How to prevent cherry-picking in your customer service team

06 June 2018 by Anita Matthews

Prevent customer service agents from cherry-picking to create a more productive team

We all tend to prefer working on things we know and understand. It’s human nature. When faced with the choice of an easy-to-answer question or a seemingly unfathomable riddle, we’ll usually take the easy choice. It makes perfect sense.

Except when you’re dealing with customers. Then you need to be able to offer a high quality consistent service for all types of enquiries, not just the easy ones.

If difficult messages are ignored, the customer is left waiting and unlikely to have a good experience.

Allowing agents to choose their favourite message rather than the one that is highest priority is known as cherry-picking and it can have a very negative effect on the brand experience and overall satisfaction levels.

How can you tell if it’s happening in your customer service team?
  • Subject matter experts - Some agents may seek to expand their skills in one particular subject matter over others. Other members in the team may reinforce this by passing them enquiries that relate to that particular subject rather than sharing the knowledge across the team.
  • Check agent response times - Usually this should be fairly consistent across the team. If you have someone with a much faster response time, it could be that they are selecting more easy messages rather than taking the most urgent one from the queue.
  • Time to first reply – the tricky looking messages will most likely have first reply times outside your normal range, as they’ll be continually skipped over in favour of easier looking messages.
  • Tag incoming messages – then check if team members are handing a range of different types of enquiries.
Why do agents cherry-pick?

Usually it’s because people want to get more done and be more productive. Often, they genuinely believe they are helping, by clearing out ‘easy’ customer service messages quickly. Other common motivations can include:

  • System limitations - agents may feel their current customer service tool or process doesn’t allow them to be productive, so they are trying to find a ‘better way’.
  • Competitiveness – they want to the top performer and so don’t want to take up precious time on messages that take longer to solve.
  • Skillset – they may be reluctant or struggle to build the new skills needed to take on a new challenge or an area unfamiliar to them.
How can you resolve cherry-picking behaviour?

Instead of trying to mandate and control the behaviour, look at the reasons behind it.  If you can solve these, you can fix the issue and create a more productive team.  Here’s a few ways to manage social customer service cherry-picking:

  • Last agent routing – use a social customer service tool which enables you to automatically assign messages to the last agent who dealt with the customer. This removes the temptation for another team member to step in.
  • SLA distribution – some social customer platforms such as Sentiment enable you to choose to prioritise messages which are approaching SLA. The system finds available agents and checks their user permissions in real-time.  It then pushes priority messages to any available agents.  This ensures agents always have to deal with the highest priority messages first and don’t get to pick whichever message they want.
  • Training – ensure agents receive regular training and are briefed on how to handle different kinds of messages. Use real life examples to help illustrate processes and make sure there is a clear escalation procedure if agents need further guidance or assistance. Encourage more experienced agents to work with newer team members so they can see how to go about resolving more complex issues and then do it for themselves.  See our agent training guide for more on this.
  • Encourage team collaboration – rewarding individual agent performance can inadvertently incentivise them to pick quick and easy messages to solve. Measuring team performance as a whole will encourage agents to work together and support each other.  It also encourages knowledge sharing and helps on-board new team members more quickly.

Find out how Sentiment’s innovative routing engine can help you improve the efficiency of your social customer care and reduce cherry-picking.

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Tags: social agent productivity, digital customer service

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