The logical appears to become inevitable in most cases. Blockbuster was not going to survive streaming. CDs were going to die. A rise in remote working was happening even without the pandemic. So what about customer support? Seen that new AI GPT-3 project? The damn thing is writing code now let alone basic support answers. It'll get 10X more powerful in 1 year. Below we'll cover what organisations are saying about super agents as one of the new resulting customer service trends and then add Upscope's own view on happy super agents and the services they'll need.
Why customer service trends point to the rise of super agents
I'll summarise what some of the experts are saying about super agents:
- As AI eats jobs, agents are more valued
The underlying logical "Why" behind the rise of super agents is explained well in this post by Kate Leggett on Forrester's site.
"AI handles routine tasks, with agents dedicated to exceptions and escalations. Contact center jobs will change along four dimensions:"
1) Agents who are generalists will see their jobs subsumed by self-service technologies.
2) Midtier agents will be repurposed as authors or testers of content or chatbot dialogues. They may also supervise chatbots and address failures.
3) New superagents will emerge. Customer service organizations will become high-touch centers that handle critical customer interactions, which will require deep subject-matter expertise or product ecosystem expertise.
4) New contact center jobs will be created; for example, data scientists, automation specialists, and application developers. These personnel will be responsible for implementing and maintaining self-service and agent-facing automation and AI initiatives."
I don't know about number one above as I can't say what a generalist is. However, number 2 is already happening and will evolve greatly over time.
What's interesting is that the inputs into the chat bots will also change e.g. it's not just text guidance but could be onboarding flows, instant customised videos, explanatory animations. It's likely to become more visual and sophisticated over time.
With better UI, knowledge bases, automated onboarding software, chatbots and more it's fairly inevitable that the queries coming through to agents will be made of some of the more complicated questions or simply by customers who have the greatest need of direction.
That said, one venture capitalist noted how only 3% of the world economy is online. Overall there might be a growth in regular agents and super agents at the same time.
Read more from Kate Leggett's 3 customer service megatrends
2. Customers demand human to human interaction for some queries
“We’re at an interesting inflection point with customer service: We’ve gone from full automation and the push for chatbots back to live call center agents as a result of customer demand for human interaction,”
“Now that the trend of human-to-human interaction is on the rise once again, there’s no surprise that there’s a push for better or ‘super’ agents,”
I can't say what the overall numbers are for this but many bots are terrible at answering questions because their systems don't have enough data to find the right answer.
I can't say what new AI technologies like GPT-3 will do but even they must need data on a software to answer questions about it. The amount of data needed might go down as AI gets better but so far most bots are bad at answering anything beyond very basic questions.
Read more on how to empower super agents
3. The case for and against super agents
This article provides good balance to the discussion.
The case for super agents is they provide increased efficiency, improved first contact resolution, better customer experience.
The case against is they are difficult to recruit and train, the cost is higher, it's harder to scale and rapidly add more if the company grows.
Read more on "The pros and cons of having super agents on staff"
4. Entrepreneurial super agents
I love this one. We know the impact that customer facing teams have within our SaaS company so we need them to be agent and entrepreneur at the same time.
"A new breed-of super-agent, the CSR 2.0 is rapidly emerging, and luckily for you, because they have to be all things to all customers, they’re equipping themselves with a multitude of skills. Many of the skills have evolved in-line with changes in consumerism, but all require the same, or better, evolution of the supporting technology."
"And why does the CSR 2.0 need to work across so many departments? To turn what has traditionally been a cost centre in to a revenue maker: to retain customers and foster loyalty. They are trained to spot opportunities to advise, recommend and subtly up and cross sell. Balancing these “harder” skills with the emotional intelligence mentioned is a further complexity the super-CSR has to conquer."
Read more on Move over X-men, make way for the super CSR
5. Critical customer interactions and educated work from home agents
"New “superagents” emerging to become product or relationship experts. Contact centers are becoming high-touch centers that handle critical customer interactions and require deep subject matter expertise. Superagents who have specialized skills or deep interest in a brand’s products or services are emerging."
"Lifestyle workers who greatly value flexible working conditions. Educated professionals, military wives, and mothers are just a handful of personas who want rewarding work on their own terms. Work-at-home models resonate with these personas, and brands are finding that agents who work at home stay longer."
A ground up view on why Upscope believes in super agents
I once thought those founders who talk about the importance of "customer service" might just be saying it without any real belief. Like a sort of thing you're supposed to say. Then I found out the hard way.
Here's why my expectations of support agents went up through the roof :
- In the early days of building a company you are competing by having better customer service. In fact your early sales may be entirely due to speed and quality of service. We had people accidentally leave answering machine messages on our phone where they forgot to hang up and we heard them say they're choosing our company because "they get back to us quickly". In the early days we built a customer service culture from necessity as it might have been the only advantage we had as a new company in that space. This is now the default necessary mentality for many larger companies who compete on brand and service with service being tied into brand.
- The second reason founders want super agents is because it's personal. When you build a new service and earn your very first $50 payment it's not business, it's personal. The customer spent their hard earned money to buy a service YOU built. Now you'll move heaven and earth for them. In the early days of a solo build project I had my alarm set to ring if someone emailed the support address. If it was 4am I got up at 4am and replied, fixed code bugs, manually edited things in the database and more. Not sustainable but it set a certain standard. I didn't want to do that but I just could not have someone who paid me wait around.
But asking agents to get up at 4am is not the right way to do it.
That's the wrong kind of super agent.
The right and effective way is for people to enjoy doing it.
It's better to have happy super agents.
I'm guessing you don't wake up on a Saturday or go on holiday and think to yourself "I'm going to do some customer support work on the side for fun". That's not a healthy work life balance but it would be great to feel that way about customer support.
Support is tough.
If it's going to be part of my job for years ahead then I want to enjoy it. I want all team members who do customer support to enjoy it.
Why is support so tough?
I sometimes dread opening up the Intercom customer support feed in the morning because even if 19/20 people are lovely the 1 irritated person hits the anxious part of my soul.
I don't take the compliments that well either. If they say "you are great" I'm thinking "awwww they are nice people but oh shit what if they don't like something else about the service later on. Then they'll be sad".
I don't want to feel like this. I want to look forward to each support request whether it's angry, tough, weird, positive or whatever.
To make it enjoyable for myself and our very own super agents, we need incentives, creativity, measurable growth and more.
How will companies make it enjoyable? Incentives, growth, recognition, vision, creativity, building skills, thinking like an owner
Pardon me while I go off on a list of stuff I want while providing customer service and which is already happening in some companies but will likely become default via new software.
I want to see and feel progress.
I want to be able to measure it and look at progress on a dashboard.
I want to earn super agent skills. I don't want to do a phd or climb Everest but I want enjoyable difficulty especially if others are going through it alongside me.
While I might like to be awarded some gamified badges for progress they generally suck unless the game itself is real and deeply embedded otherwise they are just an afterthought. Badges follow, they don't lead.
I want the freedom to think and act like an owner. A mini-CEO. Tie this into incentives so that I'm driven to give the best most complete answers to customers.
I want to compete against colleagues as well as learn from them. Competition is fun. Healthy and friendly competition and maybe with a little edge to it.
I want to find joy in every conversation whether it's angry customer, happy customer, crazy customer or regular customer.
There are some companies that have already built this sort of culture. The others and the new companies arriving need tools and services to make this easier to do.
A new generation wants purpose so give them every opportunity to think like owners
We've all heard the chat about millenials and how their perspective on work is changing things.
Some people from older generations have said to me "Work is work".
Whereas the new generation wants to make the most of their lives by making an impact in the work they do. Sounds very sensible to me.
I don't know if you agree with me on this but I want every single person working in customer facing roles to consider building their own side project and even eventually build their own company.
Even if it's a side project that brings in small amounts of revenue each month.
You grow so much. Learn so much. It opens up your mind to all you can do. You see how all the pieces fit together. You will never regret how much you evolved from the experience.
This means that every team member is given the opportunity to learn how sales, marketing, finance, support and each function comes together. They will start to think like owners and maybe in the future help develop products and services that help others.
Also, building a small passive income side project might just be the new "I'm in a band". I don't know much about blockchain networks but some very smart people are saying it'll make it easy for individuals to build, sell and distribute their own products.
Sometimes work is work but super agents have a chance to make an impact and grow from it like few others do.
I'd encourage agents to learn to code, read about marketing, sales, analysing data to understand customers, product positioning and more. I'd do this while remembering the classic conversation "What if we train them and they leave? Well, what if don't train them and they stay".
Super agents will live the super agent life and maybe already are
The pandemic accelerated the work from home life but there were plenty of companies who have been doing remote work for years. Their employees work from wherever they please.
They are by the beach in Bali, with their family in a caravan home in Montana roaming around, in a cafe in Buenos Aires. I'm mentioning these because I've seen all of these happen. I really would not recommend the caravan in Montana though as the wifi sucked but Elon Musk is launching Starlink, giving us all universal remote location access to the internet, so that's going to be viable too.
The future recruitment and retention of super agents will require workplace incentives. You might even find companies booking places in exotic locations where super agents work and train together for periods of time. Existing remote working companies already do "company retreats" a couple of times a year so just imagine that idea expanded out.
How Upscope is going to help super agents
The Upscope mission statement is to help develop 1 million happy super agents.
People who dance to work. Live the super agent life. People who look forward to a Monday as much as a weekend.
How are we going to do this?
Customer support impacts sales, conversions, NPS, CSAT, retention, churn etc.
If super agents are given a new set of services to help customers that not only involve creativity, intelligence, empathy but is something they can put their name to and makes an impact then we have a service they can enjoy using.
So far Upscope has developed co-browsing and a historical view that helps agents see how a customer came to a problem and also guide them through it.
The next step is to provide agents with the ability to create customer story lines that each agent can own and develop independently and put their name to. These will help guide customers through the most complicated nuanced problems but in their own time and space.
Seeing is believing. We're building it now and will have a launch date for those new features soon. Meanwhile, you can have a look at how Upscope already helps you. Talk to our team about the existing services and we'll then notify you when the beta is out.