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No industry has been spared from the Great Resignation – especially the contact centre industry.

As the War for Talent intensifies, in Part 2 of this Editorial series, we explore what this means for the Contact Centre sector, with a range of views from those running operations and those recruiting, what effect it has had, and will continue to have.

We ask what can or should be done about it, what effect is it having on staffing levels, service levels and KPI’s, and resultant impact on customer service, deliveries, fulfilment, and the impact on recruitment.

We explore if this is sustainable in the long term, the impact at the senior end of the market, the impact of hybrid working, and how the industry may need to change its attraction and recruitment strategies.

Is this long term and sustainable?

“As we start to emerge from the pandemic effect, no one anticipated the current situation where, according to the BBC (2021), the UK economy is expected to be the fastest growing in more than 70 years. With an increase in not only salaries but also in the choice of roles available – it is a great time to be looking for your next move but for businesses it is most certainly a sellers’ market”, Says Colleen McCann, Business Development Director at Specialist BPO, HGS.

“With so much choice for job seekers, businesses are having to invest in and become increasingly creative with their job propositions. A huge positive for employees, however, is the current market situation a short-term anomaly or a long-term reality? Increasing salary levels and benefits may be needed but are they sustainable especially in markets that are price sensitive?

Job postings advertising signing bonuses on Indeed UK rose by 75% between June and August (Reuters, 2021). An example of this was highlighted to me recently by a recruitment agency in the UK, showing that a whopping 120,000 roles were required in just 9 organisations with sign-on bonuses ranging from £500 – £3,000 depending on the position.”

What’s been the Impacts at Management and Director level?

“As a recruiter it’s been a very interesting time to observe as we see both sides of the talent attraction and retention ‘conundrum’. At management and director level the challenges in securing and retaining the best talent are slightly different than those at front line but follow common themes.

It’s always been important to have the right leaders to deliver operational performance, staff motivation and great customer experience. Wages are higher at a senior level, and we’ve not necessarily seen as much of a percentage uplift at as at frontline, but we have seen many more people considering their relationship with their employer across values, wellbeing, self-development, and hybrid working.

 Candidates can be choosier about who they interview with, and some clients really must remember to sell their businesses at interview better. This is not an employer’s market at present and I’ve had several candidates who were perfect for roles turn down second interviews as they felt the client had not enamoured them to the business or the interview process felt too transactional.” Says Rob Dermott, Director at Specialist Recruiter PSD Customer Contact.

Have there been Benefits to this situation?

“We can’t ignore the potential benefits this has for the UK job market. The Financial Times reported a survey that found the labour shortages are fuelling widespread wage growth. With Reuters (2021) commenting that UK employers have increased pay for new staff by the most since at least the 1990s – a different reality to what many had expected to be the outcome of the pandemic.

Most of the positions advertised by the recruitment agency I mentioned were temporary, seasonal, customer services roles. According to the Financial Times (2021), the UK is set to face two years of labour shortages, however, I wonder how this will look post the Golden Quarter. Will the labour demand continue to outweigh supply once many of the seasonal roles are no longer required? It’s an interesting concept which would potentially impact the predictions of growth for the UK economy.” Says Colleen.

Does the industry have to change the way it attracts and recruits people?

“We are starting to see a number of interesting stories surface from some well known household brands about ‘hooks’ to attract new colleagues and win on the battleground which is recruiting talent”. Says Nicola Collister CEO and Founder at Specialist Consultancy Custerian.

“In addition to offering ‘bounties’ we have also seen stories such The BodyShop announcing that they are doing away with the traditional methods of recruiting and now simply recruiting on a first come, first served basis therefore removing any interview, CV and traditional methods of applying for roles, it will be really interesting to see how this pans out over the next 12 months, and what impacts this has on the attrition, engagement, and other usual metrics.

We are starting to hear more and more stories now from a variety of clients, sectors and industry bodies about the challenges in recruiting the right people for the right times based on customer demand – we are seeing this across the board for all our clients whether this be for customer service, sales and specialist roles such as IT. 

If I stick with the Service Industry, as IT & Digital is a whole different ball game 😊 there are a number of things in the mix and businesses need to look at a different model for recruiting.  The challenges are being caused by and endless list of issues / changes and challenges that have not been addressed and they need to be:

 1 Pay rates and premiums – with the increase in supply chain, shortages of staff in hospitality & FMCG, wages have increased in these sectors increasing above the from the national minimum or living wage in a lot of areas, therefore customer service roles now are competing with sectors they didn’t necessarily do before. 

Therefore, as an industry are we doing enough to promote the customer service and contact centre sector as an attractive industry and the career attractions, along with remuneration packages??

I don’t personally think we are doing enough publicly (organisations, industry bodes and industry leaders) to say what a brilliant role customer service plays in people lives and what a great career choice it can be.  I started as a travel clerk, then into call centres – I didn’t leave education with the intention of doing that! 

We need to address our marketing of customer service roles for the industry to prosper.

  1. Attraction and recruitment – businesses are still using traditional methods and not a lot has really changed.  Should more companies be like The Body Shop ?  or how do we change the way in which we attract and recruit talent. 

Gen Z’s won’t go through the hoops or the traditional methods businesses still have in place to recruit, so why are we not using Tik Tok, Instagram, Platforms, Video more for recruitment ?  I have still heard stories from candidates who want to have more flexible hours, shifts etc and then recruitment and training is done 9-5pm Monday to Friday! Why do business do that ?? The whole attraction and selection approach needs a significant revamp.”

What’s the Impact of Hybrid Working?

Rob “We should look at the push and pull factors of why people have been leaving senior roles and being attracted to new ones. It has been an interesting 18 months as many organisations worked as a complete and total ‘virtual’ contact centre as all staff from front line right through to directors worked from home. As ‘normality’ returns we are hearing about a couple of key trends which are impacting retention and recruitment of staff at management and director level.

The key ones appear to be work/life balance and hybrid working. One of the first questions that comes up when I’m discussing a new role with a potential candidate is ‘What is the working model?’ – this is often before the organisation or role is discussed. This was rarely a question prior to the pandemic.

People are used to hybrid working. The challenge is that few companies can truly say what there working model is going to look like in the longer term. Most companies are still finding their way about what works best for collaboration, performance, and employee wellbeing. We have had several candidates at offer ask for a hybrid model to be confirmed in contracts. Few clients are willing to do this at present. This may be a differentiator when providing a written contract this time round. If you look back to prior to pre-pandemic times contracts were either home based, or workplace based with a requirement to work where the needs of the business may require. There is no perfect answer to this working location question whilst organisations cement their working models.

For those where the hybrid model longer term is hard to guarantee, candidates are being attracted by a role that is closer to home – they’ve had a long time to think about going back to that commute! Interestingly over the last few months I have placed 5 senior candidates into roles that have been closer to home. The reason for this is that they have taken stock about the fact of returning to the office more frequently. This does not necessarily mean that they adverse to returning to the office, more they are put off from a long commute when they do. These 5 candidates average commute prior to the pandemic was more than 50 miles. They now all enjoy commutes of less than 5 miles and can use their time more productively. I am seeing many more candidates asking for this if the hybrid model cannot be guaranteed.

Many organisations are only committing to reviewing their models for a period which can bring uncertainty. For example, I work in a business where the current expectations are that we are in the office 3 days per week – all on the same day, but this is going to be reviewed every 6 months.

The hybrid model does have its challenges and that’s why organisations in general are being so considered. I have spoken to numerous HR directors and senior leaders who are concerned that organisational cultures are being eroded, new staff are not being embedded as well remotely and the sharing of ideas away from teams poses a challenge.

Of course, I have some clients where the opposite is true but I would suggest more conversations are in the former vain.   For us at psd, those 3 days we are all in has worked extremely well and the water cooler talk has returned, and new initiatives and ideas have come to fruition as a result.  It’s also resulted in new starters who were previously being onboarded remotely getting much more support and coaching in real time. Onboarding is more challenging remotely, and many clients have mentioned that those not onboarded thoroughly will potentially leave an organisation quickly or underperform.”

“We’re seeing a rise in hybrid working, a combination of working from home with the option to work from an office. This concept has full support from the HGS team and has seen us pioneer our own global hybrid operating model, HGS Work Cloud – the agile, on-demand, re-invention of work. The response to which has seen our ESAT scores increase by +10 points and client satisfaction, against a background of COVID adversity, increase by +30 points – figures that speak for themselves”. Said Colleen.

Nicola “Covid has done a number of things, pushed a lot of people to work at home, which some people want to retain, some want to be back in the office, some want a hybrid solution.  What is has also done for many, is to put into question work life balance.  We’ve heard stories that families have reduced down to one car, even getting rid of cars altogether, challenges with childcare, care for parents and the list of goes on. 

Therefore, colleagues wanting and needing, in some cases, more flexibility in the shifts and they hours they can work, yet businesses being are inflexible in the way they want people to work from the number of hours, shifts and location.  It will always be a balance of customer demand, business needs and colleague needs – but the balance needs reweighting!”

So what are the Solutions?

Colleen “For this to continue, we risk creating an unsavoury position for ourselves that drives the cost base up in the UK. Businesses could look to counter this impact with several options, one being to offshore customer services to a more cost-effective location. Another would be for organisations to remove the responsibility of costly operations altogether by selling off business units to a third party – an activity known as a carve out.

Moving away from just cost, businesses are looking to compete for labour by advertising opportunities for career growth and personal development, and by offering increasingly flexible working models. According to Forbes (2021), flexibility is currently the top priority for job seekers.

Rather than focusing solely on offering the highest salary to stand out, businesses should look to offer more sustainable opportunities for job seekers to act as their ‘USP’ in the job market. By listening to what prospective employees really want and need, they are bound to make a longer-term match and escape the labour shortage rat race that they’re competing in.”

Rob “Attracting and retaining talent has never been so difficult and it’s important to remember it’s not just about hybrid /flexible working or shorter commutes; it is organisational culture, wellbeing & inclusiveness, business goals, salary, and a robust / attractive recruitment process that all contribute to being an employer of choice with the best talent. Many of those struggling to attract or retain their talent are not considering all these aspects or the bigger picture and those organisations that do will thrive and attract the best individuals.”

Nicola concludes “This industry is special and very close to my heart, having worked in various industries (retail, breakdown, logistics, utilities etc) across service for the last 29 years – we cannot do without Customer Services and in the world in such a state of flux and change, as people, as consumers, we want the assurance that someone is there when we need them.  As more and more services go Virtual from Physical, combined with automation, I can only see the need for more people in the service industry not less.   So this is a really important, strategic priority that we all as industry leaders need to get right.”

Look out for the Final part of this series next week!

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