The modern contact center is a comprehensive customer experience (CX) hub, built to ensure customer satisfaction and help businesses thrive in a digital age.
It is an omnichannel environment designed to align conversations across channels, including social media, mobile chat, and video. This flexibility empowers modern consumers to access the information and support they need, wherever and whenever they want.
Contact centers are also becoming smarter, as leaders are now thinking about how to best use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to deliver better service and engagement as part of the CX in our increasingly digital world.
But the best contact centers are the ones that make it easy for humans to solve human problems. Even with the massive leaps in technology over the last decade, the beating heart of any contact center is still the agents on the front lines interacting with customers every day.
To attract and retain the best talent, who will in turn delight customers, contact centers must continue to evolve. Part of that evolution is finding the right mix of automation and human interaction to provide the best possible experience for customers. As trends like AI and chatbots become more prevalent, leaders will need to think outside the box (or cubicle) to stay ahead of the competition.
The Rise of the Remote Contact Center
Let’s face it, remote and hybrid working are here to stay. A recent report from McKinsey indicates that 58% of job holders have the option to work remotely. And according to Gartner, investments in public cloud services could reach nearly $600 billion in 2023. These two statistics are closely related, as the ability to effectively work remotely is dependent on a strong cloud infrastructure.
Forward-looking contact centers are embracing remote work for a variety of reasons. With today’s cloud communication technology, remote agents can work from virtually anywhere.
The most immediate and ongoing benefit of a remote contact center model is that companies can provide 24/7 support by employing agents in different time zones.
This is not only great for customers, but it mitigates business risk as well. In the event of a major storm, power failure, or similar business interruption, having a decentralized workforce working within a cloud environment means that someone will always be online and available.
Many traditional contact centers are based in major metropolitan areas where competition is high. But by not requiring agents to report to offices, companies have access to a much deeper talent pool.
Hiring remote agents allows companies to bring in great talent from outside of their geographic “bubble” rather than hoarding economic opportunity into a handful of geographies with costly housing markets. It also eliminates commuting costs as a recruitment restraint: the lower the wages the shorter the distance individuals can—and will—travel.
The shift to a remote contact center model provides an opportunity for employers to hire candidates who were previously out of reach.
In the past, companies have established physical contact centers in smaller labor markets to branch out from the highly competitive metropolitan markets.
However, when operations need to be scaled back, or when the talent pool starts to dry up in smaller markets, these centers are closed. This creates a bad situation for everyone involved, as the remaining employees are pushed out of their jobs and the company incurs negative publicity for eliminating opportunities in those markets.
Removing geographic and time constraints means employers can cast a wider net for qualified candidates – a compelling solution to diversifying their workforce. And moving to a remote model removes the burden of establishing and maintaining a contact center facility in a desired labor market.
With this model, companies can spread opportunities to a variety of markets, ensuring they can find the specific talent they need. This has the added benefit of creating economic opportunity in underserved communities by providing work opportunities that would not otherwise be available to them, without limits. It’s a win/win.
Recruiting the Best Talent Requires an Open Mind
Despite the employment market cooling off, contact center agents and other customer-facing staff are still in high demand.
And while expanding the geographic reach of talent acquisition improves the odds of finding qualified candidates, employers can make the available talent pool deeper still by hiring more marginalized workers.
Veterans, people with disabilities, and those who are formerly incarcerated are groups that very often struggle to find employment.
Formerly incarcerated people in particular face staggeringly high rates of unemployment, and women are disproportionately affected by the stigma of incarceration. Formerly incarcerated Black and Hispanic women also have the highest unemployment rates compared to all other groups.
Many with criminal records are overlooked for open roles because of how our society views them rather than lacking the qualifications to succeed in those roles. By ignoring this population, companies are cheating themselves out of talented and motivated employees.
A study from the Kellogg School of Management examined the performance of formerly incarcerated workers in contact center and telesales jobs. They found that there was no difference in job performance between formerly incarcerated employees and other employees.
What’s more, employees with a criminal record stayed in their roles longer and were far less likely to quit. And we know that minimizing agent attrition is critical for any contact center because high agent turnover leads to disruptions and a poor CX.
My company also has data from the Arizona State University’s Seidman Research Institute that shows the social, fiscal, and economic impact of our second-chances business model over the last 25 years. Results reveal that of the more than 3,500 women who have graduated our program, just 5.4% have been re-convicted. Second-chance investments work!
And, when we are worried (and rightly so) about crime and safety, shouldn’t we do what we can to help those who want to become productive members of our society? Wouldn’t this be also a multi-win for everyone?
That’s why savvy leaders should be open minded about hiring contact center employees with criminal records. Having agents who can perform consistently, and who will stick around longer represents a strong competitive advantage. It also strengthens our communities as providing meaningful opportunities to more people helps reduce crime.
Humans Solve Human Problems
Adopting new technology is great for keeping your business ahead of the competition. However, you will fall short if you do not listen to your customers and agents and consider their perspectives. The key to keeping the human touch in your contact center is to ensure people and technology work in sync.
When customers reach out to businesses, an agent’s emotional awareness can make all the difference between a customer having a positive or a negative experience.
While AI and chatbots are beginning to learn how to recognize customer sentiment, they still lack the empathy and understanding to meaningfully respond. At least for now, only a human can determine how a customer is feeling and adjust their messages accordingly. And when customers have a good experience, they’ll associate it with a positive feeling, promoting trust.
Caring about both employees and customers should be a core part of your business model because the key to creating an excellent contact center customer experience is to build meaningful connections. To do that, agents must be engaged and empowered with the tools, training, and resources to effectively meet customers’ needs.
It’s important to remember that technology in the contact center is a tool; one that is meant to allow agents to dedicate more time to customers. Chatbots, IVR systems, and self-service portals can handle much of what customers need, but at the end of the day, authentic human connection is what drives true customer loyalty.