CX Insight Magazine

July 2021

Five Key Areas of CX Agent Evolution

By: Execs In The Know

The customer experience (CX) industry was rapidly evolving prior to the pandemic and this evolution shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, the impact of COVID-19 forced many organizations to accelerate strategic initiatives to respond to evolving customer and employee needs. Technology, work-from-home (WFH) staffing models, and customer behavior are just a few factors altering the complexion of contact centers. So, many organizations are now taking an even closer look at what these changes will mean for them as they prepare for the next generation contact center and agent.

Two industry leaders have provided their valuable perspectives about how they are preparing their own organizations for the future. These leaders are Amber LeGrett, Senior Vice President of Client Experience with Bank of America (BofA) and Anindya Sundar Das, Senior Director and Head of Global Service Design with Uber.

Amber LeGrett

Amber LeGrett

Anindya Sundar Das

Anindya Sundar Das


Before discussing the next generation contact center and agent specifically, it is important to understand, from the customer’s perspective, how they will be interacting with organizations as technology continues to evolve.

The rise in digital capabilities and engagement transforms how customers resolve issues.

BofA is a great example of this. The company is known for its mobile app, and in late 2020 launched Life Plan®, a high-tech and high-touch experience that enables clients to set and track near- and long-term financial goals based on their unique life priorities. Additionally, clients can receive personalized guidance and recommendations and the ability to directly schedule in-person or virtual one-on-one appointments with a BofA financial professional.

Digital engagement has also surged, especially with its artificial intelligence (AI)-driven, virtual financial assistant, Erica®. Clients can request help from Erica for a range of everyday banking actions, including searching past transactions, accessing rewards, viewing balances, activating a card, viewing bills and scheduling payments, transferring money, setting up alerts, and more. Erica can tackle more complex tasks by providing personalized, proactive guidance and insights. Ninety-nine percent of clients who engage with Erica can find the information they need without calling a contact center. As LeGrett explained, “We are committed to delivering exceptional experiences to our clients no matter how they prefer to interact and manage
their finances.”

Uber has long been at the forefront of innovation, with customers able to complete many requests via their mobile app. Expanded functionality, capabilities, and personalization are always evolving to meet Uber customers where they are.

Just considering these two forward-thinking companies alone, it is easy to see that more and more activities that once required a human will be handled by technology.

Self-service and digital channel adoption requires higher-skilled agents

Transactions handled by agents will continue to become more complex. However, while an increasing percentage of simple issues will be resolved by technology, customers still want the ability to speak to an agent, especially with a complex or emotional issue. Results from the 2020 Consumer Edition of the Customer Experience Management Benchmark Series bears this out with 68% of consumers stating that if they knew their issue would be resolved, they would prefer the help of a live agent. Further, when automation cannot address the customer’s issue, human intervention is required. As Sundar Das with stated, this means that in the future, agents with higher IQ and EQ will be required.

For example, in Uber’s case, think of a safety issue that is reported to customer service – a machine would not be well-suited to handle that, but an empathetic agent with high emotional intelligence is critical. If handled incorrectly, the consequences are disastrous. So, the skill levels needed in future will be greater than what is normal today.

Similarly, for BofA, consider a client who is experiencing a complicated life change such as a deceased spouse or family member. This requires an agent with a special touch to not simply resolve their issue, but do so with great sensitivity.

In addition to high emotional intelligence, more advanced problem-solving skills are required, as well as technical ability to leverage multiple tools, data sources, and knowledge bases to effectively support the customer.

Five key areas to address evolving agent requirements

With this as the backdrop, it is clear the agent profile and processes will need to change as the nature of transactions and customer expectations change. To ensure companies can attract and retain the right agents with the right skills, there are five key areas of focus, including:

1) Minimum skills and knowledge required

2) Compensation and benefits

3) Training

4) Agent tools, support, and management

5) Growth and development

Each of these areas are reviewed in detail through the rest of the article.

1 Minimum skills and knowledge required

There is no question that the future agent will require different skills than the agent of two years ago, or even today. Organizations must now start the process of identifying specific skills required and continuously review and adjust as needed. Generally, the overarching skills required for the agent of the future are:

  • High emotional intelligence
  • Advanced problem-solving skills
  • Genuine empathy
  • Ability to multi-task
  • WFH capabilities
  • Technologically savvy
  • Fast learners
  • Respond well to change

This is the first step, but companies must go a step further and specifically define what these mean for their organization and identify how they will verify agents possess those skills.

For example, what does high emotional intelligence mean specifically? And what type of problem-solving skills are needed? They are likely different for every company, as we can see in the case of BofA and Uber.


BofA agents need to sensitively respond to personal and difficult life circumstances, gently walking the client through the steps they need to take. In this case, the agent is more of an advisor than a contact center agent following a resolution process. BofA is also moving toward “super agents”, where agents will need the ability to handle all types of client situations. This will require advanced problem-solving skills to address each type of situation. As LeGrett explains, “This is a huge benefit to clients because they will no longer be transferred to resolve multiple types of issues.” Additionally, with a “digital-first” strategy, BofA agents are tasked with educating clients on how to resolve simpler issues with technology. This, too, requires different skills to help the client resolve their issue in the moment but, also hold their hand through the education process.


In Uber’s situation, agents need the ability to immediately recognize when an extreme customer situation is unfolding and assure the customer they are in good hands. From a problem-solving and technological capabilities perspective, Uber explains, “Agents will need to make sense out of what the ‘machine’ has done, why it did not resolve an issue, and seamlessly pick up where it left off to resolve the issue.” Uber also will need people who: can solve complex problems; have a high degree of curiosity and desire to learn; and are fast learners to respond to the rapid rate of change.

Conclusion: Determine specifically what your agent of the future (short and long term) need. Remove any bias or pre-conceived notions from your mind, without considering your current profile. Be specific on exactly what agents will be required to do. This is the place you start because without this foundation in place, everything else will fall short.

2 Compensation and benefits

Everyone is in the same boat, so higher skilled employees will be in great demand. Compensation is certainly one factor that must be investigated to ensure pay is aligned with required skills and market demand. This has cost implications but the critical interaction with the customer can make or break the customer’s experience and long-term loyalty. As LeGrett said, “Across the board, people want to work where they feel valued, and companies will need to evolve their wages and benefits to stay competitive. After all, a satisfied employee who is valued and supported by their company will, in turn, take care of customers.”


In May 2021, BofA’s CEO announced several major investments, including an increase to the minimum hourly wage for U.S. employees to $25 by 2025. Since 2010, the bank’s minimum hourly wage has increased more than 121%. The company also requires their U.S vendors to pay staff $15/hour or more to ensure fair and competitive compensation for any employee providing BofA services. They are also expanding its childcare benefit programs starting July 1, which provides childcare reimbursement up to $275 per month, per child, for U.S. employees with up to $100,000 in cash compensation. And for the 10th year in a row, they will not increase medical healthcare premiums for U.S. employees earning less than $50,000 in 2022 to help address rising healthcare costs.


Sundar Das explained, “It is difficult to estimate how these changes will shape salaries and benefits from an absolute dollar perspective, but we’ll of course maintain it at attractive levels. But the structure of compensation will differ greatly from what we have today.” He went
on to say that Uber has always been creative about finding different types of compensation and benefits, and they continue to do that. In his words, “all options are on the table.” There are many factors at play as Uber considers compensation, some favoring pay increases and others that do not. Some of the significant factors impacting these decisions are WFH, consolidation in the industry, need for higher-skilled agents, return to onshoring, and gig work.

Conclusion: The compensation and benefits structure of the past will likely become obsolete given the future landscape. While all companies may not have the luxury of increasing pay significantly, decisions need to be made with the end-goal in mind. There are outside the box solutions, such as flexible work schedules or ability to take personal days versus just sick days. Regardless of approach, packages need to match the market demand and skills required to ensure you attract and retain the right candidates. 

3 Training

Attracting and recruiting staff with the right skills is one part of the equation. As transactions become more complicated and more staff are working remotely, training approaches need to be reimagined to be more dynamic, easier to consume, and more practical.


BofA’s training organization, The Academy, offers a variety of hands-on, experiential learning opportunities and innovative training formats. The bank is piloting several emerging technologies that can simulate real-life scenarios that their agents would likely encounter in their day-to-day jobs in a virtual practice environment. These solutions allow employees to immerse themselves in the learning environment and get real-world practice before they start in their roles. LeGrett explained,
“Employees who use simulator technology in their training report feeling more prepared and confident in their positions, which leads to a better overall experience for both employees and our clients.”


Sundar Das believes, “In the next few years, call center agents will need to morph from being firefighters to being concierges. Therefore, training curricula and methodology should look different.” For example, more formal coaching programs and real-time feedback will be utilized versus large waves of classroom training that is more common today. Additionally, Sundar Das explains, “Given the speed at which work is becoming increasingly complex and data-driven, re-skilling at quicker intervals will be
a major focus.” And with WFH here to stay, training will become more dynamic and digital, with more “bite-sized knowledge nuggets.”

Additionally, WFH home agents require much more support during training than in-center agents. So, not only does the actual training itself differ for these agents, but the time required and level of support increases. Anindya further explains that they expect to see an increase in the use of sandbox environments to train WFH agents in life-like situations offline.

Conclusion: Reimagine how you train both new and existing agents. The traditional models of a couple of weeks of classroom training followed by a “nesting” period will likely not be effective. Agents will need much more practical experience through role plays, simulation, and hands-on practice. The training will need to be more visual, dynamic, and in smaller “chunks.” Last, one size does not fit all. WFH training must be designed and implemented differently than in-person.

4 Agent tools, support, and management

To ensure agents can do what they do best – solve issues and deliver a superior experience- agent tools are critical. But support and management are equally important. Just as agent skills and knowledge are changing, so too are supervisory skills. Supervisors will also need advanced problem-solving skills, a high degree of empathy, and ability to manage and coach highly skilled agents. And with a dispersed workforce, they need the ability to manage remote workers, which is quite different from in-person. Management also needs to understand that agents of the future will be handling more complex and potentially more emotional transactions. This needs to be considered in policy-making. For example, more flexibility in schedules and the ability to take more frequent (but perhaps shorter) breaks may be necessary. Or more emotional support considering the potential of higher-stress transactions.


BofA agents can see what clients have done prior to the call, and the company continues to enhance these capabilities and integrate new technologies to be even more nimble in following the end-to-end customer journey.

BofA also recently launched a new mobile app for agents, where they can switch their shifts with a colleague or request a day off, giving them a real-time way of managing their lives and schedules.


Sundar Das explained that AI will be used in several ways to support agents such as intelligent routing to agents, real-time assistance, targeted training, and potentially profile-performance matching. Uber also has many new tools ranging from those that help agents: identify the root causes faster; view the customer’s journey to help them solve the issue (including if a solution has been attempted by automation already); and the ability to quickly get assistance solving the problem. From a support perspective, Uber is committed to supporting agents, considering some of the disconcerting transactions they handle. There are measures in place allowing agents to take time between difficult calls and get counseling if needed. The company has even implemented creative ways to reduce stress such as bringing puppies into the physical center.

Conclusion: For companies who have not yet taken steps to elevate agent-facing tools and technology, it is time. Customers will expect agents to know their journey without repeating themselves. And agents need tools and resources to solve customer issues quickly and effectively. Technology will not solve everything, however. Supervisory skills must be redefined, and the right policies and processes must be implemented to support agents in this new environment.

5 Growth and development

To attract and retain highly skilled agents, career growth and development takes on a new level of importance. As required skills and knowledge change, companies must evaluate existing staff to determine if they have the right skills, and if not, determine if they can learn them.


The BofA Academy provides career path tools that are accessible to all associates including formal mentoring programs as well. They offer great programs related to diversity with close to 30 different employee networks that associates can join. This gives them the opportunity to meet executives who sponsor these groups and make connections and be exposed to other opportunities in the company.


Sundar Das eloquently said, “More often than not, people underperform because the role is not suited to them. Roger Federer (professional tennis player) would not be a great baseball player. Understand that everyone has the potential to succeed given the right opportunities and the right matching of skills to the job.” Like many companies, Uber has realized that the contact center represents a huge pool of talent, with agents capable of moving into more strategic and senior roles. So, recruiting and development strategies will change to identify these individuals and give them opportunities to grow into other roles. Sundar Das explains, “Career growth is like rock climbing. It can be diagonal, sideways, or up.” It will be important for supervisors and managers to identify and support this growth. Uber actively focuses on this and has several programs in place such as mentoring programs in which agents are encouraged to seek out mentors.

Conclusion: Contact center agents of the future are looking for careers, not just jobs. This is great news for organizations as they recruit, train, and develop these agents. Employee loyalty benefits the company and the customer. So, organizations should implement processes to proactively identify skills of candidates and existing agents, beyond what is required for the agent role. And then, ensure managers are trained to help agents with career development plans, through formal and informal programs.

In summary

The next generation contact center and agent is here, and most organizations have started this transformation. It involves reimagining all areas that impact the agent and the operation including required skills and recruiting, compensation, training, agent tools and support, and career development. The companies that can think outside the box (stepping away from the status quo) will have a competitive advantage, resulting in highly skilled and loyal employees, driving long-term customer loyalty.


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