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Contact Center Skills and Compensation Trends

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Contact Center Skills and Compensation Trends

/ Operations, Cost Management, People management
Contact Center Skills and Compensation Trends

A changing environment calls for expanding skills and hitting performance targets.

Contact centers are in the midst of significant strategic and technological changes that will have a lasting impact on the workforce. The explosion of digital channels, tech-savvy mobile consumers willing to air their grievances before a global audience, an emphasis on customer experience strategy in the board room—these challenges contribute to an increasingly complex environment.

Meanwhile, organizations looking to leverage customer experience to build competitive advantage are shifting their facilities away from offshore outsourcing. “The trend across multiple industry verticals has been a reshoring of contact center volume in an effort to provide a higher level of customer satisfaction,” says Connie Caroli, president of TeleManagement Search, a national executive recruitment firm specializing in call center, customer service and telesales.

All of these changes are translating into expanding skill sets across functions, as well as a tighter focus on employee- and customer-centric performance metrics.

Evolving Roles Across Contact Center Functions

How has the contact center leadership role transformed to meet today’s challenges? “Organizations are really looking for the total package when hiring contact center leaders,” says Caroli. “In many cases, companies look for a leader with a strong strategic and bottomline focus who also knows the contact center on a granular level—someone with the tactical strength to back up the strategic focus.

“There is also an ever-increasing emphasis on strong analytical skills—the ability to massage contact center data and the reports generated by the technology in place,” she adds. “Companies look for leaders who can readily discern what the numbers indicate, and most importantly, develop and direct the implementation of effective action plans and process improvement plans designed to address gaps in performance and increase bottomline profitability.”

Steve Morrell agrees: “It’s not just about calls taken any more,” he says. “Contact center management will have to wear many new hats—traditional operational and HR, of course, but also customer experience and corporate strategy, and be able to talk with the IT people about how best to achieve business goals in an omnichannel world.” Morrell is managing partner for industry analyst firm ContactBabel, which publishes The U.S. Contact Center

HR & Operational Benchmarking Report.

On the front lines, companies are recognizing the need to hire agents with broader skills who can thrive in a multichannel environment, and who have the problem-solving capability to handle highly complex calls. “The calls being received now are on average more challenging,” says Morrell. “They have increased in duration from 328 seconds to 367 seconds since 2007 for service calls, and from 406 seconds to 467 seconds for sales, suggesting more complex issues and a greater focus on customer experience, cross-selling and upselling, rather than maximizing call throughput. As such, skills and capabilities of agents will have to increase.”

While it hasn’t happened overnight, there has been a continuing trend toward hiring frontline candidates who are more well-rounded—individuals who have the ability to communicate effectively on multiple mediums, who have writing skills in addition to verbal skills, and the ability to become a universal agent, says Dan Campbell, CEO of Hire Dynamics, a staffing provider specializing in contact centers.

At the frontline supervisor level, however, there has been more visible progress, he points out. “The training and development of supervisors has become more intentional, whereas in the past it has been lacking. We’ve seen more focus on ensuring that there is development versus just promoting an individual,” he says. “For supervisors, there is also much more accountability for their team’s customer experience performance than for speed or efficiency metrics.”

Management Base Pay Flat, But an Increase in Bonus Potential

Despite the growing significance placed on analytics skills and a multichannel orientation for contact center leadership, as well as high demand for management and senior-level executives due to reshoring, findings from TeleManagement Search’s 2016 annual salary report revealed that base salaries for these functions have remained relatively flat, says Caroli.

However, she notes that there has been an increase in overall pay due to gains in variable compensation. “From the searches we have been asked to conduct and the thousands of discussions we have with contact center executives each year, we’ve noticed that bonus potential tied directly to center performance has been escalating,” she says. “Performance measures can vary widely by company and can include sales, upsell and/or cross-sell, lead conversion, customer retention numbers, customer satisfaction scores, and employee satisfaction, engagement and retention scores among others. So the increase in total comp is going to call center executives who effectively manage to meet KPI goals.”

Caroli has been seeing bonus potentials of 15% to 20%, on average, for managers, and 25% to 30% at the director and VP level. “Once upon a time directors were capped at a 20% bonus potential. It’s more in the 30% to 35% range at a lot of organizations these days,” she says. “But those bonuses are tied directly to contact center performance, whether it’s sales, lead conversion, customer retention or satisfaction scores. More often, it is tied to employee satisfaction and engagement scores—especially since unemployment has been plummeting and there is a real competition for agents. “

Upward Pressure on Frontline Agent Pay

The tightening job market and an increase in the minimum wage have contributed to upward pressure on agent pay. In the last 12 to 18 months, more companies have been raising pay rates by 5%, versus the 2% to 3% cost-of-living increases that have become the norm for the past few years, says Campbell. Starting pay for entry-level agents is, on average, $12 an hour, and for universal agents, it’s closer to $15 an hour, he notes.

ContactBabel’s research confirms the upward trend. “New agent salaries have floated around the $26,000 to $27,000 mark from 2007 to 2012. 2013 saw a big jump to almost $29,000, which dropped back to $27,500 in 2014, which could have suggested a statistical blip. However, 2015’s figure of over $30,000 suggests that there may well be an actual increase. There is a similar pattern in salaries for experienced agents (i.e., more than two years’ experience) and for team leaders,” says Morrell.

While more contact centers are offering performance-based bonuses and incentives for frontline staff, ContactBabel’s research found a troubling discrepancy between the characteristic that contact centers said that they encouraged the most (i.e., high customer satisfaction and feedback scores), and the achievement that is most rewarded (operational metrics, such as short handle time). (See the table above.)

Supervisors Rewarded for Agent Engagement and Retention

Organizations have recognized the critical role that frontline supervisors play in employee retention. More centers are now emphasizing this important link by tying supervisor performance to their team’s engagement and retention.

In fact, while supervisor base pay has remained relatively flat, similar to upper-level management salaries, there has been an increase in companies rewarding supervisors with bonuses tied to agent productivity, engagement and retention.

“Supervisors are the key to agent productivity, satisfaction and engagement,” Caroli says. “This first level of management is critical to contact center success, especially controlling agent turnover. As the unemployment rate continues to decrease and the minimum wage continues to increase, increasing agent engagement and decreasing agent turnover are the first building blocks to success and profitability.”

Contact Center Salary Resources

2016 Contact Center TeleSales and Customer Service National Salary Guide

TeleManagement Search’s annual Salary Guide provides up-to-date information on Contact Center, Telesales and Customer Service base salary national averages and information on regional variances, as well as brief job descriptions for 25 executive and management-level positions in the contact center industry. The Salary Guide costs $45, and is available from www.tmrecruiters.com .

TMS is offering to send a free PDF of the Salary Guide to Pipeline readers. To receive a copy, please email your request to lisa@tmrecruiters.com along with the following information: name, title, company, state/zip code and email address.

The US Contact Center HR and Operational Benchmarking Report

ContactBabel’s U.S. Contact Center HR & Operational Benchmarking Report provides HR benchmarking for salaries, bonuses, attrition, absence and recruitment. The research is segmented by vertical markets, size bands, sales service and inbound outbound. The report costs $495, and can be ordered online ( http://www.contactbabel.com/purchase.cfm ) or via email ( info@contactbabel.com ).

Readers who participate in the 2016 survey will receive a free copy of the 2016 report. (The deadline for research is April 29, 2016.) To participate, visit http://fluidsurveys.com/s/USDMG2016/  

Susan Hash

Susan Hash

Susan Hash is the Editor of Contact Center Pipeline magazine and the Pipeline blog. She is a veteran business journalist with 25 years of specialized experience writing about customer care and contact centers.

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