What’s In a Name?

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There is a discussion brewing among contact center leaders about what to call the front-line employees who handle calls and other customer interactions. Historically they have been referred to as “agents” or “representatives.” But as customer experience takes a more prominent role and these employees become more strategic, those titles don’t go far enough.

Contact center employee names are beginning to change to reflect a strategic shift. A 2017 poll from Call Centre Helper poll found that 31 percent of companies call their front-line staff something other than agent, advisor, representative, or executive.

At the recent Customer Contact Week conference in Las Vegas, I spoke with a number of contact center leaders about the topic. John McCahan, executive director of Avon’s care center, calls his staff “specialists.” So does Eric Dover, executive director of the Help Center at Arizona State University. Both discussed the importance of empowering staff with the moniker.

Dover said that a big focus for his team is to represent empathy and helpfulness. They serve as university ambassadors, assisting students, prospective students, faculty, and others with an assortment of campus issues. Right now they are called “specialists,” but that may not stick. “While the name specialist implies empowerment, we’re still figuring out if it’s the right title,” he said.

Customer service heavyweight Zappos calls its staff “Zapponians,” to reflect the company’s stellar reputation. Transparent BPO refers to its front-line employees as “customer service heroes.” The term hero is meant to reinforce that “our agents are on the front line engaging with our clients’ customers every day, so we try our best to make them feel special,” a company representative replied on Twitter.

TTEC considers its front-line staff to be brand ambassadors. This term illustrates that the company recruits, hires, and trains people to act on behalf of clients as an extension of the brand they represent. They are encouraged to advocate for clients and their customers.

TTEC also prefers to call employees “associates” rather than agents. According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, the definition of “agent” is simply “one who is authorized to act for or in the place of another.” This lacks the depth that front-line staff have and exert in a customer-driven environment. TTEC’s perspective is that customer-facing employees should have titles that define their role as professional, valued associates with empathy, knowledge, and a defined career path.

While it may seem like a trivial issue, a job title does matter. Research from the University of Pennsylvania and London Business School found that self-reflective job titles—in which employees relate their title to their work and values—"can be important vehicles for identity expression and stress reduction.” In the customer contact field, employee well-being and morale are key success drivers that correlate to strong retention levels and overall cost savings in the long run.

As you think about your own contact center staff, what values do you want them to reflect as they interact with customers? Maybe a job title change can help turn a customer-focused vision into reality.