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No industry has been spared from the Great Resignation – especially the contact centre industry. We are seeing some businesses in other sectors such as Amazon and others offering up to £3,000 bounties to attract new staff, and a significant upward trend on wages.

As the War for Talent intensifies, in this Editorial 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 how does the Contact Centre industry position itself as a good career move above the noise and clamour for staff or are the best people leaving the sector altogether for new careers.

What can Contact Centres do to help themselves?

“As “The Great Resignation” or Turnover Tsunami as some are calling it sweeps the global labour landscape contact centres must focus on retaining and engaging their agents”, says Sarah-Leigh Roddis, Lead Employee Communications Specialist at TTEC Leeds.

“Even before all of this we were seeing that company mission and culture mattered more to those looking for jobs, especially those looking for a long term career.  Now todays contact centre agents have experienced flexible schedules and a better work/life balance and those that cannot provide a combination of the two are losing out.”

“Contact centres have long been challenged with hiring, staff turnover, and the ongoing training and education challenges that result from short-tenured employees. The best companies create positive work cultures with flexible staffing models to create happy environments that increase employee longevity. But even organisations with very mature practices and relatively low turnover rates have been impacted by the Great Resignation. Due to prospective employees seeking positions that allow them to work from home, hiring has never been more challenging.” Says Megan Neale, Founder and COO at Limitless, Gig CX Provider

“Contact centres that rely on physical locations have been extraordinarily hard pressed to find employees. Transitioning to WFH hiring practices (rather than the COVID mandate to move existing employees to home locations) is operationally complex, and many organisations haven’t made the transition well”. 

“Couple this with the fact that volume and customer demand are increasing, organisations have a new challenge on their hands. According to a poll among Genesys Customer Advisory Board members the volume of customer interactions agents handle has spiked 35-40% in some cases during the pandemic. “

“It means that in order to deliver the levels of services expected, companies will need to create environments and provide tools that enable people to do their best work. The same study also identified the top values amongst call centre employees (including sales, tech support and customer service staff), which were: personal responsibility, family, relationships, financial security, and health and wellbeing.”

“The pressure is on as our recent research shows us that nearly half of consumers feel that COVID-19 is no longer a valid excuse for poor customer service.“

Is the Contact centre still a good career choice?

“I have always seen contact centres as fantastic opportunities for people as a career choice, the opportunity, development, training and support which is available to many is significant in comparison to many other options and industries and if we just look around at many of the leaders across the customer world so many came from early careers working as an Advisor” Says Michelle Ansell, Managing Director at specialist recruiter Douglas Jackson  

“Unfortunately, the industry is far too often associated with national headlines and stories of timed toilet breaks and employees being video’d via TEAMS and or Zoom to ensure working or log on time is as it should be.”

Sarah-Leigh “The acceleration of digital transformation (AI, chatbots, automation) has allowed us to change the agent role from being brand ambassadors to being the face of digital-first brands.  By definition, the work has become more interesting and meaningful.  What we must make sure of is there are employee engagement strategies in place to help agents to feel valued and succeed in delivering great CX”

Where have the shortages been felt the most?

“The primary job shortages in recent months have generally been at the lower end and entry level, with some technical skills, drivers, hospitality, retail, Data, Insight and software development, although we expect the leadership and more senior markets to see a lot more change in 2022 and this is already starting to happen now” says Michelle

“Within contact centres we have seen a huge amount of roles created through government contracts related to the pandemic, if we go back to early summer, a lot of businesses felt it was a breeze to hire and there was an abundance of talent available and some organisations have been hiring hundreds of people in a matter of weeks, if not months.  Of course, at some point these contracts will end and as we start getting back to normal. I think we are seeing higher levels of suppressed activities in terms of job seekers and job roles at the moment and it should level out early 2022.”

How do we best retain the staff we already have?

Sarah-Leigh “We’ve seen our team here in Leeds go on quite a journey, with an eNPS increase of 30 points, with people highlighting they feel valued, cared for and well informed – not just through the pandemic. The team has adapted to home working, but with a TUPE transfer, new Target Operating Model, new systems and a transformational technology rollout.

Reviewing Pulse survey verbatim also helps to identify quick wins and those key dissatisfaction drivers. We also dig deep into our New Hire Surveys at regular intervals throughout the first year, and any Exit interviews that we conduct for those leaving the business. This means we are able to remain agile and adapt quickly to our employee needs and wants.

We actively develop our people offering 40 hours learning and development time per year and encourage our teams to grow by taking professionally recognised qualifications and master classes. The reward element links into our Gamified Talent Engine where learning and employee engagement reward points are given via our inhouse built app, and those points turn into fun prizes – it could be a voucher, paid time off or even some merchandise! “

How Difficult is it Recruit?

Michelle “The recruitment process for many organisations is broken, it is not surprising that so many businesses are failing to attract the best.  Change and transformative change we know takes time and requires a joined-up approach, yet recruitment so often seems held together by processes that have not changed for 20 years, is automated, or, might be delegated to individuals not experienced, or qualified to do the best job.  A lack of communication re a brands culture, purpose and values, poor application journeys, lack of responses, delays to next steps, no one to talk too, or to engage with, bad interviews or inexperienced unconfident interviewers, too many stages and hoops to jump through are so prevalent, it is no wonder some companies are struggling.

Sure there are incentives available and it might seem like a quick win or, option but good quality future employees are looking for more than a sign on bounty.  Whilst salary is always important, many individuals will forego some of their salary for something else important to them, flexibility, a shared purpose, or common interest, the ability to work towards a passion and or goal of theirs.  Organisations who want to hire the best and talent that stays for the longer term need to start focussing on this.”

“Recruitment hasn’t stopped” says Sarah Leigh – “we’re still seeing plenty of people applying for roles, and potential new hires are currently spoilt for choice, as there’s now an abundance of choice for potential new hires.  It’s an extremely competitive market which has had some impact when it comes to recruitment in terms of last-minute impacts to planning and fulfilment of roles. We’re addressing this by temporarily over-recruiting to account for the no-shows and have a competitive refer a friend bonus scheme in place for our existing employees.”

“We expect to see this trend continue, which can only be good news for the industry as contact centres become more creative and offer meaningful career opportunities”.

“ It may be time to review your work environments and your pay structures in line with the actual requirements of the job compared to other opportunities that other sectors are currently offering. It may also be time to adopt a different approach to recruitment and focus on recruiting for the right behaviours, rather than previous industry experience, thus opening up your potential pool of employees.  Whatever you decide to do, you can’t stand still, these challenges are very real and are here to stay for the foreseeable future and if you are looking to engage a reliable recruitment partner, make sure you speak to some recent clients of theirs first.  It’s vital that you feel reassured that they can deliver against your requirements and although many suppliers will tell you a compelling story and many, like us, will have experienced many of the challenges contact centre recruitment faces, this current market is new to us all! Says Francesca Randle, Director at specialist recruiter Cactus Search

“Candidate engagement has always been a big challenge in recruiting in the contact centre market, but it is now at an all time low! In a recent campaign we engaged Indeed for some ‘sponsored’ adverts, pre-pandemic we would hope to have engaged with a large majority of the candidates who applied, in this recent campaign we received 300 applications, of which only around 60 responded to our efforts to contact and resulted in only 1 offer of employment being made! The reasons really do speak for themselves:

 Choice– with so much choice for job seekers in the current market they are able to apply for numerous positions at the touch of a button and only respond to those which can offer the best pay and work conditions to suit their needs

  • Speed – candidates are moving through the job market so rapidly that unless employers are responding almost immediately with interview opportunities, then that candidate will have already been offered interviews and most likely a job already!
  • Candidate Market – the market is so heavily candidate driven that they can afford to demonstrate behaviours that have not previously been seen (to this extent) in job seekers.

Francesca continues “In pre-Covid recruitment we would expect to attract huge numbers of potential candidates to job adverts, this has seen a dramatic decrease and in some cases even though the number of applications is still at an acceptable level, the candidate engagement is almost non-existent, again reasons are varied, but here’s our thinking:

 Variety of Jobs Available– huge choice of vacancies across a number of sectors and homeworking opening up varied opportunities which were otherwise inaccessible.

  • Salaries– many industries now paying higher salaries for more attractive positions
  • Career Changes– many contact centre employees ‘post pandemic’ are looking for a change in career, lockdown has meant that many of us have re-assessed our career choices and work / life balance status.
  • Hybrid / Homeworking – many candidates are looking for a more flexible approach to work – in a recent campaign we advertised the same position with a lower salary which could be based remotely against a hybrid work model which was paying more, we received 95 applications for the remote role and 13 for the hybrid!

What Impact will Hybrid Working have?

“Working from home has not suited all, yet we have been doing it for such a long period of time, there are those who are reluctant to return to an office, yet much of the benefit of working in a contact centre, or any job is being around your colleagues and the environment, removing the fun, the conversations, the recognition, the interactions, the learnings that come from being around other people is not only extremely hard to replicate via video and other forced interactions, it removes a lot our own self worth, morale and motivations.  Working in a Contact Centre is not an easy job and can take its toll, yet we have heard from many who after returning have realised they really missed it and actually are glad to have returned again, despite initially not wanting too.” Says Michelle

Francesca “In the short to medium term we really feel that Hybrid and Homeworking is going to be a huge challenge for the industry as a whole, although we do subscribe to the think tank that many organisations will return to an ‘office working’ model in some form, as training and development become a key challenge with working from home and many employees will eventually miss out on the interactions that an office environment can offer.  However the return to a more ‘office based’ model is unlikely to return in the short-term though and it’s clear that if you are unable to offer remote or hybrid work models or rapidly increase pay levels, then you will struggle to attract or retain talent.”

What do you think will be the impact on Wages?

“We expect salaries to rise across the customer and digital centric industry next year by around 15%” says Michelle, “a small price to pay to deliver better experience and drive improved acquisition, loyalty and retention of both our customers and employees.   Great Customer Service truly sets businesses apart and the value, data and insight that comes from our front-line Advisors and teams is so often overlooked, yet significant amounts of spend and investments can often be on consultants and or technology which don’t always deliver the desired results.”

What’s clear from this is that every business is impacted, and everyone is doing all they can to fix it, but no one has all the answers. What remains to be seen is if those that have thrown money at the problem will be ones that come out on top. What do you think? KG

Look out for Part 2 of this series next week!

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