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Overcoming CX Labor Obstacles

Overcoming CX Labor Obstacles

/ Operations, Strategy
Overcoming CX Labor Obstacles

A leading CX BPO reveals industry secrets.

In restaurant and shop windows across every North American city hastily handwritten signs are appearing saying “The whole world is short-staffed. Please be kind to those who show up.”

And, although service is delivered from office and at-home settings, a staffing shortage in the customer experience (CX) industry also lurks.

In September 2021, U.S. unemployment rates tumbled to 4.8%, practically back to pre-COVID-19 levels. According to Forrester, “For some demographic groups—particularly those lower down the socioeconomic ladder—unemployment rates are lower than some economists imagined possible.”

A simple LinkedIn scan yields 119,000+ “call center representative” jobs advertised in the U.S. and 8,000+ in Canada. Broaden the search to “customer service jobs” and there are another 72,000 jobs unfilled.

Undoubtedly, it is an employee’s market. Businesses of all kinds face what is arguably the greatest gap in history between job vacancies (up 70%) and people looking for work.

And contact centers across the continent are (or soon will be) scrambling to find qualified staff.

Surveying the Labor Landscape

Since COVID-19 restrictions have loosened, many internal contact centers and CX business process outsourcers (BPOs) have experienced lower job fill rates and higher levels of attrition, absenteeism, first-day ghosting, and training dropouts.

Stress is building on the CX employees that remain, leaving even the most loyal staff to question their commitment. But regardless of industry served, lower levels of employee engagement and customer satisfaction are common.

COVID-19 lockdowns affected certain industries more than others. Consumer electronics, telecom, and health and wellness, as examples, boomed as customers stayed home: while the automotive and travel industries softened.

As locked-down customers relied less on in-person transactions, contact centers grew in fundamental importance.

Resilient BPOs, serving a diversified industry and client roster, reassigned employees across accounts, deployed digital solutions, and saw overall revenue growth, even during a rapid shift to work-from-home (WFH) operations.

Many clients are turning to such leading digital CX BPOs to pick up the slack of in-house teams and struggling partners. The demand for the high-performing outsourced talent of these companies that have solved the mysteries of attracting, retaining, and engaging talent in 2021 is burgeoning.

Because in this labor environment, all employers, BPOs and otherwise, must get creative.

Uncovering the Reasons for Your CX Labor Shortage

To address the labor gap it is wise to take stock of why it is happening. Reasons vary, but they include a desire to stay working from home, increasing competition and wage pressures, relocations, early retirements, new career goals, or other shifts driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regardless of whether these ring true in your organization, the key to winning the talent war is to identify the reasons why your workforce, in your region is leaving, has not returned, or is declining offers.

Collecting data is key. Capturing and analyzing data from exit interviews, employee engagement surveys, Glassdoor reviews, and reasons for rejecting job offers may reveal the reasons why the job openings in your organization are going unfilled.

Additionally, getting creative and applying speech analytics to listen to calls between customers and contact center agents to gather data cannot only improve the CX but also the employee experience (EX).

Attracting, Keeping Talent Post-Pandemic

While the labor market is a concern for many business leaders, many digital CX BPOs have had remarkable retention and growth despite COVID-19.

What’s their secret?

1. Intentional recruitment marketing. Filling vacancies now requires a strategy and intentional execution. Posting a job opening and passively waiting for people to apply is unlikely to produce desired, if any, results.

Businesses must invest in recruitment marketing. And it’s not just to amplify a posting or advertise a job: it’s about creating a team dedicated to establishing stronger connections with the employee base and community. It requires working with operations, HR, training, business intelligence, and other departments to build the programs that make a company attractive to new hires.

Gartner observes that “Many companies are already acting to improve their recruiting capabilities, although more must step up to the plate,” noting that Walmart is working with MIT to create custom management courses.

Also, Amazon is investing in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) high schools. Cisco has created a Network Academy. And Tesla is working with Texas colleges and universities to build a work-school vocational program. Connecting with schools and the community, then, are key.

An incentivized employee referral program can yield high quality candidates with a vested interest in working with friends and family. However, ensuring consistency across departments, well-orchestrated internal campaigns using a tracking system, and monitoring effectiveness requires a concerted effort by the recruitment marketing team and operations leaders.

Taking an active versus passive approach to recruitment ensures you are poised to surf the post-pandemic waves.

Taking an active versus passive approach to recruitment ensures you are poised to surf the post-pandemic waves.

2. Personalized EXs. Drive down any commercial street, and you’re likely to see signboards with “Now hiring—$X over minimum wage.” As examples McDonald’s is offering an average 10% increase and Starbucks has extended at least a 5% increase for baristas.

Competing for talent with an ever-increasing pay rate may help with recruitment and retention in the short-term, but it is not sustainable. Pay incentives—like wage increases, sign-on bonuses, and retention bonuses—work only when also using the EX as a differentiator.

Try applying the Herzberg theory of motivation, which posits that certain aspects of the job can lead to dissatisfaction and others that can increase satisfaction. A wage increase, for example, does not mean employees are actually satisfied: it just means they are less dissatisfied. Wage increases must be tied to intrinsic motivators to increase satisfaction and retention.

Flexibility is paramount. One Harvard Business School study quantifies the cost of flexibility and freedom at 17% of an employee’s pay: “For the top 10% of DoorDash drivers…losing flexibility is equivalent to a 17% pay cut…If assigned to deliver meals during specific time blocks, many drivers would likely quit dashing.”

Here’s how to make flexibility happen. Work to enhance the employee value proposition by enabling employees to shape their workweeks. Where client obligations permit, allow your employees to choose their work location (WFH, in-office, or hybrid).

Also, offer the flexibility of how often employees get paid and to select benefits of relevance. To pick the shift lengths and times that work for them. And engage in social and corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities and contests at their discretion.

In short, aim to offer employees an on-demand work environment. The employee is in the driver’s seat. Managers, more than ever, are coaches guiding employees toward success.

Indeed, taking care of employees means they are better prepared to take care of customers. Forrester notes that “Employees without mental health support were twice as likely to report that they were considering a career change.”

With the ongoing collision between supply and demand, 2022 will create more opportunities for employees than ever. If employees who feel supported can choose when/how/where they work, they may be willing to choose your company over another.

Addressing Future Labor Gaps

Expectations have shifted during the pandemic, with our last best experience shaping our expectations for all companies.

Digital-and customer-first companies like Amazon are paving the way, delivering packages within mere hours seamlessly every time, with minimal agent intervention.

Amazon’s strategic “the best service is no service” approach may become more and more common as companies feel the effects of the CX labor shortage firsthand and start to get more creative.

The pandemic has changed how we work. The CX labor shortage is here for the foreseeable future. Forrester even predicts that “The workforce [of the future] will be a mix of full-time employees and people with no formal ties to a company. Workers will move from role to role and across organizational boundaries more freely than ever.”

Overcoming staffing challenges today and in the future requires a proactive, creative, data-based, and digitally driven approach now. It requires clear differentiation.

As experts in cultivating memorable CXs we need to also cultivate meaningful, memorable EXs: using strategy, bots, brains, and creativity.

Ross Duff

Ross Duff

Ross Duff is Senior Vice President of Operations of HGS, a global leader in outsourced business process management services.

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