‘A change will do you good,’ sang Sheryl Crow in the 90s. Since then, we’ve experienced entire paradigm shifts in technologies, which in turn have fueled a complete and ongoing transformation of the contact center. Nostalgia aside, the changes have been mostly positive, especially for those willing to embrace the new opportunities they have provided.
Cloud solutions, for example, have not only created new efficiencies and agility but also enabled agents to work remotely, even before the pandemic. This allows contact centers to hire specialists from virtually anywhere. Analytics are providing real-time insight and helping management make faster and better business decisions. Now artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the way contact centers provide service, with bots that automate routine tasks and powerful self-service options that help customers quickly find the information they need on their own.
As bots increasingly handle repetitive and mundane requests, live agents become strategic problem-solvers dedicated to more complex issues. While this creates some immediate staffing changes, the shift toward more strategic and experienced employees greatly benefits most contact centers. The turnover rate is notoriously high for contact centers at a staggering 30% – 40% — more than twice the average for US industries. This is caused by burnout and the tedious nature of fielding routine calls. Allowing agents to learn new skills, grow, and specialize is more fulfilling and dramatically improves retention.
That is putting a renewed priority on training to help agents improve their skills, stay abreast of the products and services they support, and adopt best practices. It’s also an opportunity to focus on the customer experience and ‘people’ skills that help agents connect with customers and exceed expectations. Today’s contact centers are no longer about call deflection and shorter queue times. With bots picking up the slack, agents can take time with customers and even personalize service as appropriate. In fact, the customer experience is a big part of overall competitive advantage today, and agents are on the front line.
As agents move upstream, playing a more strategic role, supervisors too must be more engaged in how they manage their teams. Where the autocratic, hierarchical model may have worked when most agents were focused on simple, routine calls, today’s agents require a more democratic management style. Think less boss/worker relationship and more coach/player dynamic.
The shift from taskmaster to mentor may be challenging for some, but for many supervisors, it will be much more satisfying. It’s difficult to keep lower-skilled, unmotivated staff engaged. Helping staff to transition into a job that is more interesting and offers greater career potential is much more rewarding. Supervisors today have an opportunity to create highly collaborative teams that share information and work together, much like a sports team.
In fact, the coaching model has emerged as a new standard for supervisors with a renewed focus on helping agents to continuously improve. This is enabling stronger team collaboration too, as agents help mentor each other. An agent who specializes in solutions for a particular product, for example, can take the rest of the team through a successful troubleshooting technique.
Coaching is a better way to motivate agents too, offering positive reinforcement for a job well done and constructive feedback for ways to get even better. This goes beyond product knowledge to help supervisors coach agents on those ‘people’ skills we mentioned earlier that can really make the customer experience extraordinary. They can even help agents understand regional or generational differences. Helping younger agents connect with baby boomer callers, for example, or tips for older agents on what Millennial customers prefer.
The coaching model also helps supervisors groom and train future leaders seeking to climb the ladder. It’s often significantly easier and less expensive to recruit from within. By mentoring promising team members, supervisors can put them on a managerial track and guide them into leadership roles.
Change is rarely easy, but often represents an opportunity for those willing to embrace it. New technologies, higher customer expectations and the ever-evolving workplace have created massive changes in the contact center. For agents seeking a more strategic role with greater growth potential, this is a welcome change. For supervisors and leadership, this is a chance to reinvent the contact center work culture to promote teamwork and help everyone to continuously improve and succeed. And in the process, this benefits customers who get a more engaging, immersive experience. In short, the contact center transformation is a change that – if seen as an opportunity to improve — does us all good. (And that’s something to crow about.)