peers, colleagues or even former employers. Look for people with excellent soft skills and by all means, prioritize niche technical proficiency when required.

In terms of your larger HR process, do not be afraid to be picky. The stakes are far too high for you to be willing to accept anyone and everyone. At Goodbay, we interview up to 100 agents per day and we make an offer to three, if that. We thoroughly test an applicant’s critical thinking skills, problem solving abilities, empathy and even their EQ. Then, we confirm what we think we already know. We follow up with the candidate to guarantee they are truly as good as they appear.

We’re also willing to make them an offer they can’t refuse. We believe you have to pay over the market rate for top talent because, as the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for.”

Likewise, we allow all of our clients to interview each agent for their team to guarantee that they’re getting the best fit possible. This is also a great way to avoid surprises – you don’t want to go through all the trouble of onboarding someone only to find out that there’s some quality they lack that you need.

The Art of Delivering Intelligent Customer Support

We also believe that it’s important to understand that the new world of customer service requires a far more proactive approach to your agents than ever before. Finding the best agents is no longer something you “do once and forget about.” You need to keep working at it to maintain that perfect fit moving forward.

For many businesses, this means investing in an Agent Certification program to bring agents up to speed and keep them there for as long as possible. Often this will include weekly or even monthly tests to help agents maintain necessary certifications. As a bonus, this enables providers like Goodbay to update agents on all of our clients ever-changing product and service offerings.

To speak to our own specific approach here at Goodbay, we also let the data do the talking as much as possible. Our Custom Quality Assurance program, for example, continually verifies that agents are meeting all client-directed QA criteria and goals. The development of this program is something we do in partnership with all of our clients to help collect the most accurate and actionable data possible at all times. We even link QA scores to agent pay to give them that extra motivation need to go above and beyond when the situation calls for it.

Another one of the important steps we take comes by way of our CSAT program. We always run CSAT surveys after customer interactions to hear precisely what a customer has to say about the agent in question. This is invaluable because the feedback is completely impartial.

KPIs are also critical for the ongoing development and support of these agents. At Goodbay, we always judge our agents on First Contact Resolution Rates, for example. Generally speaking, the more knowledgeable the agent, the fewer interactions required to solve a ticket. Therefore, there is a strong correlation between CSAT and other KPIs like FCRR as well.

Average Handling Time or AHT is also something to pay attention to. A short AHT usually indicates that an agent can quickly and reliably solve a ticket. A longer AHT isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, as it might show that an agent was willing to take as much time as possible to extend that extra level of care that customers are looking for.

The Impact You Need When You Need it the Most

All of this hard work and care generates the type of positive impact that your organization would be hard-pressed to replicate through other means – especially if you’ve chosen to partner with an outsourced provider like Goodbay.

To be clear, this is the level of service that your customers now expect at a bare minimum. Finding agents that meet these qualities to add to an in-house team can be incredibly costly, especially in an era where bots and artificial intelligence have basically eliminated the need for low cost CSRs in the first place. Those higher quality agents command a premium and that price may be cost prohibitive for your organization.

Outsourced support is therefore an inherently more cost effective way to guarantee all of these results as inexpensively as possible, without skimping out on quality. Not only do you get the chance to deliver a higher quality of support at scale while NOT going over your budget, but high quality support can also quickly become yet another profit center for you to leverage.

Think about it like this: the better the level of support you’re able to offer, the happier your customers are likely to be. This takes one-time customers and turns them into repeat buyers, which also increases new customer opportunities from referrals, increases loyalty and factors like Net Promoter Scores (NPS), and more.

What would you rather have – an average number of satisfied customers with short relationship life-spans, or a loyal army of advocates who spend more money over longer periods of time?

Obviously, the latter is preferred to the former – and in the 21st century, Critical Thinking Agents are how you get there.

The Goodbay Way™

At Goodbay Technologies, we believe that it is critically important to look for an outsourcing partner that emphasizes these traits in agents. If you don’t, you’ll continue to get the types of robotic answers that upset customers who are looking for something that a bot can never provide – that human element that is missing from so many customer service interactions these days.

Finding a company that emphasizes intelligent customer support is essential because a company like that is better positioned to become a true partner in every sense of the term. Not only will this relationship help you drive positive CSAT and FCR scores, but it will also help create satisfied, repeat customers that lead to appreciable cost reductions as well.

Yes, this type of partner is going to cost more than someone who inexpensively offers you little more than “human bots.” But then again, smart people anywhere in the world cost more than those who are inexperienced or who lack the knowledge to get the job done properly. You would never look for the cheapest person possible when filling an important position like CFO. Why should your customer support team be any different?

In the End

All told, the most important thing for you to understand is that everyone needs to step up their game in a post-Artificial Intelligence world. The bots have taken us as far as they can – it’s up to us to collectively meet the demands of the modern customer at this point. Success to that end begins with the Critical Thinking Agents of today, and at Goodbay we believe that this is one trend that shows absolutely no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

If you’d like to find out more information about the role of Critical Thinking Agents in the new world of customer service, or if you have any additional questions you’d like to discuss with someone in a bit more detail, please don’t delay – contact Goodbay Technologies today.