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Put on Your Skates! The Business/Employment Climate is Changing

Put on Your Skates! The Business/Employment Climate is Changing

/ Operations, Workforce Management, Strategy
Put on Your Skates! The Business/Employment Climate is Changing

Flexible schedules, a performance mindset, KMSes, and career pathing can best tap contact center agent talent.

Employees aren’t going back to the way it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. And as the business climate continues to change, companies are reevaluating their cultures, how they hire and manage, and how they utilize technology.

In some companies, however, there seems to be an impasse. The results? Higher attrition, higher sourcing and recruiting costs, greater training costs, and exhausted teams in every department.

So companies need to forget the box altogether and look at what will really get them traction to move forward.

Leaders understand how an employee or gig worker feels will impact the customer experience (CX), either negatively or positively, but struggle with creative strategies that gain enough traction to make a positive impact.

The Reality and Keys to Success

We all hear that “leaders need to think outside the box.” The reality is that the box keeps moving. So companies need to forget the box altogether and look at what really will get them traction to move forward.

Perhaps instead of the box, leaders need to put on skates. Being nimble can help companies respond quickly to these changing business and yes employment climates.

The first key to skating ahead is to understand what employees feel and why they feel it. The second key is for leadership to not be steeped in fear and indecision.

Here are four areas where companies can evolve and make changes that will positively impact their organizations.

1. What if schedules were truly flexible?

Both employees and gig workers want schedules to be flexible. They want to work when and where they want, and they desire a balanced life.

...employees...want the company to provide a process where they can have choice in schedules and balance in their lives.

Historically, in the contact center industry, there have been prearranged shifts that pigeonhole workers. That doesn’t work anymore.

  • If someone likes a shift, but wants a different day off, why can’t we accommodate them?
  • If someone wants to take a 60-minute lunch, why won’t that work?
  • If someone wants to come in late on Wednesday so they can drop their child off for an after-school activity, why can’t we make that happen?
  • If someone wants to work from home, or have a hybrid schedule, why can’t we support that?

Today’s employees want choices. They want the company to provide a process where they can have choice in schedules and balance in their lives.

First, employers need to consider taking on the mantra, “It’s not if but how we figure this out.” With all the robust WFM systems in the marketplace, are leaders utilizing the capabilities these systems offer? Does the WFM team utilize the enhancements on their platform?

Some companies understand that it’s not if but how they need to figure it out. A great resource is tapping into the employee base. Ask them what they need and then task the WFM team with making that happen.

And if the WFM team needs assistance with understanding all the features of their system, hire a cutting-edge consultant that can step in to help with a strategic and tactical plan. Bring in experts to train the WFM team on the system.

2. Leveraging employee choice

Once you accept the how, then it’s about figuring out how to leverage employees’ scheduling choices and wishes. However, it must be a two-way street so front-line workers understand the strategies. Leveraging the schedule to give employees what they want while at the same time achieving what is important to the company is a win–win situation.

One idea is to cultivate a “performance-based” organization mindset. What is that? Anything you and the employees want it to be. It could be:

  • Showing up on time, signing up for additional hours, or even staying 15 minutes extra when the queue is really busy.
  • Coming back from their breaks on time.
  • Achieving great CSATs, first call resolution, or helping new people with questions in the chat.

Even helping a new person feel welcome could be a component. Performance-based can incorporate any KPIs or behaviors you want.

As frontline agents deliver those performance-based expectations and hit top-performer status, these workers have options.

If Mary has achieved top-performer status and wants a specific schedule, be creative! If you don’t have that entire shift available, what about offering Mary one day a week in that schedule and her other four days at her normal day/time?

As people quit or get promoted, the WFM team can continue to look at each agent’s preferences. Let’s go back to the example. When another preferred shift becomes available, Mary has the option of two days of her preferred day/shift and three days at her current one. Either way, Mary will feel the company cares about her and her family, and she’s getting the shift she wants in phases.

Mary will continue to show up and perform and will be more enthusiastic. That contributes to the overall positive culture. This strategy takes more effort, communication, and work for the WFM team, but look at Mary and others with top-performer status performing for the customers.

This strategy positively impacts absenteeism, attrition, and performance, all of which help staffing levels, putting less stress on supervisors who are calling people to come in to cover for missed shifts. It’s a win for agents, supervisors, WFM, and the customers, who are served by someone that is happy!

When customer-facing workers feel successful, they feel good about themselves and their jobs.

Frontline agents may want creative schedules so they can go back to school. Micro-shifts and part-time schedules help students and families with children or aging parent responsibilities. Anyone can ask for a schedule change, but they must be at the top-performer status to get one. It puts the power into the agents’ hands!

3. Tapping KMSes to reduce agent anxiety and attrition

As the contact center agent’s world becomes more complicated with demanding customers, more to juggle, and multiple platforms, helping agents do their job easier is another way to help them reduce anxiety and enjoy serving customers.

It can be overwhelming for an agent to learn all the information they need. For a lot of agents, they have trouble finding the information they need at their fingertips. Multiple systems and large depositories of knowledge articles can cause the agent to keep reading and scrolling to find the right information. This adds additional stress for the customer-facing agent and the customer.

A customer service knowledge management system (KMS) that gives answers - and not just information - is critical. Not only can the right system reduce stress for the frontline agent, but finding answers quickly will reduce AHT.

When contact centers implement the right KMSes, they can cut down training times by 50% or more, because agents don’t have to memorize all the information. They just need to know where to find the answers. That reduces agent anxiety. It can also slash budgeted labor dollars for both agents and trainers.

When customer-facing workers feel successful, they feel good about themselves and their jobs. Imagine cutting down on training and nesting times and attrition. Instead of spending time scrolling through article after article to try and find the answer for their customers, new-hire agents find the answers quickly and feel good about their new jobs. Wouldn’t that also contribute to a better CX?

4. Options drive job satisfaction

Workers also want creative career development paths. They want to know the company cares not just about the job they are currently doing but their career. There can be a career path to supervisor, training, QA, nesting, and even business analyst roles.

However, there are usually more people that want to move up or over to another position than there are jobs available. So how do you satisfy the worker’s thirst for something new when there are only so many of those jobs available?

Again, it’s about being creative and believing “It’s not if but how.” What if:

  • An agent that reached top-performance status could have a career development plan that affords them the opportunity to hold a team meeting and put together the email with a synopsis for the contact center newsletter?
  • Agents could learn how to make QA calls and work in QA one day a week?
  • Agents could be floor walkers a few hours a week? What if they could train one module in a new hire class or showcase best practices by having other agents listen and watch them (even virtually) while they take calls?

Career development plans can be creative and offer different opportunities. If you have someone who is numbers-driven, why not let them take an Excel class then export contact center reports and learn to analyze them? Aren’t these all skills that will help them be a better agent, prepare them for a new position, and help the business unit? These workers will discover what they love and what they don’t.

...agents that achieve top-performer status will inspire and motivate others. Companies will reap rewards...

For example, what if you put five of these top-performing agents through a coaching class? What if each of these had one day off the phone to coach the other agents?

If you did that, couldn’t you adjust your team size to be a little larger to keep your labor dollars balanced? Wouldn’t that be a great opportunity for someone that wants to move from supervisor to contact center manager? Isn’t that another way to absorb the cost of these agents having more time off the phones?

“It’s Not If but How” Reaps Tangible Results

There are so many creative ways that career development can be strategized and administered. It may take someone to put together a master schedule, but couldn’t a trained agent do that and be the liaison with the WFM team?

This new strategy of getting rid of the box and putting on those skates to move quickly can help companies be bold to explore new strategies in scheduling, make investments in a customer service KMS, and take a creative, proactive approach to career development. They can reap the rewards of higher employee engagement and satisfaction.

In turn, the agents that achieve top-performer status will inspire and motivate others. Companies will reap rewards in high productivity and a better CX because front-line agents are happier and have the right tools, driving lower attrition.

We need to challenge ourselves as leaders. The business climate demands it. So, let’s put on our skates and make it happen!

Vicki Brackett

Vicki Brackett

Recognized as a subject matter expert on virtual/work-at-home environments, Vicki Brackett ([email protected]) has written for and been interviewed by a wide range of publications and podcasts on creative work-at-home, leadership development, and employee engagement strategies.

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