Agent multi-channelBecause of the growing challenges of finding, training, and retaining qualified employees, increasing agent skills has become a key objective of many of today’s contact center managers. While it certainly requires time, effort, and investment to up-skill an existing team, the benefits can be substantial to your business.

Are you considering an initiative to increase the skills of your existing contact center workforce? Here are three key questions to consider as you weigh the pros and cons of this strategic decision.

1. Why do you need more highly-skilled agents?

Questions are more complex: As technology provides more self-service options through the web, the questions coming into the contact center are becoming increasingly complex. Banking is a perfect example. While 71% of all transactions are completed through the web or a mobile device, the CEB Tower Group found that 80% of all problems are resolved through the more personal channels of click-to-chat, in-person branch visits, and phone. This demands a set of highly-skilled, contact center agents, along with the ability to route calls to these specialists.

Agents increasingly have autonomous decision-making powers: To sustain a high first call resolution rate and a stellar customer experience, agents must have the ability to do something about customer problems. No one wants to call into a contact center and hear, “I can’t do anything about this. Let me transfer you to my manager.” In fact, nearly 70% of contact centers, according to a Dimension Data study, are empowering and authorizing agents to use their own judgment to use either fully or partially use preset decision options.

Omnichannel visibility requires cross-channel skills: As customers are communicating with your company in increasingly complex ways, agents are being called upon to have skills in multiple channels. Yet, research from Dimension Data showed that only 32% of agents were handling transactions from a variety of channels. Learning cross-channel skills is a win for agents because it adds variety to their daily work, but it’s also a win for your organization because of increased productivity and efficiency from agents who can jump from phone to email and back as the workload fluctuates.

2. What benefits can be derived by improving contact center agent skills?

Reduced agent turnover: Almost without exception, agents want to know that there is a growth-path for them, and it’s to your benefit to provide them with one, rather than have them move to your competitor to find it.

Increased potential to up-sell: Sue Barrett at The Thinking Organization explains, “Telesales operators, who have traditionally focused on the uncomplicated sale of easy-to-understand commodities, are going to have to increase their knowledge base and learn to sell solutions to buyers who are more demanding, more knowledgeable, and with higher expectations. This shake-up means a radical re-think for telesales operations. Smart companies will see their telesales teams as a vital part of their overall sales operation.” In other words, it requires comprehensive product knowledge and sophisticated skills to go from an order-taker to a salesperson, and beyond that a customer experience agent.

Insights shared across the company: As the contact center is more relied upon as an accurate voice of the customer, an increasingly important part of the sales force, and the center of omnichannel visibility, contact center agents will be called upon to collaborate with the marketing, sales, and technology management teams. Analytics and insights derived from the contact center have been shown to drive product development and influence marketing campaigns. “The days of smiling and dialing are over,” as Loris Dumanian of Sun Life Financial pointed out in a recent webinar about solving communication challenges.

Improved customer satisfaction:  “The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers,” says visionary thought-leader Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic. Our customer UPMC, an award-winning medical center, noted that their focus on satisfied employees was one of the reasons they were able to deliver such an outstanding customer experience.

3. What are other contact centers planning for their employees?

Dimension Data found the most common skill set improvements being made are to define a career path, implement a mentorship program, and implement knowledge management tools to assist in training. And yet, analysts are finding that the link between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction is still not well understood, and employee satisfaction is underrated as a key driver of contact center agent development.

Dimension Data was surprised to find that the proportion of organizations failing to measure the benefit of training has actually increased. A surprising 46% did not understand the relationship between training and productivity improvements, while 48% were ill-informed as to whether training directly affected customer satisfaction

The good news is that solutions currently exist to plan and measure training on an ongoing basis.

For more insights into how to improve the efficiency of your workforce, download our white paper Eight Ways to Boost Workforce Efficiency and Quality with Continuous Workforce Optimization.