Bain & Company
Customer Care Super Agents: Meet the New Value Creators
When customers contact a brand, they want to be treated like people, not problems.
Who can blame them?
Welcome to the future of customer care.
There, relationships will matter more than transactions.
Gone will be the days when customer queries automatically get routed to agents specializing in, say, rebates or product exchanges. Instead, agents will also be paired with customers based on long-term relationship compatibility and customer lifetime value.
Needless to say, these agents of the future will have cross-functional expertise, making them, in essence, super agents.
Ten percent of customer service organizations have already begun preparing for this transformation by revamping their hierarchal staffing models into cross-functional groups. They have no intention of getting left behind when the future takes off.
Except that the future has taken off for a handful of intrepid brands.
Thanks to digital accelerators like artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics, used in combination with design thinking and journey mapping, trailblazing companies have empowered super agents to take a longitudinal view of customers and a holistic approach to their needs.
The result? Greater value for all parties.
Here’s how your own company can achieve the same before the future arrives for everybody else:
Use cognitive AI and omnichannel integration to see the whole customer
Taking a holistic approach to your customer’s needs means seeing that person in their entirety. Most brands today don’t have a full picture. Those that do have brought all customer care, CRM and engagement channels onto one platform and then integrated them so that their agents see a 360-degree view of the customer in every interaction throughout the customer journey. The fastest and most cost-effective way to do this is to put everything in the cloud. In fact, the majority of customer care centers expect to be cloud-based within roughly the next year.
Brands can apply a blend of predictive and prescriptive analytics to their omnichannel customer data to generate actionable insights, and then layer on artificial intelligence to help super agents use those insights to better understand individual customers (including their churn propensity and likely lifetime value), more satisfactorily address customer concerns, anticipate their additional needs and make tailored purchasing suggestions they’re apt to welcome.
When it comes to this last part — “apt to welcome” — in-the-moment contextual clues are key. This is where the right emotional intelligence training for super agents will prove critical, along with advanced cognitive intelligence such as real-time sentiment analysis and predictive analytics for personalized recommendations.
Right now, only a few technology companies have the foundational capability to convert sentiment analysis into immediate insights while an agent is still interacting with the customer. That will change, however, as the future rapidly approaches.
Hone personalization with analytics and agent training
Beyond perfecting the relational art of connecting with the whole customer at every point of their journey, super agents must also be well trained in bespoke product/service offerings, customer-specific upsell opportunities and highly targeted sales conversions.
This requires knowing how to take a dashboard full of omnichannel-fed information about the customer’s shopping persona, purchase history, buying propensity, etc., and then translating all of that into high-quality customer interactions.
Here’s how one trailblazing fashion brand has begun doing precisely that: Using predictive analytics, the brand has created various customer shopping profiles and then determined which apparel and accessory combinations are likely to resonate with each persona. Armed with this intelligence and everything else known about each customer, the brand’s super agents double as fashion advisors, providing personalized advice — suggesting, for instance, that an ill-advised vest a customer bought with a blouse be exchanged for a flattering blazer rather than returned outright.
The results? The company’s super agents have boosted the brand’s sales conversion rate by 10 percent and grown average basket size by 7 percent. Not only that, they’ve achieved a first-contact resolution rate of 90 percent and a 23 percent drop in average handle time. Attractive metrics like these never go out of style.
Prioritize proactive contact and lifetime relationships
As super agents proliferate, outbound customer contact will become the norm. Instead of mainly reacting to inbound queries and complaints, agents will initiate customer conversations based on opportunities to deliver value.
A leading specialty pet retailer has already achieved this future state. Catalyzed by flagging customer loyalty and agent morale, the retailer radically switched its customer care approach from fixing one-off problems to building lifetime relationships. Consequently, if today somebody calls about the functionality of a retractable leash bought for a new puppy, a super agent not only answers the customer’s questions, but also learns the dog’s breed, size and behavior to make appropriate product suggestions (nutrition, training toys) and offer helpful services such as scheduling obedience classes at a nearby store.
Using the information from the call, the super agent subsequently checks in with the customer at key points throughout the dog’s lifecycle (e.g., vaccination updates), as well as makes more-frequent follow-ups, such as reminders about re-ordering flea medication. In just a year after the company adopted this approach, customer satisfaction surged to 88 percent, the number of agents who said they were highly satisfied doubled, the customer conversion rate soared to 80 percent (one-third higher than the prior year), and incremental sales jumped 25 percent.
Other brands look likely to follow suit, with Gartner predicting outbound contact will outnumber inbound interactions by 2025. The future is taking off.
On your way
As your own customer care future takes off, keep the following points in mind:
Get personal: Build relationships with customers by forging connections based on data-rich insights and compatibility with agents.
Do more with less: Use AI-driven automation for standard customer care transactions so that your super agents are free to handle more complex and value-focused interactions.
Get in touch: Reach out to customers before they reach you. Proactive engagement is always better than reactive defense.
Don’t squander free customer intelligence: Not analyzing customer care interactions is like leaving money on the table. Use sentiment analytics to mine your customer-agent conversations for all they’re worth, as well as to adjust relationship matches between super agents and customers where needed.
Transcend language barriers: Today’s natural language processing is advanced enough for highly accurate real-time translation in email, chat and SMS, eliminating language-specific competency for agents in those channels. By 2030, real-time voice translation and accent neutralization will all but eradicate language barriers for customer care.
Reduce complexity: Consider putting a centralized, fully integrated and easily scalable omnichannel platform on the cloud, one that you can swiftly modify at any time, at minimal cost and effort.
Stay human: Combining sufficient soft-skills training with adequate tech learning will become paramount for super agents. So will ensuring that agents feel supported and connected in a remote work environment, which is here to stay: Just 12 percent of contact centers anticipate reverting to a mostly on-site contact center model.
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