The Impossible Task: Improve Agent Productivity, Increase CSAT, Reduce Costs

Customer service teams are often faced with two conflicting tasks; operate as a cost center yet increase customer satisfaction and retention. In this panel discussion with Forethought and ArenaCX, we’ll discuss how high-performing customer service teams are tackling the impossible of improving key CS metrics like CSAT, FTR, and TTR, while also improving agent productivity and overall costs.

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Webinar Summary

In the world of customer service, there’s one thing both your agents and customers want: to give and receive fast, accurate, and high-quality service that provides the information needed in a timely manner. 

But how do support teams go about providing that high quality service while at the same time being tasked to operate as a cost center and increase customer satisfaction and retention.

Support organizations are being asked to do more with less and they need guidance for how to go about it strategically. 

Recently, Forethought’s Head of Content Strategy Chett Coombs, sat down with ArenaCX’s Head of Customer Experience Terry Munroe and Forethought’s Director of Product Marketing Rajiv Patel, to discuss how high-performing customer support teams are tackling the impossible task of improving key CS metrics while also improving agent productivity and overall costs. 

In this webinar we learn all about how to improve agent performance and productivity while still reducing costs and improving agent life. 

Improving Agent Performance and Productivity 

Did you know that more than 50% of Millennials and Gen-Z would rather go to the dentist than deal with customer support?
What a hassle. 

And it’s not just customers who are unhappy with the state of customer service. Within the customer support industry, attrition rates will be as high as 40% proving just how low-value and tedious the work of a support agent can seem. During the pandemic, agent turnover was as high as 80%. 

Why aren’t we doing more for them? 

During our discussion Chett said that, “In some ways, your customer support agents are basically a human billboard for your support organization, they’re interacting on a human-to-human level with your customers; so not only do they have the knowledge and experience for your customers but they also have the best insight into the issues customers face.” 

Support agents are the MOST valuable asset to your organization. They know the ins and outs of helping your customers, they understand what questions customers seek answers for and know how to best go about finding those answers. 

Rajiv offers 3 tips for empowering agents to do more than just the repetitive and tedious tasks they’re given on the daily. In order to best help our support teams we must: 

  • Implement chatbots to automate action and answer 
  • Leverage agent knowledge to build knowledge bases
  • Make agents feel seen and heard to do more 

If your agents have the best insight into what customers are looking for then it makes sense to ask them for their feedback and get their input when building out something new for those customers.

As we continued to discuss the importance of improving agent productivity and empowering agents to do more, we shifted to the topic of what metrics should be tracked for agents. 

Customer Service Metrics

Terry gave his two cents on agent metrics by saying, “Agents should be in control of their metrics, it should be a metric that helps agents instead of hindering their growth.” To Terry, productivity isn’t how much work agents are doing, it’s how many customers agents are finding solutions for. 

But how are teams tracking that and how can they improve? How do we use what we’re tracking to approach goal setting and a desire to do more with the data we have? 

According to Rajiv, there are a few ways support teams can use metrics to inform their teams and drive better impact. He suggests using support team KPIs to:

  • Determine if support processes are meeting customer needs; are they effective enough, efficient enough? 
  • Identify key improvements to increasing cost effectiveness and customer retention
  • Use metrics to visualize team’s performance over time 
  • Let KPIs lead specific goal setting 
  • Utilize metrics to understand capacity utilization and prepare resources accordingly. 

Another thing we need to take into consideration when working to improve agent productivity is the focus that some support teams take when improving their metrics. 

There are two routes teams can go: should focus be more on engagement and quality metrics as opposed to speed and efficiency metrics? 

Terry says, “The question you need to ask yourself is ‘If we’re prioritizing speed and efficiency so much that it’s at the cost of quality, perhaps is there a way that this can be automated? Not only does it cost money to have agents answer questions but it can also burn your team out.”

If you’re looking into automation you need to reflect back on quality and freeing your team up to provide high quality service, it’s a good way to jump start growth for your business and keep agents while enabling them to do more. 

At the end of the day, agents need to feel empowered to serve customers through the tools they’re given and the power they have over how they go about their day to day. 

It’s safe to say that the customer experience will only ever be as good as the agent experience. Finding ways to recognize agents and make their work lives better will greatly impact and improve the way customers are being treated and served. 

CSAT: Keeping Customers Happy 

While the majority of this webinar was spent discussing the agent experience and how we can improve that while also bolstering teams, we also need to discuss how to keep customers happy. 

If the customer experience is only as good as the agent experience, how good, truly, is that CX? 

To figure that out we need to measure CSAT, or customer satisfaction, which is directly correlated to a customer’s experience. 

According to Terry, “CSAT is likely the most universal customer support metric,” and can be measured in a few ways but is most easily measured as a binary with just dividing the number of satisfied responses by the total number of responses and figuring out which percentage of customers are happy with the service they’ve received. 

CSAT is important because you can track the actual satisfaction to the level of service they’ve received. You can track to see if customers are coming back to your agents for help and to your business for whatever service or product you’re providing. 

Depending on the wording of your CSAT survey, you can use the survey to determine whether customers are dissatisfied with your service or with a product.

Terry mentions that there are multiple factors that impact CSAT scores, these include:

  • Speed
  • Wait times
  • Time to resolution
  • Customer effort required
  • Agent/customer knowledge 
  • Omnichannel availability 

When you make it more difficult for customers to get the support they need, customer satisfaction drops. In fact, having multiple touches in a support process actually reduces CSAT by 15-20%. 

Figuring out what customers are unhappy with can help you shift the perception of customer support as a cost center. Which leads us to how to go about reducing costs in the customer support organization. 

Reducing Costs 

“If you’re still looking at your customer support team as a cost center, then frankly, you’re a dinosaur,” begins Terry as the discussion shifts to how to drive down costs within customer support. 

What are we talking about when we approach cost? 

Rajiv and Terry agreed that costs aren’t necessarily “people.” The biggest cost is lost revenue associated with low CSAT, which is difficult and nearly impossible to measure sometimes. Reducing costs does not mean cutting tech, training, or people. It means working to improve what is already in place in order to strategically make the right decisions for your support org. 

Support leaders are being tasked with the impossible of having to drive down costs while increasing customer satisfaction, and if you’re going to do that you need to be willing to boost what you can. 

Before you figure out how to reduce costs you need to know where those costs are coming from, what are you already spending money on in your organization? 

Terry mentions that a lot of costs should be driven toward products. Customers will primarily ask questions regarding a product, something support teams don’t have a say in. It would be ideal if support had some say in product since they have the most insight into what customers are seeking. 


Rajiv talked about how AI can actually help the most in reducing costs. AI can help automate redundancies and repetitive work that agents deal with daily. If you remove the easy tasks it frees up time for agents to dedicate to more complicated support queries. AI can also assist agents in answering tickets faster by suggesting responses based on past queries and help speed up response times.

Terry continues the discussion by highlighting two important areas that can help reduce costs: revisiting your staffing model and reducing agent turnover.


It’s important to strategically forecast staffing. If you’re not using KPIs to determine when and where agents are needed the most then your support team will struggle to have enough agents on board during support influxes.

Reducing agent turnover takes a lot. This webinar was spent talking about reducing costs while improving CSAT but how do you do that when agents won’t stick around. Losing agents is the biggest cost factor in support. It takes countless hours of training and onboarding to get reps up to speed on the ins and outs of your organization. When you train reps and have them depart your org within a few months, you lose everything you’ve spent training them and you lose their added tribal knowledge. One solution could be hiring a BPO who becomes a partner to your organization and enables better customer service. 

Supporting the Future of Customer Support

As this discussion on the impossible task of reducing costs while increasing customer satisfaction came to a close, Terry offered up a tool to help support teams business case cost reduction in a support team. You can find that template here. 

As support teams grow and try to find ways to have impact on their success metrics, it’s important to keep in mind the value support leaders find in their agents. 

If you support your support representatives to do the best job they can do with the best tools available to them, then your 

customers will continue to come back and will be satisfied with the service they’re given. 

Be sure to watch this webinar in its entirety if you’re interested in learning everything you can about increasing customer success metrics while reducing costs and strategically focusing on CX. 

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