CSRs Should Play Tic-Tac-Toe, Not Chess

One reason I joined Pega (a week ago!) is my passion for customer service – I love finding better ways to help people get what they want. I spent the last few years at Bullhorn giving recruiters a CRM system so they could help job seekers find their next opportunity. Prior to that, I helped Nuance’s contact center clients get their customers to the right place in otherwise complicated and often frustrating Interactive Voice Response (IVR) automation systems. Now, I’m looking forward to continuing that journey by helping customers get what they need from Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) on the other side of the equation.

You’d think that’d be easy since IVRs have set the bar so low. IVRs have a notoriously bad reputation of being no more than a frustrating, time-consuming obstacle to overcome before speaking to a human. Worse, IVRs are often not up to date – despite the overused “Please listen carefully as our options have changed” prompt – which means many consumers zero-out as quickly as possible so they can speak to a live person. After all, your best customer service comes from agents, right?

Unfortunately, I’ve found that for many organizations, the story over the last decade hasn’t changed much:

  • Consumers still aren’t satisfied with how contact center CSRs handle their questions. 
  • Consumer technology is evolving too fast for most contact centers (and their CSRs) to keep up.
  • Contact center managers still fight daily with metrics like call handle times and CSR efficiency.
  • Very few contact centers can engage customers across their channels of choice. In other words, they can’t start with a mobile interaction and finish with a phone call.

Fortunately, something has changed: awareness of the problem. A decade ago, contact center executives and managers were just waking up to these challenges. Now they understand all too well the trends that define a good customer experience. They see the dangers of “siloed” channels that don’t share information about a consumer’s problem. They know they need a better answer for mobile, chat, and Web. Many recognize the concept of a “digital enterprise.” And, they realize that they’re not there yet.

To give their CSRs the power to better engage customers, contact centers should take a lesson from their IVRs, and arm them with specific, explicit guidance for their interactions. One reason CSRs suffer through months of onboarding time is that they have so much to learn: how to log into 12 apps, how to navigate 18 different windows, which workarounds they need, and when… oh, and by the way, can you juggle all this without leaving any dead air for the caller? And hurry up, we’re on a clock!

Too many contact centers are training their CSRs to play chess. CSRs manage multiple puzzle pieces, analyze each situation anew, and try to come up with a solution under the pressures of time. And, if they’re good at it, they might even learn how to empathize with customers and deliver a positive experience! Meanwhile, Pega clients can focus on helping the customer, because these organizations’ CSRs are playing tic-tac-toe. If a caller moves here, say this. If a customer’s IM says this, send that.

The best IVR systems don’t think; they follow business rules set by the specific organization, guide the caller to an answer, and always know what to say next. Why not help your agents do the same?

And that’s why I’ve joined Pega – to help customer service organizations better engage with their customers by simplifying the ever-changing tasks before their CSRs. I look forward to helping yours.


Today’s CRM technologies are an epic fail when it comes to consistent customer service. Discover a better way: download the Top 5 Trends in Customer Service Innovation eBook.