by Robert Wakefield-Carl and John Watkinson
In today’s world of work, flexibility is a big deal. If we’ve learned anything over the last 12 months amidst the Great Resignation, employees are willing to go elsewhere to find greater flexibility and control over their work environment. In fact, surveys from the past year suggest anywhere from 30-45% of contact center agents have left their current job or plan to leave. More broadly, the Great Resignation has seen millions of workers in the U.S. quit their jobs to explore other opportunities.
For most contact centers, the quest to achieve greater agent flexibility has taken the shape of new remote and hybrid work opportunities supported by the deployment of cloud-based contact center solutions. One recent report found that as many as 75% of contact centers shifted to the cloud in 2021 to accommodate changing workplace expectations. But here’s the catch: While cloud-based contact centers are certainly one key piece of the work flexibility equation—it doesn’t go far enough.
More than 40% of contact center agents still report that managing their work/life balance is a constant source of stress in their daily lives. While many contact centers believed the ability to work remotely would alleviate these challenges—and it has—it has also introduced new challenges and continued to blur the line between work and home life.
The expectation from contact center agents in 2022 is clear: They want more control over how and when they work. This includes the ability to plan for scheduled events, as well as the ability to change directions quickly when unexpected personal events come up.
Why Agent Retention and Management Matters More than Ever
Beyond the obvious advantages a more experienced workforce can bring when it comes to creating positive customer experiences, the hidden costs of workforce volatility can quickly reduce the contact center to a cost center—a necessary expense to support customers across the full customer lifecycle. According to one estimate, a contact center with 100 agents and an industry-average 45% turnover rate would result in costs of upwards of $1.6M each year in training costs and productivity loss.
With numbers like these, it’s easy to see why the “cost center” mentality continues to remain painfully accurate. But forward-thinking contact centers do have options. Solving the retention puzzle depends on finding new ways to (1) maximize existing agent bandwidth and (2) improve current agent satisfaction on the job.
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How Can Contact Centers Adapt to These Emerging Agent Expectations?
The key to unlocking agent satisfaction around flexibility on the job is not about coming up with an entirely new way of doing things. But rather, it requires extracting the greatest amount of value from your Workforce Management (WFM) tool.
At the most basic level, WFM is the process of optimizing the productivity of an agent workforce by ensuring the proper allocation of resources throughout any given timeframe. At a more granular level, WFM solutions help contact center managers schedule, forecast, time keep, and adjust to demand on the fly.
The secret, then, is finding a WFM solution that delivers the right mix of features to turn these aspects of agent management into truly beneficial perks for the agent. Let’s start by taking a look at a few of the most important WFM features that can strengthen agent satisfaction and introduce more flexibility when implemented correctly:
1. Requesting Time Off- Automating this decisioning process gives agents the immediate answers they need to begin planning vacations, organize childcare, and more. In the quest to give agents more agency over their own lives, this is a seemingly small feature that can deliver an immediate boost in satisfaction. The automated nature of this process also removes management bias in answering and approving agent requests.
2. Shift Swapping and Bidding- Sometimes things come up. This feature helps agents expect the unexpected. In manual models, shift swapping can be a big headache to ensure a workforce with the right knowledge, language, and support skills is always on hand. Again, automated processes with customized rules working in the background can ensure that all shift trades will not create any gaps in customer service levels—while speeding shift solutions to the agents who desperately need them.
3. Positive Customer Engagements- As a second-order effect on the flexibility of the job, accurate forecasting helps ensure enough agents and enough time is always available to solve customer problems, which drives positive agent experiences. Picture this: Contact center forecasts vastly underestimate call volumes on a regular basis, leaving customers on hold for hours. Each time this happens, your agents rush from call to call to support a new customer, only to immediately encounter customer frustration time and time again. WFM can help deliver more accurate forecasting as well as the real-time insights to respond to fluctuating demand quickly.
Moving From a WFM that Manages Agents to One That Manufactures Agent Satisfaction
With these features at the top of any agent’s wish list, the question becomes how to turn this sort of agent-first work environment into a reality. For some organizations, the process will be as simple as researching cloud contact center and WFM solutions at the same time and choosing the one that delivers the right mix of compatibility and features agents desire. For others, particularly those who have existing cloud contact center and/or WFM solutions in place, the sunk costs involved can make the decision more complicated.
In these cases, it’s important to consider the centrality of data in the automated scheduling and forecasting of agent shifts. Each WFM has a unique way it needs to ingest data into its system in order to schedule and forecast with accuracy based on the historical and real-time adherence insights found in your raw contact center data. In order to make the right WFM solution “play nice” with your broader cloud contact center strategy, a WFM adapter solution can be a powerful ally to help maximize the potential of a third-party WFM solution like Aspect, Nice, Calabrio, Verint, and others.
At Avtex, we specialize in addressing this challenge—empowering contact centers to structure their workflows around the strategies and technologies that make agents productive and happy. Our portfolio of adapters and additional consulting services can help your organization ideate and execute on an agent retention strategy that goes beyond remote work. After all, when your contact center agents feel supported, productive, and in control of their schedules, they not only become more likely to stay, but they also become powerful brand ambassadors for your organization, adding more value to customers and even attracting new agents for your team.