Now is the Time for Contact Centres to Embrace Innovative Technology

Published 15 Nov 2020 by 

More flexibility identified by intelligent, automated solutions will improve agents’ finances without pay rises

2020 has been a year of huge change and challenges forcing many of us to reassess our priorities from both a personal and professional perspective. For customer services not only has it meant dispersed workforces and customers demanding more timely and accurate information than ever before, but all of this at a time when organisations are not necessarily increasing revenues. This pressure on the bottom line is further increased with the costs of remote working and increased sickness within the workforce and of course, a global recession.

All of this has meant that there has been an acceleration of industry trends, particularly home working and has given the industry as a whole an opportunity to completely rethink previously established work practices and industry trends.

Planning remains important, but flexibility is now crucial 

Planning in advance has always played a key role in the contact centre world. However, the nature of planning up to six weeks in advance means that there is little flexibility for agents built into the system by design – something that they now need more than ever.

This reputation for inflexibility has perhaps contributed to the industry’s high employee churn rate. The CCMA has reported that staff turnover rates in the contact centre industry is around 26 percent annually, considerably higher than the national average of 15 percent. As a result, many talented staff members fail to see a long-term future in the industry, ensuring that retaining high quality staff members is constantly a real struggle for organisations.

Adding a layer of intelligent flexibility into the schedule will make a huge difference to an agent’s opinion of their long-term future in the industry.

Working from home and a global recession

Another key trend, and one that has led to further complications for contact centres, is the fact that many contact centre agents are now working at home. This has represented a huge acceleration in home working trends, out of necessity, rather than design, and has brought forward the inevitable need to accommodate remote workers

Adding layers of flexibility into an agents’ day is hugely beneficial for the agent and the contact centre. Working from home means that agents are able to work hours that they may not have previously not considered, for example evenings or split shifts. Rather than sticking rigidly to the pre-planned schedule, layers of flexibility that innovative, intelligent and automated technology can identify during the day opens up the option to add adaptability into the otherwise rigid framework. In turn, this brings a new set of rich alternatives and choices to agents and planners that could transform agent experience of the operation and solve problems during any given day.

However, the main barrier to the adoption to flexible working, pre-pandemic, was the perceived lack of control and the associated risks. These risks have not suddenly changed or gone away due to the pandemic, without control customer service levels can decline considerably. So, whilst adding flexibility can certainly be beneficial for the agent, the contact centre has to be pro-active in managing the day – making sure that they have enough coverage, protecting their service levels, before, giving the flexibility.

More than simply adding flexibility into the day of an agent, adaptability can help with one of the major challenges facing contact centres. How to retain the best staff when the team is no longer restricted to work in specific contact centres by geography. The nature of the home working agent means that they are no longer tied to a contact centre that is at a commutable distance. They can apply for jobs at any centre offering home working, anywhere across the country

In the past, pay has been a tool to drive retention and recruitment. Adding a little more to the pay of an agent is a good reason for them to want to stay. This is an expensive and limited strategy, because it creates a competitive environment with other employers and drives up costs. It also has been shown to have limited effect, pay rises are easily forgotten and do not create a lasting effect.

What is valuable are personal touches made by managers and leaders to make agents feel valued and important. These are understood to be more highly regarded and treasured. Creating an atmosphere where flexibility to agent needs is incorporated into daily operations when the tradition has been rigidity will go a long way to making agents feel important.

But even more than adaptability making agents feel good, recent research though has showed that adding flexibility into an agents’ schedule can mean more money in their pocket each month without a costly pay rise.

More flexibility means more money – hearing the voice of the agent

The research spoke directly to agents and gained a real insight into their mind set.

One of the key findings is how much difference adding a layer of flexibility into the day of an agent can make. It is not just about better conditions, but the simple capacity to leave to collect sick children, or book holidays at short notice can make a real impact financially for agents and their families.

When asked if agents “Had a greater ability to choose their work schedule would it mean them of someone in their household would be able to earn more money (i.e. doing other jobs, saving on childcare, being able to choose lower cost holidays etc)” 65 percent said that it would.

This highlights the comparative ease at which companies could make a positive impact on their agents’ life, helping to boost morale, increase customer service levels as well as increasing staff retention rates. All of this of course is also of huge benefit to the contact centre. With a happier workforce, retention increases and costs on recruitment and training are drastically reduced.

Adding flexibility into a daily schedule was on the radar for many companies already, but the huge acceleration in the way we work and the very obvious benefits for all now make this a high priority action.

Greater levels of flexibility seem to be important to agents across multiple sectors. In the same report the technology, telecoms and media sectors all agreed that more flexibility would boost their income (82 percent), retail, ecommerce, tourism and healthcare sectors were next (68 percent) followed by transport and utilities (67 percent).

Adding flexibility is not about diminished customer experience

Moving away from advanced scheduling patterns that have been in place for years seems like a huge step for some organisations.

However, some innovative automated solutions can sit alongside legacy Workforce Management software allowing it to follow likely trends, learn about daily peaks and troughs and allocate flexibility into the daily schedule of agents. AI and machine learning are no longer tech buzzwords, but viable technologies that can make a huge difference to the contact centre world. The management of this process is critical though. Whilst the technology plays a crucial role in identifying potential areas of ‘downtime’, using ‘human experience’ alongside technology is the perfect combination in ensuring great levels of customer service and agent flexibility.

Adding flexibility into the day of the agent whilst still having visibility and control of managing the customer experience turns the industry on its head in terms of employee engagement and employee experience. Suddenly, agents can take time off during the day safe in the knowledge that the technology has analysed the situation and allowed it. It reassures management that they are getting the best from their team. Finding ‘free’ time during the day that, can now be put to use, whether that be training, catching up on back-office paperwork or making proactive calls.

All of this is of benefit to the contact centre. However, more importantly in today’s employee focused world it is to the huge benefit of the agent financially, personally and professionally.

About the Author

Patrick Coleman is Founder of QStory. QStory has been acknowledged as a leading edge technology disrupter. The company has been supported by the UK Government through the InnovateUK technology investment scheme in recognition of its work in applying artificial intelligence to contact centre analytics and natural language generation technology.

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