How Contact Centers Can Manage a Trifecta of Labor Shortages, Remote Work, and Heightened Customer Expectations

Contact centers, similar to most American industries, are contending with significant labor shortages, the reality that remote or hybrid work is here to stay, and ever-increasing customer expectations. With job postings reaching record levels this year, contact centers are dealing with even higher turnover rates than normal. And, while some contact centers have embraced hybrid and remote work, not all have, which is a problem given that one-third of workers would quit their jobs before giving up the benefits of remote work. Add to that a consumer environment in which 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience and one-third of customers would walk away from a brand they love after just one bad experience. 

For contact centers trying to walk the tightrope between managing high candidate and employee expectations and meeting rising customer expectations, consider these three tips: 

 

1) Labor shortages underpin the situation 

The current labor market gives candidates all the leverage. They no longer need to stay at a job long or jump through hoops to secure a position. Today’s market is also seeing an unusually high level of early stage attrition. If a candidate has a bad experience in the first few weeks – for example, if onboarding and training is disorganized or employees can’t quickly secure answers they need – they’ll leave knowing they can easily secure another placement. This means that if contact centers want to hire associates fast and retain them, they must be extremely competitive in terms of compensation and benefits, in addition to providing a world class candidate experience.

Contact centers can start by minimizing the amount of time between when a candidate expresses interest in a role and when they start a position. The longer an employer waits, the more likely the candidate will be to find another opportunity. Mobile-first AI and automation solutions, as well as chat and video, enhance traditional communication methods to ensure that candidates move quickly through the recruiting funnel. Once an offer is extended and accepted, a seamless onboarding and training process will increase retention rates. 

 

2) Remote work is table stakes

Remote work is no longer a “nice-to-have” in contact centers. If you don’t embrace remote work, you will cut off a large part of your interested and available talent pool, as many candidates will lose interest immediately if they are required to come into an office daily. On the bright side, this eliminates geographic boundaries and allows recruiters to cast a wider net when sourcing candidates. 

When it comes to recruiting and hiring, contact centers can optimize this new remote work reality by: 

  1. Setting realistic candidate expectations – For example, don’t set arbitrary internet and typing speeds. (Most of the time, candidates don’t need to type 80 words-per-minute.) And, do you expect them to drive two hours to complete a drug test? Keep in mind, the more hoops you ask them to jump through, the more likely candidates will be to opt out of the process.
  2. Polishing your company’s job reviews on Glassdoor and other sites – Companies are easily searchable online and most candidates will check these reviews before applying for a position. Make sure you address both positive and negative feedback, and frequently encourage employees to submit reviews.
  3. Organizing smaller training classes – Given that employees are remote and dealing with more tech issues than they might have in an office setting, you’ll want to provide them with more customized support. This can’t be done in huge training classes. 
  4. Intentionally setting up employee engagement opportunities – Find ways to replicate culture with remote workers. You can host virtual happy hours, celebrations, book clubs, costume parties, and so much more.
  5. Creating great job postings – It’s not sustainable to keep paying higher wages than those of the competition. You also must include clear differentiators related to your culture, company vision, and mission, as well as benefits if you want to stand out from the crowd of other employers.

 

3) Heightened customer expectations can be managed with savvy tech investments and communications

Customers – be they business, consumer, or employee – are expecting more across the board

When customers call into a contact center, they want their needs to be met efficiently yet also want empathetic contact center agents who handle interactions with a human touch. By investing in technology such as AI, contact centers can ease agents’ lives, and increase their productivity, by automating their more tedious and repetitive work. Automated chat and voice features, and in some cases virtual agents, can instantly process laborious data, solve simple problems, and offer high levels of customer service, leaving human employees to handle high-level and more interesting customer service issues. This gives customers the high-touch service they expect, while keeping contact center agents engaged and motivated at the same time.

Similarly, contact centers can take a candidate-centric approach to recruiting and hiring by leveraging AI, chat, phone, and email throughout the process, from assessing candidates to scheduling interviews to answering standard questions. This allows candidates to engage with recruiters however they prefer, and for recruiters to focus on building relationships with candidates instead of more onerous tasks. 

When it comes to employee engagement, some contact centers are conducting post-hire agent assessments to identify strengths and weaknesses and then match agents with clients. For example, someone might be good with roadside assistance, but not health claims and benefits. This further increases retention rates. 

From a corporate client perspective, communication is the name of the game. Frequently, corporate contact center clients don’t feel the direct pain of hiring agents because they don’t do it. So, they aren’t on the frontlines when it comes to what it takes to attract candidates, hire them, and keep them. By regularly communicating with their clients about the new reality of recruiting and hiring, contact centers can work with their clients to develop realistic expectations for candidates throughout the hiring process; remain competitive when it comes to compensation and benefits; and ensure onboarding and training is seamless.

 

Contact centers have nimbly adapted to so much change over the past few years, and will continue evolving with the market to remain competitive. Recruiting and hiring in today’s contact center must be framed around the fact that it is a candidate’s market. Contact centers that embrace this and move forward accordingly will have a better chance at staying ahead of the pack than others. And, those that view not only consumers and corporate clients, but also candidates and employees, as customers, will thrive.

To learn more about how you can manage a trifecta of labor shortages, remote work, and heightened customer expectations, contact us.

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