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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 the Final part 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 have been the causes, explore the impact of Candidate power, ask if its simply a question of more money or WFH, and what we as an Industry need to do.

What have been the causes?

It may be difficult to highlight any single overriding cause of the current challenge with recruitment in the contact centre sector, but there are some obvious contributary factors” Says William Carson, Director of Market Engagement at Award Winning Outsourcer Ascensos.

“Over the past 3 to 5 years there has been a gradual reimagining of what constitutes meaningful work among Generation Z for whom the idea of the portfolio career is probably most prevalent. Undoubtedly too the lockdowns of  2020 and early 2021 has meant the younger demographic in the workforce are now much more considered about their career choices.

As a result they may be choosing continued education or apprenticeships over early entry into the workforce, or might be seeking out jobs based simply on where their friends work. At the same time, with the end of furlough schemes in the UK and the opening up of all sectors that are the natural competition for contact centre resource, it’s perhaps unsurprising that our sector has felt the squeeze more than usual, especially as multi-channel customer demand has soared with the economy reopening.”

Is it all about Candidate power now?

 “I’ve been recruiting within the contact centre space for 15 years now and I have never experienced a market like this before. Candidate demands (particularly at Advisor level) are extreme, and due to the lack of available talent they are (on occasions) being met. WFH? Sure! More annual leave? No worries. You want to leave early to pick your kids up from School. Of course! “ Says Mark Conway, Managing Director at leading specialist industry recruiter CCP

“The war for talent has intensified more since COVID than ever, and candidate power is a real thing. Surprisingly these situations aren’t occurring at ‘Head of’ and ‘Director’ level as largely people who operate at this level of the hierarchy already have a level of authority to manage their own diaries and dictate their own work conditions. Suddenly, everyone is empowered to dictate their work conditions and the market needs to adapt.

We have experienced these challenges also differ based on the geographical location of the role strangely, with the challenges being greater in the North of England than the South.”

Is more money the answer?

William “The entry level salary for most contact centres roles is comparable to working in retail customer service, hospitality and public sector. While there is an extensive range of careers accessible in the contact centre industry over the longer term, from project management to roles in quality and data insight for example, those early years in the job on the frontline of remote customer management are arguably very similar in scope and nature to entry level roles in those other sectors.

This means contact centre employee selection needs to be robust and ideally include psychometrics to ensure people coming into our industry are the best fit they can be for the roles they are intending to fill. Then ongoing, employee engagement initiatives also need to be pertinent to retain colleagues and include structured career development plans with clear line of sight to opportunities that can elevate their working life experience and grow their potential.

Salary of course is a major factor in attracting people into any industry and contact centre recruitment specialists like Red Recruitment have done a great deal of investigation to understand how this needs to change. An average of £21k – £23k as a starting salary are now the norm, and any joiner bonuses are being paid much earlier in the role than before. Benefits like these need to be communicated constantly and consistently to the job market as well as a clear articulation of where a career in the sector might lead.”

Mark Conway “We have yet to come across a client who is offering a sign on bonus at entry level, but we are seeing an awfully large number of clients increasing salaries, offering flexibility to WFH and introducing shift patterns that suit an individual’s personal circumstances. How they’re forecasting and planning considering the number of random shifts is beyond us but right now needs must and the demand for talent is real.”

Is this about more than just WFH or Hybrid Working?

“The last two years has changed the way many people view their relationship with the workplace, forever.  For many contact centre and office-based jobs, ‘forced’ homeworking has brought a realisation that you don’t have to join the rush hour traffic and work 9-5 to do your job effectively.  Or indeed to build your career.  While some people can only perform their jobs in a physical workplace, it’s now clear that others can operate just as effectively and securely from home”.  Says Mark Walton, CEO of specialist outsourcer Sensée

“That presents both businesses and individuals with options. For businesses, work-from-home (WFH) provides options to cut down on expensive office space, slashing both operational costs and their carbon footprint. For individuals it means they can look to plan their day around other activities, not just their work, and save both time and money by cutting out the daily commute.  

What’s become clear since the last lockdown ended however is that attracting Talent is about a lot more than switching the 9-5 office job to the 9-5 WFH job.  

People are not just requesting WFH, but WFH with flexibility.  They want the ability to, at least partially, self-select when they work, maybe so that they can take the dog for a walk or go for a bike ride during the day.  But more often than not for more time-critical reasons, such as having to pick up the kids from school, or care for an elderly relative.  A lot of people also don’t want to WFH 100% of the time. They want to WFH some days and from the office on others.

What does the Industry as whole need to do?

“The industry as a whole, inhouse and outsourced, could do much more in coming together collectively to represent all of this better at regional and national level through chambers of commerce, industry organisations and investment bodies. Great strides of course have been taken by the CCMA, SWCCF and UKCCF but often we are celebrating and articulating the positives of our industry to one another and not to the wider world.” says William

“At the other end of the workforce demographic there is a growing population of young ‘pensioners’ who take early retirement in their mid-50s. In my experience, this is an excellent market to tap into for our industry and many people in this age group have an entire career’s worth of experience in customer service of all kinds as well as great empathy from their own life experience.

Packaging what our industry can offer in terms of roles that are relevant and interesting to those in this group who want to continue their working lives should be a priority. The UK is getting older and not everyone at the end of their established career are seeking to stop work all together.

It’s also true that the vagaries of the labour pool can be cyclical and over time, especially in a post-Covid economy,  a mix of factors will come to bear on the industry that may relieve the current recruitment challenges. From use of technology to transform customer journeys and the operations that respond to these, to developments in the wider economy that help stimulate employment as well as salaries and benefits. While we quite rightly talk at length about the benefits of digital in making customers’ brand experiences better, technology also needs to deliver an employee dividend through more effective tools and skills that will help drive the right mindset about our industry.

It’s probably worth reflecting too that on the continent the picture is different. People coming into the roles in Eastern Europe are much more career minded, usually educated to degree level and think differently about their development trajectory from the get go. The industry in Europe suffers much less from negative press and there’s a genuine sense of pride in what teams do to support customers and brands. There isn’t much we can do to redress the media caricature of call centres but we can certainly point to the career opportunities that our multi-lingual colleagues aspire to and attain with a certain natural ease.”

Mark Conway “One of CCP’s clients recently told us that during COVID they refurbished their offices with the goal of making them feel more like a hotel lounge than an office. They said “while we don’t need our staff to physically come to work, we want them to want to come in, and we’ve therefore created an environment to hopefully give them the want rather than the need”. This is an interesting concept and for them, it seems to have worked.”

Mark Walton “A key challenge in the War for Talent is how businesses will satisfy people’s desire to WFH flexibly, while running a tight ship i.e. maximising productivity, keeping operational costs at acceptable levels, ensuring teams work efficiently as hybrid teams…… as well as how they recruit the right people, pay salary levels that work for both employers and employees, train colleagues, communicate effectively, maintain tight security, ensure compliance, and so on.  You won’t just win the War for Talent by offering more money (although it will of course help).  You need to offer job flexibility.  And create a hybrid working model that works both for your business and its employees, supported by appropriate people programmes, business processes and technology solutions.”

What does the future hold?

Mark Conway “We believe this storm will calm in the New Year once furlough is a memory and the world will slowly return to a new normal. However, the reality is that until companies reopen their offices and physically going to work becomes an everyday routine for the masses again, candidate demands will remain and the war for talent will continue to intensify.”

William concludes “Looking much further into the future, consider the secretarial typing pools of the 70s, they’re gone – now everybody types. Similarly, the future in our industry won’t be more of the same and it’s incumbent on us today to start to define the careers and expectations of those careers for the customer management business of the next 20 years – from high value assisted sales roles and clienteling to data scientists and data journalists. None of this will happen overnight of course, however brands and BPOs know it has begun and with it the opportunities for ever more meaningful and relevant careers will present themselves.

Perhaps more than any factor – work life balance is changing and wherever we look we can see that impacting the nature of the labour pool, the roles people are seeking and the loss of prominence of certain types of careers over others. A great deal of commentary has been made recently regarding the ‘great resignation’ but there has also been an explosion of self-employment and the appearance of new niche sectors.

In summary then, Covid and the post-pandemic world of work that has created these is unlikely to go into reverse. We need to be prepared and proactive in articulating the best our industry has to offer, the attractiveness of the salary and benefits packages available and the social, community and colleague engagement aspects to what continues to be this most varied and interesting industry sector.”

 

What we have learned from this series is that the industry faces many challenges, but this has always been a hugely resilient and adaptable industry. We have heard the passion for the sector from many who have worked in it for many years and like me, know that it can be a hugely engaging and enjoyable environment to work in.

We have often faced huge periods of change in our sector, and always been stronger and better for it on the other side, with the best business bringing innovation that benefits both the customer and their people.

Whilst the scale and timing of this may be unprecedented, and there will inevitably be some casualties along the way, lets hope we see the best of what makes this a fabulous industry

We look forward to highlighting the successes in 2022!

KG

 

 

 

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