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How to Engage and Empower the New Contact Center Workforce

How to Engage and Empower the New Contact Center Workforce

/ People, Performance Management, People management
How to Engage and Empower the New Contact Center Workforce

Principles and tools to maximize the strengths of your team.

Engaged and empowered employees are an organization’s most valuable asset. It’s been proven that they often try harder at work and are more committed to helping organizations succeed. Several research studies provide the same conclusive studies:

In 2012, Gallup researchers conducted an extensive study across 49,928 workgroups and nearly 1.4 million employees around the world. They found that departments above the top quartile in employee engagement outperformed departments below the bottom quartile by 10% on customer ratings, 22% in profitability and 21% in productivity. (Gallup, “How Employee Engagement Drives Growth,” June 20, 2013; http://bit.ly/2dSqoeb )

In 2015, Watermark Consulting compared the performance of “employee experience leaders” based on Great Place to Work findings with the S&P 500. From 1997 to 2014, employee experience leaders outperformed the broader stock market, generating an annualized return that was nearly double that of the S&P 500 Index (11.1% compared with 6.5%). (Watermark Consulting, “The 2015 Customer Experience ROI Study”; http://bit.ly/2e948y6 )

In 2015, Aon Hewitt published its global employee engagement trends report based on over 1,000 organizations around the world and reiterated its prior claim that a 5% increase in employee engagement is linked to a 3% increase in revenue growth the subsequent year. (Aon Hewitt, “2015 Trends in Global Employee Engagement”; http://aon.io/2dGFllJ )

Today, organizations are changing workforce management operational philosophies and practices to address a confluence of factors driving the need for employee and agent engagement initiatives. These themes include the following:

  • Contact centers are experiencing an evolution spurred by changes including the needs of the millennial generation, which for the first time in 2016 dominate the U.S. workforce.
  • The rise of the flexible “sharing economy” is another consideration. This is partly driven by Lyft, Uber, guru.com , freelance.com , elance.com and others, where millennials are a fast-growing segment.
  • An increasing number of home-based contact center agents presents unique management and security challenges.
  • The traditional contact center is transforming into a customer engagement center (CEC), where it’s considered a strategic area of the business versus being viewed as an afterthought or a cost center.

These factors are altering the way we have to manage the “new” contact center workforce.

The Millennial Workforce and the New Customer Engagement Center

To create an efficient customer engagement center, it’s important to first fully understand your employees, as they are your most valuable asset and brand champions. What generation hasn’t said of the upcoming generation, “Kids these days…” followed by exasperation over music, politics, work ethic or any number of characteristics? But millennials together with the simultaneous explosion of today’s technology are transforming the workforce, buying patterns, product and content delivery, and customer experience as a whole.

Millennials demand greater autonomy and flexibility, especially in terms of the hours they work. They seek and demand mobile access to functionality, visibility/transparency of operations and management, and the ability to self-manage. They also place a higher priority on finding better work-life balance than previous generations. Freelancers and home-based agents desire flexible and short schedules, where they can select and work around other activities in their daily lives.

Interestingly, the transformation of the contact center to the customer engagement center has partially been catered to and driven by millennials. These new employees consider the CEC a career path, whereas in the past it’s always been viewed as a temporary position and stepping stone to the next best thing. More highly educated workers fit into the changing model of organizations wanting top-notch customer experience, strategic and business insight out of the CEC. With increasing number of routine transactions being handled via self-service, more complex, sensitive and business critical interactions have to now be handled by agents, opening up new opportunities for more challenging work than previously available. This has led to organizations seeking people who want a career path and wanting to retain them longer.

Considerations to Transform Management for Today’s Employee Experience

To foster high-performing employees that deliver outstanding customer experience and can become strategic assets to the overall organization, engagement and empowerment must go hand in hand.

The following provides principles and tools that can be put into place to ensure that you’re maximizing the strengths of your team.

Workforce Management

  • Treat agents as individuals. Consider and recognize each agent’s skills, proficiencies and preferences of when they want to work, when they want time off and when they can take on overtime. Help them achieve work-life balance.
  • Give agents visibility into when the center is over understaffed as it pertains to their skills. Allow them to flexibly pick up voluntary time off and or overtime in short 15-minute interval increments. This provides a dual benefit—flexibility for the employee to self-manage their schedules and the ability for the CEC to meet service levels.
  • Empower agents to self-police adherence with their individual views of actual activities against their scheduled activities.
  • Give agents mobile tools to access schedule and performance information, and request time-off or swap shifts from anywhere using their mobile devices.

Performance Management, Gamification, Coaching and eLearning

  • Empower agents to self-manage their performance. Maintain transparency in terms of KPIs used to measure performance and how they are calculated. Provide employees with visibility into their own performance against goals and peer groups to create a better understanding of how their behaviors impact the organization’s bottom line.
  • Allow agents to enhance their skills in a targeted manner with performance-driven coaching and eLearning. Provide employees with ownership of their own coaching by enabling them to fully participate in the quality evaluation process.
  • Make the performance improvement and management process fun and more engaging by applying gaming principles to conform to the nature of the millennial generation.

Quality Management

  • Allow agents to self-evaluate their interaction handling capabilities for a 360-degree evaluation. This gives them some ownership of their own reviews by enabling full participation. As such, employees will feel more connected to the results of the regular quality evaluations by providing their own feedback and commentary on the process.

Employee Desktop, Knowledge Management and Personalized Guidance

  • Make agents’ jobs easier by consolidating the number of applications and screens they need to complete an interaction. User interfaces that provide a modern, dynamic and engaging user experience that are tailored to suit individual working styles can help ensure employees are more efficient and productive.
  • Provide consistent and contextual knowledge assets to enable employees to expeditiously handle interactions without raising customer ire. This helps deliver better customer experience without unnecessary holds. The rise in self-service often causes more difficult calls to enter the contact center, increasing the challenges of properly training an agent with all the information necessary to answer customer questions.

Empowered Workforce Use Cases

Working with many organizations, one example came to mind. A U.S. insurance provider recognized their employees’ need for schedule flexibility. Instead of taking a broad approach, they instead looked at a phased and creative one to address these concerns—all while balancing the operational and customer-centric needs of the organization. Their previous culture and practice was one of fixed shifts requiring all employees to report to work at the same time. It was neither accommodating to the employees, nor did it enable the organization to get the most from their software investment.

The organization began the process of change by conducting “what if” scenarios to figure out how many agents needed to be flexible. They determined that in the initial phase, they would need 18% of the staff to be flexible. So they created an “Elite Flex Team.” To create a feeling of exclusivity, and bring out the highest level of engagement, employees had to qualify and opt-in to be part of the Elite Flex Team. Employees who qualified were paid more. The combination of employee flexibility and variable schedules delivered annual net savings of $1,540,000 in staffing costs, after $60,000 in additional wages in a 400-seat center.

In another example, an industrial supply company recently addressed the problem many organizations face, of unrelentingly high agent attrition rates. Some of the company’s centers have tested employee-driven scheduling practices where a program of service level education, agent surveys and out-of-the-box thinking have improved service levels while dramatically reducing agent schedule dissatisfaction by letting agents design their own custom schedule.

This company used eLearning to educate staff on service level problem intervals and shifts. With staff armed with this knowledge, the company conducted enterprise feedback management surveys to identify the employees’ willingness to consider changes in their schedules, and also consider their “desired” schedules. Then the workforce management team inputted the new shifts, ran a set of schedules and determined the appropriate fit of company and employee needs. There were limited negotiations with individual staff as new schedule assignments were made. Upon implementation, service levels increased and attrition dropped to near zero. Meeting employee requirements and preferences resulted in higher engagement, and the lower attrition rate reduced recruitment and training expenses.

These examples illustrate that the benefits of an empowered workforce go well beyond making the call center a better place to work. Employee empowerment can help lead to greater collaboration, productivity gains and improved performance. Potential added benefits include improved customer responsiveness, greater employee motivation and satisfaction, lower employee stress levels, higher employee skill proficiency, and better time management for managers. The most competitive organizations understand how these benefits are improving overall organization performance and competition and as such, are creating environments where the workforce is empowered to succeed.


Rajeev Venkat

As Senior Director of Solutions Marketing at Verint, Rajeev Venkat manages the company’s workforce optimization and customer analytics software. He has more than 20 years of experience creating solutions that have helped customers succeed in their customer engagement initiatives.

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