Preparing for the Squeeze: How Wages Will Impact Contact Center Operations This Holiday Season

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Preparing for the Squeeze: How Wages Will Impact Contact Center Operations This Holiday Season

/ Operations, People, Hiring
Preparing for the Squeeze: How Wages Will Impact Contact Center Operations This Holiday Season

Strategies to retain top talent during the holidays and beyond.

One of the biggest challenges U.S. contact centers face this holiday season is the current labor shortage. Along with retailers, contact centers experience an influx of seasonal workers leading up to and during the holiday rush, and it’s unclear whether they can fill the positions they need to meet holiday demands, especially as the advent of “smart” shopping experiences (via mobile apps, chatbots, voice assistants and more) are poised to send online orders shooting through the roof this year.

What’s more, U.S. contact centers are already feeling the squeeze between rising consumer confidence and a building pressure to increase wages, which have remained largely stagnant (with a year-over-year growth rate of 2% to 3% since the beginning of 2013) despite the strong labor market. Due to the consistently low unemployment rate, and with 18 states increasing the minimum wage in 2018, companies are finding they must offer a bump in pay if they want to win top talent and beat out competitors.

So, how can contact centers win the top talent they need to reach their holiday and end-of-year goals? The following are three tech-driven strategies that centers can leverage to skill up workers, improve operational efficiencies, and secure and retain top talent through the holiday season.

Robots Can Help

While many fear the rise of robots, or artificial intelligence (AI), will end employment as we know it, the fact is that AI-powered “agent assistants” can be pivotal to streamlining customer service interactions—especially during the holiday season. McDonald’s, as one example, introduced self-ordering kiosks and table service in the U.S. in 2018. This strategy enables McDonald’s to fill in labor gaps while allowing the company to retain staff by redeploying their skills (delivering food instead of placing orders).

Whether at home or in-store, the beauty of bots is that they help mitigate rising contact volumes by serving recommended content based on optimal paths to resolution. Customer-facing automation in the form of chat and voice bots are continuing to improve in their ability to automate part of a customer’s journey and, as a result, automated agents are increasingly driving higher resolution numbers.

What’s more, the implementation of digital assistants gives live agents the time and ability to address more complex customer needs with greater expediency. For example, while robots handle questions related to product pricing and inventory, live agents are answering questions related to broken devices, lost packages and slow delivery times—and with the empathy and emotional intelligence that robots cannot emulate.

Finally, digital assistants do more than address basic customer questions and complete menial tasks—they alleviate some of the pressure and call volumes that live agents work against daily. This ultimately helps to create a more relaxed workplace environment during this busy season. As a result, contact centers that invest in AI agents to supplement their human agents will benefit from a happier, more productive workforce.

Robots Mean Reskilling, Not Replacement

To reiterate, AI assistants are not synonymous with the robot apocalypse. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum’s “2018 Future of Jobs Report,” the rise of robots and AI are forecasted to create more jobs (an estimated 133 million new jobs by 2022) than displace them (an estimated 75 million by 2025).

It might seem counterintuitive, but contact centers need to prepare for this seemingly juxtaposed scenario by skilling up agents to work alongside these technological innovations to stay competitive far into the future. To do this, strategic training programs must be designed and deployed with agility in mind. In other words, the technology and social platforms driving CX interactions today might not be relevant 10 years from now, so contact centers must ensure that continuous learning is a core component of an employee’s benefits package.

Additionally, as contact center positions become increasingly remote—enabling agents to work from home and set their own hours—contact centers should consider investing in training solutions that promote flexibility as well, whether it’s Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that can be customized to accommodate different learning styles, certifications that can be completed in an employee’s own time and outside of a traditional classroom environment or social hubs that encourage community-based learning, via platforms like Facebook or channels like Slack.

Make Pay Personal

Today’s workforce seeks not only continuous learning and flexible work options, but personalized compensation packages as well. To win talent amid the labor shortage and potentially retain workers once the holidays are over, contact centers need to recognize the critical role compensation plays in maintaining worker happiness.

It’s also important for leaders to understand that personalized compensation inherently means “pay beyond salary.” Through the application of AI and predictive analytics, contact centers can ascertain how and when they should motivate employees to boost performance, while meeting workers’ individual financial needs. For example, a millennial employee who is exhibiting low engagement might be incentivized to improve performance if they are offered a cash bonus for the number of customer resolutions they hit in a given week. Alternatively, a baby boomer who has worked a stretch of long hours might appreciate more PTO once the holiday rush is over.

The bottom line is that pay pays. Contact centers that consider the unique needs and expectations of their employees when it comes to compensation will benefit from a loyal and motivated workforce during the holidays and beyond.

The holidays can be a stressful time for consumers and contact center agents alike. By providing employees with digital assistants to supplement and streamline their workload, the skills they need to work alongside AI-powered tech in the first place and the personalized compensation they deserve, contact centers will find themselves armed with an engaged and productive employee base to tackle the busy holiday season

Ben Bekhor

Ben Bekhor

Ben Bekhor serves as VP, Human Resources, Americas for Sitel Group, a leader in the delivery of traditional and transformational customer experience management, or business process outsourcing (BPO). Bekhor oversees all aspects of HR operations for the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua and Colombia.