In a full-employment economy or one wracked by Covid, where staying home pays more than a lower-wage job, the employee experience is key to attracting and retaining employees.
According to the International Customer Service Management Institute (ICMI), employee experience in the contact center is a complex set of behaviors driven by numerous contact center practices. Measuring employee experience in the context of practices, like employee recognition, wellness, personal growth, team huddles, and peer relationships, isn’t an exact science, so we’re left to measure employee satisfaction.
The term ‘economic whiplash’ comes to mind when describing the past year. Everybody knows the statistics; we’ve lived them. A full-employment economy in the U.S. veered wildly to unemployment levels not seen since The Depression in a span of weeks.
Ironically, as diametrically opposed as they are, these economic extremes put employers in the same difficulty — finding qualified people to fill open positions, especially for lower-wage and entry-level jobs. In the thriving pre-Covid job market, potential employees could be choosy. And, as we climb into the post-Covid economy, enhanced unemployment payments disincentivizes work for many, at least in the near term.
In 2017, ICMI, whose mission is to empower companies to provide the best customer experience through call centers, surveyed the contact center community about their challenges. It turns out their top concern was hiring, training and retaining agents.
A March 2021 survey by the National Federation of Independent Business found that 42% of owners had job openings that could not be filled, a record high. An April 2021 survey by ZipRecruiter at least partially explains why. They found only 35% of job seekers felt financial pressure to take the first job offer they received. That figure is down from 51% when the same question was asked in 2018. Says ZipRecruiter economist Julia Pollak, “The pandemic has changed people’s motivations.”
A lesson for contact centers looking to hire and retain agents: Money will always be important, but it’s not the be-all-and-end-all it might have once been. Moreover, wages tend to be industry-dependent, so a contact center in the healthcare industry, for example, is limited in its ability to differentiate itself from its direct competitors on that basis.
“Employee Experience” is the new playing field.
In its 2018 report, “Boosting contact center performance through employee engagement,”* McKinsey & Company defined four non-wage-related influences on the employee experience and employee satisfaction:
Even if all your agents are working from a seat in a physical contact center, a conversation about addressing those four issues is a big one. Inject a fully remote or hybrid workforce into the conversation and its scope expands considerably.
‘Management by walking around’ is a term coined by Tom Peters, author of numerous books on business management practices. It refers to the fingers-on-the-pulse insight leaders can gain about the employee experience and employee satisfaction by wandering around the office and engaging in impromptu conversations or just observing body language. It’s a 1980’s concept — not quite outdated, but not quite current, either.
Covid has broadened the notion of ‘workplace’. More than half the people in the NFIB survey said they prefer a job where they can work remotely, and 45% said they want that option after the pandemic abates. The challenge for contact center leaders trying to develop and employee experience strategy lies in translating in-office employee experience concepts to this new, expanded definition of workplace.
Take ‘Friends and Community’ as an example. In a centralized contact center, you may set up comfortable common areas and break rooms or hold in-office social events to build community, but how do you promote camaraderie within a remote and distributed workforce? Or, how do you instill a sense of mission in someone who’s working from home full- or part-time?
One employee experience strategy for addressing the ‘Stress’ element of employee experience is to pair performance scrutiny with constructive coaching and conversations about professional development and performance recognition. The simple reality of remote work, though, is that you can’t pull an agent aside for off-hand, spontaneous chats, and extended conversations have to be scheduled with a purpose.
That’s not to say it’s impossible to deliver a quality employee experience to remote agents or in a hybrid workplace. However, leaders will need to work and think a bit differently and communicate more intentionally, using the collaboration tools at their disposal. Let’s call it ‘Management by Zooming around’.
An individual and his or her motivations don’t change based on where they happen to be sitting. Employee engagement and employee experience principles remain the same as well. Contact centers are now, more than ever, competing to attract and retain qualified agents based on the employee experience they provide. Cultivating a workplace where agent happiness matters — one that helps individuals realize their personal and professional aspirations — is a competitive advantage in what amounts to a buyer’s market for employees.