Like every industry, call centers are experiencing a labor shortage as we bounce back to “normal.” Without enough agents, customer experience suffers and existing agent morale drops. As we move into a post-pandemic environment, hiring freezes and downsizing trends are ending and businesses are ramping up hiring. But hiring agents fast enough is harder than ever before, as candidates have an endless choice of potential employers, and uncertainty remains about future lockdowns. How can contact centers overcome hiring challenges in an unpredictable market?
Understand the emotions driving agents today
Employee burnout levels are at an all time high, due to the added strain of longer hours, isolation, and less PTO associated with remote work. The pandemic has worn people down with uncertainty, social distancing, economic fears, and of course, concerns over health and safety. Burnout and exhaustion are high for agents who have been juggling work from home situations with spouses and children 24/7 for more than a year. In addition, as wage increases become more common across multiple industries, agents are faced with the decision to remain where they are employed or seek another position and company.
It’s important for recruiters to understand that people might not have the energy levels they did before the pandemic. Salary, flexibility, benefits, learning and development all remain important factors in attracting talent — but equally, if not more, important is making work as streamlined, easy, and engaging as possible. This is where automation and rethinking the role of agents can help.
Automate everything you can to improve agent job satisfaction
Fortunately, artificial intelligence (AI) is giving contact centers an edge when attracting and retaining agents. Conversational AI built into bots, voice AI, and IVRs is capable of lifting rote, boring transactional work from agents and freeing them to engage with customers on more complex matters. Eliminating repetitive work helps mitigate burnout and gives agents more meaningful and productive work, which leads to greater job satisfaction.
For example, voice AI can be used to respond to Tier-1 issues and has a resolution rate of up to 90%, which means agents will only need to handle 10% of the rote, transactional calls they currently handle. This takes the mundane out of call center work. It also gives recruiters the ability to market call center jobs in a new light, debunking the perception that being a call center agent is a thankless job and showing agents how their role ties into the company’s bigger mission and vision. Agents that engage in more meaningful work and feel their purpose connects to something greater are more likely to stay.
Further, automating workflows and processes such as automatically logging call summary notes and opening and closing customer tickets in CRM systems streamlines work and makes agents’ jobs feel easier. There’s a lot to be gained from an AI-first customer service strategy, especially following the pandemic as hybrid work models emerge.
Reskill/upskill agents to perform more valuable work
With a conversational AI solution lifting the rote work offagents, contact centers can reskill and upskill agents to handle issues that require more empathy, complex problem solving, and new roles such as sales. It also gives contact centers the opportunity to shift how they engage with customers — opening opportunities to provide proactive outbound calls or personalized offers that deliver a higher touch customer experience.
Reskilling agents can be a cost effective solution to a labor shortage. With voice AI handling the bulk of the call volumes agents typically handle, the need to hire additional agents may decrease or even be eliminated. This supports a growing trend to promote and hire internally — according to LinkedIn, internal mobility is up 20% since the start of the pandemic and is predicted to remain popular. Reskilling agents also helps with retention as agents are given higher value work and can see a clearer path forward in the company.
Go fully remote or hybrid with flexibility
Most call centers sent their agents home to work in response to the pandemic’s restrictions. Like many industries that followed suit, contact centers have found that remote work is effective, saves on costs, and does not decrease productivity. Also, like most companies, contact centers are grappling with decisions to either remain permanently remote or deploy a hybrid workforce model where agents work onsite and remotely. There are benefits and cons to both. However, generally giving people more freedom and flexibility in their work arrangement can help attract and retain talent. Remote work also expands the candidate pool as you can recruit from nearly anywhere.
It has been suggested though that given the high levels of remote work burnout and isolation, once the Covid vaccine takes hold, many people will crave a return to an onsite call center. Some companies may find it a hiring advantage to promote onsite work again — touting safety measures and the prospect of socializing and collaborating with coworkers. Whether contact centers go fully remote, hybrid, or return to on-site staffing, agents will value flexibility to accommodate a still uncertain pandemic environment.
Leverage technology to create a modern workplace
Like customers, agents know that technology makes it possible to have seamless and fast experiences when interacting with brands. Contact centers that upgrade with AI and automation can create a seamless, modern workplace that makes being an agent easier, more productive, and delivers a superior customer experience. Providing a modern workplace experience will help attract and retain the best agents.
Lastly, contact centers that emphasize the value and importance of their agents to the business and to customer experience are more likely to attract agents that have customer service oriented mindsets. Keeping the human touch in the midst of technological advances is vital to maintaining a thriving contact center that delivers exceptional customer service.