Customer Operations
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May 24, 2022

Universal vs. expert agents

7 min

Customer service has always been huge in the making of a good business, but in the new-fangled COVID era where everyone’s doing everything remotely, there is no room for second-best. You’ve either got great customer support or you’ve got customers already planning to get their support somewhere else in the near future.

Whether your company is the manufacturer of the world’s greatest productivity package of programs, the most sought-after video game system on earth, or the hottest app on Google Play, having incredible customer support agents is essential to business success. But even the simplest app needs to support users with technical questions, billing questions, DevOps, issues and more.

That leads companies to have to make the tough choice of deciding how to staff their customer service department: with expert support agents trained in one specific component of the overall product? Or with so-called universal agents who can switch between skill sets to engage with customers across a broad spectrum of exchanges? Both types of support agents have their strengths and weaknesses, and picking one or the other can largely depend on your company’s product, department size, customer knowledge level, and what your bottom line is.

In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of each type of agent in order to help you arrive at an informed decision on which type makes the most sense to deliver amazing, accurate service to your users.

The Case for Expert Agents

A survey done by Khoros found that 86% of customers report that a great customer service experience can turn them from one-time buyers into long-time brand champions. In other words, once you have a customer pass through the end of the sales funnel, there’s no better way to keep them swirling around and coming for more than by attending their needs to the very best of your ability.

On a person-to-person, interactive playing field, that means agents who are the smartest person in the room when it comes to each individual component of your business. That means your tech support people know to walk a problem through the code and back into English with the greatest of ease, your billing agents need to be hyper-aware of all of a customer’s relevant information, and know exactly when be tough on wayward accounts and when to have lenience; and your sales team has to know the ins and outs of every sale, deal, combo offer, package, and “off-the-books special” for preferred customers.

There’s very little substitute for expertise, and when you can get agents who specialize in wall-to-wall knowledge on just one subject, you know that you’re getting top-of-the-line service every time out. When there’s an update, an upgrade, or a change, those experts can focus on that one thing without having to try to integrate it into a knowledge base already overflowing.

By having select members of the staff focused solely on one area of expertise, there’s a good chance for them to build  up rapport with customers who call frequently enough to want to develop a relationship.

Experts are focusing all of their training and energy on just one subject matter, regardless of how vital it is. That feeds directly  into a potential negative, however, where creating dedicated teams can create hidden unemployment in each team during downtimes where there specific expertise is not required. Very few firms have the resources to pay people to do nothing.

The Case for Universal Agents

The pros for universal agents are the diametric opposite the cons for Expert Agents. These folks are able to bounce from sales to tech support to billing questions in stride, meaning they can take any call at any time and deliver timely interventions that solve your customers’ issues without having to transfer them to another department, wait on hold a long time, or ask them for the dreaded callback number, which is the industry equivalent of saying “I don’t know how to help you.”

Because of this, universal agents are seldom sitting idly by, but always available to jump on a call, root out the issue, switch gears, upsell, and make a good impression. At least, that’s the case in theory, but the actual reality of most tech companies involves two tough truths. The first is that the type of agent able to do all those things effortlessly is going to cost a bit of money in salary, and is likely going to get poached by other tech companies seeking the best and brightest to take on their own agent duties.

According to Glassdoor.com, the average universal agent makes around $36,910 per year, compared to the average specialist agent, who averages $33,648 per year. That’s a difference of about $3,262 per year - but if you have multiple agents, that difference adds up quickly.

The second downside is that most customer service departments have enormous knowledge bases on every subject, and being a universal agent who is an expert across that entire expanse is border-line impossible to find. With as many changes as a company has across the board even in the course of a few months, it would be very difficult for any agent to be able to keep up with all the new input while also fielding an appropriate number of customer calls.

The Bottom Line

Fortunately for tech companies seeking the best of both worlds, that’s where Interai comes in.

Our customer support tool can consolidate all of your admin and back-office systems into one handy app that allows your universal agents to operate any system with dramatically reduced start-up sequences.

No matter what a customer is calling to ask, using Interai allows your agents to guide them easily and puts the knowledge of an subject-matter expert in their hands at a moment’s notice. It’s the perfect blend of cutting-edge tech with human interaction, resulting in your customer service team earning top marks with every engagement.

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