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We all know that collaboration is a great thing.

Collaboration is a key contributor to how we grow in both our careers and personal lives. Whether it’s how we’re shaping education for our students or implementing a startup-style business culture, teaching others and encouraging them to think bigger, beyond the tests and metrics, is so important.

No matter how long we have been working in or studying a particular field, there is always more to learn from someone with similar or greater experience, and as we continue to learn, the more nuanced our knowledge becomes. So especially when it comes to a field that has exceedingly high turnover with newcomers entering the workplace every day, sharing knowledge and expertise would appear to be even more important.

But contact centers today are entrenched in a silo mentality. There may be physical barriers between workspaces that divide agents, but the predominant school of thought creates even greater barriers for agents to overcome in order to achieve true success in customer service.

The majority of contact centers today do not encourage collaboration among their employees.

Gartner research published in Harvard Business Review earlier this quarter shows that the majority of customer service agents today are encouraged to “rely primarily on company policies and procedures when making decisions” and that “this type of management approach doesn’t just lead to lower-quality service interactions, but [is] more likely to increase errors than to reduce them.”

The research also shows that out of the 7,500 agents surveyed across 38 companies worldwide, only 12 percent (of the three-quarters that could be classified as having a certain environment), work in an environment that encourages collaboration. But that 12 percent performs “50 percent better than the average contact center”, and reduces “the risk of rep error by 25 percent”.

Those are tough numbers to ignore.

As more and more companies catch on to the competitive advantage that having great customer service provides, they may want to rethink their call center strategy. And as a pioneer of innovative support technology, Helpshift is in a unique position to extract insights within the customer service sphere.

These three insights should provide a strong introductory backbone for incorporating a collaborative methodology in contact centers moving forward.

1. The Inverse Relationship Between Collaboration and ‘One Size Fits All’

Customers have unique, individual issues that often do not neatly fit into a box. If a canned response would have been adequate, the customer probably would have found the answer themselves through the FAQ section. Customers speak to customer service agents when they have a nuanced problem, one that the agent may not be familiar with. Instead of encouraging fitting the problem to a predetermined answer, collaboration encourages massaging an answer to fit the problem. And while the agent may be able to figure out a solution alone, more often than not, two heads are better than one.

2. Successful Collaboration Needs to Be Accompanied by Empowerment and Autonomy

The “two heads are better than one” notion still applies, but agents likewise need to be trusted to formulate the best solution (perhaps after collaborating) and be empowered to help the customer with whatever answer has been concocted and that the agent deems valuable. If agents live in fear of going “off-book,” the collaborative efforts will go to waste. Indeed, if agents are only doing what they are explicitly told to do, then they cannot think for themselves. Truly understanding a customer’s problem and then using work-arounds and problem-solving abilities allow the agent to truly shine and be most effective.

3. AI-Assisted Technology is A Means For Improvement, But Not ‘The Means’

There’s a lot of hype about what AI will be able to do in the future, but today AI is a solid way to extract customer information and assist agents with suggested answers and responses. But ultimately, the agent needs to listen to what the customer is saying and make a judgment call on whether the AI-provided information is sufficient. If the provided information only partially addresses the issue, it is up to the agent to fill in the blanks either through individual critical thinking or collaborative efforts.

The bottom line is that your customers will obviously be happier with more personalized, efficient and effective support from your agents, and your agents will be happier too if they are allowed to flex their problem-solving muscles instead of simply reading off a script. But this culture shift must start at the top to be most effective, and trickle down to result in increased satisfaction between these two parties.

Published June 8, 2017
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