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Staffing in the Age of Angst

Staffing in the Age of Angst

Staffing in the Age of Angst

How to attract and retain high quality agents in this challenging era.

We now live in “The Age of Angst”: of fear and insecurity, facing a bleak future with social upheavals, pandemics, natural- and human-caused or worsened disasters, and political chaos. All taking place in an uncertain economy amidst rapid [and notably artificial intelligence (AI-driven)] technological change.

So how is the tenor of and the issues in this age impacting the ability of contact centers to recruit and retain agents? For insights, we had virtual conversations with Molly Clark, Managing Director, The Northridge Group, Brent Holland, Founder and CEO, Intelliante, and Mark Pereira, Trainer and On-Site Manager.

Q. What are the top trends and changes that you are seeing in contact center recruiting and retention? What are their drivers?

Molly Clark

Molly Clark:

There are four trends that are driving recruitment and retention in today’s contact center.

First, an increased demand for high-quality agents, specifically with the explosion of cloud-based solutions and omnichannel support. The complexity of customer interactions has increased, creating a need for highly-skilled agents: the result of exceptional training and solid tenure.

Second, a change in demographics as millennials and Gen Z workers enter the workforce looking for options that weren’t previously available in traditional contact centers.

Third, there’s an increase in talent as companies differentiate the customer experience (CX), improving their CX numbers. Organizations that can attract the best talent have a better way to differentiate their brands in the market.

Fourth, and the last one, is the rising rate of labor costs. Contact centers have traditionally been viewed as cost centers, and companies need to flip their ideas of what increased labor costs look like.

Brent Holland

Brent Holland:

Here’s my take, based on my understanding of what is happening.

First, contact centers increasingly use AI and machine learning to streamline hiring processes and identify candidates with the right skills and attributes. These technologies analyze large volumes of data from various sources, such as resumes, assessments, and social media, to identify the candidates most likely to succeed.

Second, data analytics help identify factors contributing to employee turnover, allowing contact centers to implement targeted retention strategies.

Third, centers recognize the importance of creating a positive work environment that fosters employee satisfaction and reduces turnover.

Strategies such as flexible work arrangements, career development opportunities, and recognition programs can improve employee engagement and retention. Additionally, contact centers are reportedly investing in employee wellness programs and mental health support to address the unique challenges and stressors associated with contact center work.

Fourth, attracting employees from diverse backgrounds through targeted recruitment and inclusive workplace policies, such as creating a more inclusive environment, can improve the CX.

Fifth, contact centers are exploring alternative recruitment and retention strategies to address the changing nature of work. Remote and blended work options are reportedly still gaining popularity, even with the return-to-office (RTO) conversations, as they allow contact centers to tap into a larger talent pool and provide employee flexibility to provide a superior business-growing CX.

Moreover, although not necessarily new, more contact centers are experimenting with gig economy models, where individuals can work freelance or contract, providing flexibility for both the contact center and the workers.

Mark Pereira

Mark Pereira:

Here are a few trends I’ve noticed:

  • Experienced agents today are skilled and discerning, carefully choosing their employers.
  • To make informed decisions, agents are turning to social media and to job boards, such as Indeed, for research on companies and job opportunities.
  • In cases where social media provides insufficient information, agents actively seek answers by engaging with call and contact center groups. These inquiries often revolve around the company’s reputation, the interview process, and the specific tasks.

As a result, companies have a unique opportunity to shape the narratives around their recruiting and retention efforts; when companies treat their agents well, their agents become walking talking billboards to attract and retain good talent. Further, when your agents have a referral bonus, they will shout from the rooftops that you’re hiring.

Agents prioritize two key factors when looking for a call or contact center to join. One, decent pay (based on the city and state). Two, the ability to work-from-home (WFH) or a role where they may need to come into the office once a month.

While agents value benefits, work-life balance, and provided equipment, these factors typically come after the top two on their checklist.

“Experienced agents today are skilled and discerning, carefully choosing their employers.” —Mark Pereira

Also, to reduce instances where agents may not attend a video interview due to their lack of technology literacy, recruiters should provide simple and easy-to-follow instructions for using any video platform. This will help agents feel confident and ensure they do not miss out on an opportunity due to technological challenges in our digital age.

Childcare and Staffing

Parents who have young children and who are working and/or taking classes generally need childcare. Here are Brent Holland’s answers to the question: “Are you seeing any effects of reported childcare unaffordability, fewer spaces, mismatch between locations and where workers live on agent recruitment, turnover, and availability?”

“Affordable childcare is vital for contact center agents. When agents cannot find reasonably priced, high-quality care for their children, they are susceptible to higher absenteeism and attrition.

“Research points to four implications of the cost of childcare.

  1. Limited pool of applicants. High childcare costs discourage some people, particularly parents with young children, from seeking employment in contact centers. The result is a smaller applicant pool, making it more difficult to find qualified candidates.
  2. Attracting and retaining parents. Contact centers may be unable to attract and keep parents due to the high burden of childcare expenses. When childcare expenses consume a large portion of take-home pay (e.g., two-thirds or more for lower-paying work, such as in contact centers), parents may prioritize employment options that allow flexible working arrangements that provide childcare benefits.
  3. Increased attrition. Childcare expenses increase attrition rates. Parents may leave their jobs or seek alternative employment once childcare costs overtake their ability to cover monthly living expenses.
  4. Impact on workforce diversity. Another possible implication of childcare unaffordability is that it may disproportionately affect individuals from lower-income backgrounds, potentially limiting workforce diversity.

“Contact centers may wish to consider the following four options to reduce the impact of childcare unaffordability.

  1. Childcare support programs. Explore partnerships with local childcare providers or offer subsidies to help alleviate the financial burden of childcare. Access to affordable or on-site childcare could make contact center jobs more attractive to parents.
  2. Flexible work arrangements. Offering flexible work options, such as remote work or flexible scheduling, helps parents balance their responsibilities with childcare needs, making contact center jobs more accessible and appealing.
  3. Employee assistance programs. Implementing employee assistance programs that provide resources and support for childcare-related challenges can moderate workers’ financial and emotional stress, which could contribute to higher satisfaction and retention.
  4. Collaboration with community organizations. Collaborate with local organizations or government agencies to advocate for affordable childcare options and policies. Supporting childcare affordability initiatives may create a more inclusive environment for working parents.”

Q. AI-driven ChatGPT, like Generative AI, has burst on the scene. What impacts and implications, if any, will it have on the demand for agents, agent turnover, agent recruiting, assessment, and labor costs, including wages, benefits, recruiting, and training?

Molly Clark:

That’s the million-dollar question. The problem is that when you think about the fundamentals of implementation - people, processes, and technology - companies are throwing technology at CX.

The trends associated with AI, cloud, and automation are getting very crowded, and we cannot lose the fundamentals of people, processes, and technology, especially when driven by each brand’s business requirements. Overall, I think everyone will use ChatGPT or some type of AI functionality, but it will never replace the agent.

One big area where technology can help is agent turnover because agents will not be required to perform remedial tasks like data entry. Removing these tasks can increase employee satisfaction. Emerging technology can also screen agents, reducing the time and energy traditional staff would typically spend on this critical task.

What’s important when you think about the labor costs of ChatGPT and AI in any arena is to ensure businesses are executing the change management pieces alongside coaching and agile maintenance.

“One big area where technology can help is agent turnover because agents will not be required to perform remedial tasks...” —Molly Clark

There will always be an investment of time, energy, and resources when embracing this type of technology. It is a change that can be disruptive. That is why it is important to view people, processes, and technology as a whole and not just rely on tech to solve everything.

Brent Holland:

Agent Demand. Large Language Models (LLMs) can potentially automate some tasks and processes, such as handling routine customer inquiries or providing basic information.

The net impact of automation is that it reduces the need for human agents, especially those who perform repetitive and low-complexity tasks, as reported in a 2022 research article, “Impact of Industry 4.0 adoption on workload demands in contact centers,” published in Human Factors and Ergonomics in Manufacturing & Service Industries.

Agent Turnover. LLMs’ impact on agent turnover is unclear. These technologies can offset burdensome tasks contributing to agent burnout and turnover, as reported in the article, “Burnout on contact center: a literature review,” published in Interdisciplinary Social Studies, allowing agents more time to focus on complex and fulfilling customer interactions.

However, LLMs could also create agents’ job insecurity because of the potential to replace their roles, which risks leading to higher turnover.

Agent Recruiting and Assessment. Integrating LLMs into agent jobs will change essential agent skills and qualifications.

“...applicants are turning to LLMs to help decipher personality, situational judgment, and cognitive ability tests.” —Brent Holland

One such skill is the capacity to recognize LLM hallucinations (i.e., misinformation produced by AI tools). Agents must possess deep system and procedural knowledge and problem-recognition skills to evaluate whether LLM recommendations are valid. Further, centers may prioritize applicants with the capacity to communicate effectively, solve problems, and collaborate with LLMs to bolster performance.

Although headlines (like in the Harvard Business Review) often focus on talent assessment applications of AI, many applicants use LLMs to improve their test performance and game the system. That is also made possible by most companies allowing prospective frontline workers to apply and complete pre-employment testing remotely.

There are growing concerns that applicants are turning to LLMs to help decipher personality, situational judgment, and cognitive ability tests. Applicants need only enter the test question and response options into an LLM to get a recommendation on the best answer. To the extent that applicant behavior undermines a test’s predictive power, the pre-employment test stops being useful.

Labor Costs. Incorporating LLM technology can reduce long-term labor costs. By automating certain tasks, contact centers hope to reduce headcount, leading to cost savings in wages, benefits, and training expenses. However, LLMs require considerable ongoing administrative and worker training costs.

Mark Pereira:

Generative AI has made a considerable impact on customer service. Since most companies want to reduce costs to increase profits, they are turning towards reducing their customer service teams and looking at AI as their one-stop shop for all customer service interactions.

And employees, current and prospective, know it. I came across an Ipsos study via LinkedIn which reported that many younger workers feel that this technology will cost them their jobs.

This trend seems like a nearsighted error as I believe these companies have left their customers behind, as customers are left screaming at a chatbot or AI voice assistant and demanding to speak to a human customer service agent.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel Generative AI has several benefits to offer customer service teams, such as helping new agents find answers to customers’ questions fast, thereby improving AHT or summarizing complex information into digestible chunks, or even assisting agents to take better notes by summarizing a call.

I’ve also noticed that AI has been used for a few years to shortlist resumes with specific keyword(s), which is especially true for companies receiving many resumes for a single job posting.

“[Companies] are turning towards reducing their customer service teams and looking at AI as their one-stop shop...This trend seems like a nearsighted error...” —Mark Pereira

Regarding agent turnover, I’ve noticed systems that collect agent absenteeism and their metrics, such as schedule adherence and AHT to name a few, to recognize trends and identify agents high on the scale to leave a company. Once the agent(s) are identified, the agent’s team lead or supervisor can discuss with the agent how to possibly turn things around.

As to training, it is required if the team is supposed to use the new feature. If it’s a chatbot for the team, then a simple microlearning course is created and deployed through MS Sway.

Q. Is WFH and hybrid working affecting contact center staffing and retention?

Molly Clark:

Especially for content centers and CX workers in general, WFH and hybrid are the New Normal, and you can see the benefits from the employee perspective and the employer considerations.

For employees, this is table stakes now. It allows for flexibility and a work-life balance, especially for younger generations demanding it as a requirement. Employers with established WFH or hybrid models can reach more resources and have some flexibility geolocation-wise to bring in better talent.

Brent Holland:

WFH and hybrid working arrangements have reportedly become more prevalent in contact centers, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Centers adopted WFH and hybrid models to ensure employee safety, maintain business continuity, reduce office-related expenses, and, most critically, supported by research (like that published in the International Journal of Industrial Management), retain employees.

However, despite the push to rein in WFH in many sectors, the contact center industry appears poised to continue using WFH as a recruiting and cost-saving strategy.

Even so, some studies (like those by CraftJack and by the National Bureau of Economic Research) have highlighted the challenges employees face WFH, such as shared working spaces, personal privacy, and the presence of children, which can impact family satisfaction.

Additionally, the increased use of remote work and hybrid models may require organizations to adapt their workforce management practices, including workload, productivity, and employee wellbeing, because workers are alone, without supervisors to check in on them.

Burnout among staff during the transition to remote or hybrid work is also a concern, without having managers to guide them into the new environment.

Mark Pereira:

I believe that WFH and hybrid working are becoming the New Normal. This trend helps organizations reduce operational costs associated with maintaining a physical or smaller office and saves employees time and money. It also reduces the cost and time for commuting and reduces childcare expenses while at the same time provides disaster resilience.

With agents by and large liking WFH, and companies now tapping into a broader talent pool rather than focusing on a specific geographical area, they will likely find and retain longer, high-quality candidates.

But contact centers need, as we have found with the COVID-19 pandemic, to have applicants who have sufficient bandwidth, self-discipline, the ability to solve minor technical problems, and who have quiet work environments with minimal distraction, like from family and pets. Centers will need to screen candidates on these attributes when hiring.

Hybrid centers have also found ways to leverage this trend and its benefits. However, they may need to fine-tune their recruiting strategy to target candidates within a specific mileage range from their facility.

Demographic Changes

Are there changes in the demography of individuals applying and working in the contact center?

“In my experience, I’ve witnessed two noteworthy trends within the call center space, both of which are aligned with the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” says Mark Pereira.

“Here they are:

1. Caregivers returning to work. It’s heartening to see caregivers, often including parents of young children or those looking after elderly family members, rejoining the call center workforce.

The option to work remotely has given them the flexibility to balance their caregiving duties and contribute to their families’ financial health. This promotes gender diversity in the workplace.

I recall speaking to an agent who was overjoyed to be part of the class because she could support her family by providing an extra income while caring for her two-year-old son. This was made possible because she joined our call center. The ability to come into the office allowed her to meet colleagues.

2. Baby Boomers and Gen X. With the transition to remote work in call and contact centers, many centers have welcomed experienced professionals from the Baby Boomer and Gen X demographics.

From what I’ve learned, most of them have either continued to work or got back to work due to rising expenses such as healthcare or groceries, to name a few. These seasoned agents bring valuable customer service skills to call center operations, honed through years of face-to-face interactions and rapport building.”

Q. Contact centers have traditionally turned to employment/staffing agencies for temporary and permanent hiring. But are they doing so now? Please discuss.

Brent Holland:

My take, albeit anecdotal, is that contact centers rely less on staffing agencies than in previous years. From discussions with customers, it appears the shift is due to the increase in remote work and the need to reduce recruiting-related expenses.

Advances in recruiting technology may also be a contributing factor because centers are better able to find and hire talent than a decade ago.

Mark Pereira:

I’ve noticed and even worked in a few call and contact centers that used a variety of staffing agency models, such as:

  1. Temporary (short-term): agents working for the staffing agency who are assigned to clients for peak call volumes or short-duration projects.
  2. Permanent hiring: where agents work for the staffing agency for the entire duration of the agency’s contract with the client.
  3. Temporary to permanent (temp to perm): agents working on a trial basis for the client and, if successful, are brought on board for it permanently.

Contact centers tend to use the permanent hiring approach if the candidate perfectly matches or exceeds their expectations and when hiring for smaller call or contact center teams such as a team of 12 agents or less.

However, for medium to large centers, staffing agencies are a norm. Usually, you will see a temporary to permanent approach.

Regarding special projects, such as introducing a new product or service, agents are temporarily brought in by a staffing agency and then moved to another project.

Further, some centers may bring an agent in through a staffing agency and leave them with the staffing agency for their complete tenure, and this may be based on contractual agreements.

Q. What are your recommendations to contact centers to ensure they have the needed staff?

Molly Clark:

To recruit and retain staff, employers need to offer competitive wages and benefits. You can see how retail and healthcare are improving in the CX space because they understand their competitive advantage is their experience.

The firms that can pay more will bring in higher-quality talent, which goes back to flexibility and the work-life balance, especially in the contact center space.

After compensation, investment in employee development and training is the second greatest aspect of ensuring your contact center is correctly staffed.

We often poll our clients about how much time and energy they invest in training their resources. Yet the responses show that it is often a second or third priority.

The takeaway here is that training should be a higher priority for contact centers. You want to pay employees well, and you want them to have flexible time, but are you also providing the skills in a way that translates to improving within the organization or that makes them a little more valuable?

“The firms that can pay more will bring in higher-quality talent, which goes back to flexibility and the work-life balance, especially in the contact center space.” —Molly Clark

The answer to this question is all a part of creating a company culture curated at every level: using AI and ChatGPT to improve job efficiency and training and creating a culture that attracts good people.

Brent Holland:

There are many steps centers can take to ensure they have the right people when needed. However, for brevity’s sake, I outline eight suggestions to create the biggest and most immediate impact.

“Companies make the wrong hiring decision most of the time. It’s a longstanding and challenging problem but is solvable...” —Brent Holland
  1. Expand recruitment and opportunities to include older workers. As outlined in the March 2023 Contact Center Pipeline article, “Looking Beyond the Wrinkles”, older workers are more reliable, stay longer, have lower absenteeism, upskill the workforce, and do not cost more to employ.
  2. Optimize staffing levels. Adopt a capacity planning tool to determine the optimal number of staff required to meet service level targets while minimizing costs.
  3. Implement safety staffing rules. Consider adopting safety staffing rules that ensure idle agents can handle unexpected spikes in call volume.
  4. Review and update recruitment guidelines. Regularly evaluate recruitment and staffing guidelines to align with changing jobs, industry trends, and best practices.
  5. Enhance training and support. Invest in continuous training programs to equip agents with the necessary skills and knowledge to handle customer inquiries effectively.
  6. Improve working conditions. Create a more positive work environment by addressing salary, facilities, and working conditions on-premise. Ensuring remote employees have the right working conditions allows them to work safely, effectively, and comfortably.
  7. Monitor and address burnout. Implement strategies to track and manage burnout, including workload management, regular breaks, and promoting work-life balance.
  8. Improve hiring accuracy. Companies make the wrong hiring decision most of the time. It’s a longstanding and challenging problem but is solvable with the right tools, monitors, and partners.

Mark Pereira:

My final thoughts to ensure call and contact centers have the staff they need include the following.

Competitive compensation:

  • Pay agents a competitive wage, considering local norms, and add a 20% or more premium to attract top talent.

Comprehensive benefits:

  • Provide flexible work arrangements, such as WFH or hybrid, aligned with agent preferences.
  • Offer holistic wellness benefits to support agents’ physical and mental wellbeing.
  • Create opportunities for career growth, including tuition reimbursement and access to learning platforms like Lynda or Udemy.

Ongoing support and communication:

  • Regularly check in with agents, especially during their initial year, to demonstrate ongoing support and a commitment to their success.
  • Ensure agents have the tools and transparent performance metrics to excel in their roles.
“Inspire a sense of purpose among agents to maintain their motivation to come to work.” —Mark Pereira

Personalized coaching and recognition:

  • Implement personalized coaching programs to offer constructive feedback, fostering agent development.
  • Recognize and celebrate agents’ accomplishments to boost morale and motivation.

Continuous training and education:

  • Provide comprehensive training on the basics but also soft skills, such as conflict resolution, time management, and accountability, to name a few, and keep educating agents because as they improve, your customer service team and your company improve.

Purpose-driven work:

  • Inspire a sense of purpose among agents to maintain their motivation to come to work.
  • Acknowledge that competitive pay alone may not ensure long-term retention.

Engagement assessment:

  • Conduct engagement surveys, in-person interviews, and observations to gauge agents’ current level of motivation.
  • Act on agent feedback to make tangible improvements based on their valuable input.

Fostering camaraderie:

  • Create opportunities for agents to build camaraderie through team meetings, team-building events, and a chat room for sharing experiences and information.

Promote diversity and inclusion:

  • Prioritize diversity and inclusion in the hiring process to foster a more inclusive workplace culture.
  • Leverage agents’ diverse experiences and perspectives to bring varied ideas and help agents connect with customers.

Technology and cybersecurity training:

  • Consider technology and cybersecurity training. When implementing new technology, ensure that you are trained on every aspect of the technology to train your team on its features. This helps ensure you’re making the most out of your technological assets.
  • Further, since agents work increasingly remotely, use microlearning courses to train staff to protect your company from cyberattacks.

The Future: Smaller, Smarter Workforce?

Contact centers are facing in the coming decade a U.S. labor market characterized by slowing population, hence workforce growth, and at the same time slightly reduced demand for agents caused in part by automation.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released in September 2023 its employment projections from 2022 to 2032. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate is projected to return to its 1.9% compound annual rate of change from 2002-2012 in the 2022-32 decade. This is slightly lower than the 2012-22 decade’s annual rate of 2.1%. The GDP growth is “stemming mostly from annual productivity gains of 1.9 [%] over the same period,” says the BLS.
  • Civilian noninstitutional population growth also continues to slow. It is projected to increase by 18.7 million to 282.6 million in 2032, or 0.7%, which is less than the 20.7 million increase or 0.8% that occurred over the 2012−22 decade.
  • Total employment is projected to increase to 169.1 million and grow 0.3% annually between 2022 and 2032, which is slower than the 1.2% annual growth recorded over the 2012-22 decade and slower than the 0.5% annual increase forecasted for the 2021-2031 period.
  • The slower projected population growth, in turn, is expected to further shrink growth in the civilian labor force; it is expected to increase from 164.3 million in 2022 to 170.7 million in 2032. This translates to a projected annual growth rate of 0.4%: slower than the 0.6% annual growth rate during the 2012−22 decade.
  • The labor force participation (LFP) rate is projected to fall from 62.2% in 2022 to 60.4% in 2032. The principal factor driving the projected decline in LFP is a greater share of individuals over the age of 65.

A BLS article, “Labor force and macroeconomic projections overview and highlights, 2022–32”, published in the September 2023 Monthly Labor Review, reports that productivity growth is projected to increase, at 1.9% per year from 2022 to 2032 compared with 1.2% per year from 2012 to 2022, “similar to, although slightly slower than, growth recorded before 2012.”

“The slower projected population growth, in turn, is expected to further shrink growth in the civilian labor force...” —U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

“Changes in the labor force have an outsized effect on economic growth,” wrote author BLS economist Kevin S. Dubina. “Slower labor force growth over the last few decades has contributed to slower [GDP] growth.

“The slowdown in labor force growth has been driven by two demographic trends: lower population growth and an aging of the U.S. population.

“Over the next decade, demographic changes are expected to reverberate throughout the U.S. economy and affect GDP growth.

“The aging of the baby-boom generation has already lowered the overall labor force participation rate, a trend that is projected to continue as many baby boomers enter the 75-and-older age group by 2032. Lower fertility rates will reduce population and labor force growth throughout the projection span.”

At the same time, there could be less need for contact center customer service agents over the 2022-2032 period, according to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook.

The BLS forecasted that the number of customer service jobs, which include in-person as well as contact center, to decrease by 5% from 2022 to 2032, from 2.98 million to 2.82 million.

“There is expected to be less demand for customer service representatives, especially in retail trade, as their tasks continue to be automated,” reports the BLS. “Self-service systems, social media, and mobile applications enable customers to do simple tasks without interacting with a representative. Advancements in technology will gradually allow these automated systems to do even more tasks.

“Some companies will continue to use in-house service centers to differentiate themselves from competitors, particularly for complex inquiries such as refunding accounts or confirming insurance coverage.”

Moreover, while the BLS projects 373,400 openings each year, on average, over the 2022-2032 timeframe, “all of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.”

“There is expected to be less demand for customer service representatives...as their tasks continue to be automated.” —U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Here are the reactions and comments to these reports, the data, and projections from our panelists:

Molly Clark:

I think that the slow population and economic growth means that contact centers will need to focus even more on retention, specifically retaining skilled employees.

With growth shrinking in the labor force it will become more difficult to find and hire strong talent, which means that correcting an attrition problem will be more costly. Now more than ever, it is critical that contact center leaders think about and invest in the tools and strategies to retain their talent.

The forecasted decrease in customer service jobs comes as no surprise, as we are seeing automation and AI-enabled operations change the landscape of the contact center. Such technologies are absorbing the high-volume, low-trust interactions, leaving the high-trust, complex interactions to smaller groups of agents.

“...the slow population and economic growth means that contact centers will need to focus even more on retention, specifically retaining skilled employees.” —Molly Clark

This means that contact center leaders need to focus on quality over quantity. There will always be a need for agents who can successfully execute the tasks that AI will never be able to do, and these folks are your higher-skilled employees.

Brent Holland:

The slowdown of U.S. labor force growth is startling, from 2.4% in 1972-1982, according to the BLS, to the 0.4% projected to 2032: an 83% decline in 60 years. Consequently, the U.S. economy will only add 6.4 million workers between 2022 and 2032.

“...filling these vacancies...amid slowing population growth and a rapidly aging workforce will be monumental.”
—Brent Holland

Women having fewer children than necessary to sustain the population and having them later in life results in a slow and steady decline in the U.S. population, hence labor supply growth.

The contact center industry is particularly susceptible to changes in the labor force because of high attrition and the ongoing shift toward outsourcing to save money. Contact centers require a steady stream of people to backfill jobs and support growth.

Recruiting and keeping the right people is vital to a center’s success and a never-ending challenge. But filling these vacancies even in ideal conditions is difficult. Doing so amid slowing population growth and a rapidly aging workforce will be monumental. And yet, finding people who can interact with technology and provide excellent service is fundamental to delivering an exceptional CX.

Mark Pereira:

The key to it all is mundane tasks to be handed off to AI and automation. However, more complex inquiries still need a human touch: to read system data, interpret it, and then simplify that information to a customer, whether on a phone call or in writing.

“I feel that there will be a demand for well-trained experienced agents. Those who are equipped with high soft skills...in conjunction with emerging technology.”
—Mark Pereira

I do see a world where AI and automation can work alongside humans, creating a better CX by looking at metrics to understand call forecasting, interpreting caller emotions, and providing prompts to agents to assist with challenging calls.

With a decline in population growth, coupled with an aging population, and a decrease in customer service jobs in specific industries with a rise in other sectors such as healthcare, I feel that there will be a demand for well-trained experienced agents. Those who are equipped with high soft skills such as emotional intelligence and conflict resolution, in conjunction with emerging technology.

The future may be uncertain, but it holds potential for those who navigate this intersection of technology and human interaction with foresight and adaptability.

Brendan Read

Brendan Read

Brendan Read is Editor-in-Chief of Contact Center Pipeline. He has been covering and working in customer service and sales and for contact center companies for most of his career. Brendan has edited and written for leading industry publications and has been an industry analyst. He also has authored and co-authored books on contact center design, customer support, and working from home.

Brendan can be reached at [email protected].

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