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For decades, contact centers have been environments of high staff turnover. Employees were expected to churn, and managers focused resources on rapidly recruiting and onboarding. But a tight post-pandemic labor market and rising recruitment costs mean that model is no longer sustainable.
The MIT Technology Review Insights research study, “Customer experience and the future of work,” finds that hiring new contact center employees is now the top workforce-related challenge for CX leaders worldwide.
And managers aren’t just trying to keep existing seats filled. The research, a survey of 800 CX executives across regions and industries, found organizations plan to increase the size of their CX employee base.
They’re also shifting resources to bring the customer experience under greater internal control. This reflects the importance of CX to their overall brand and market differentiation. The MIT study projects an increase of about 10% in the number of in-house employees from 2022 to 2024. That growth rate also extends to supervisory roles in the contact center.
At the same time, survey respondents say they expect CX to become more specialized in the future. Staff will need greater data and analytics skills, as well as deeper expertise in process mapping and customer journey optimization. As chatbots and other self-service technologies proliferate, agents will have to handle more complex interactions that require problem-solving and empathy.
Improving recruitment is only part of the solution. CX leaders need to focus on retaining employees and developing the talent they already have.
Working from home, either full-time or part-time, has alleviated some of the pressures on contact center hiring managers. The survey finds being able to retain more staff is the greatest benefit of hybrid working. This is followed by employees having lower stress levels and better mental health. That also affects retention.
But hybrid working alone isn’t enough to keep employees engaged long term.
They want — and deserve — opportunities to develop and grow. A survey of 16,000 contact center agents last year said learning new skills and technologies are among the most important aspects of job satisfaction.
While most contact centers provide extensive training, these courses often are tactical and primarily focused on optimizing day-to-day performance. And CX leaders acknowledge they don’t offer the meaningful development and career advancement employees expect.
Nearly half the respondents to the MIT study believe their employees’ greatest daily frustrations are insufficient learning and development opportunities. More than 70% of CX leaders see learning and development as an aspect of the employee lifecycle that’s most in need of improvement.
As with many business initiatives today, building a culture of learning and development requires rethinking how you approach people, processes and technology.
Supervisors must focus more on coaching and creating career paths — and less on productivity-related KPIs in conversations with their employees. They should rethink which metrics to focus on, so agents have time to participate in training while still meeting their shift-based performance goals.
Organizations don’t need to build all their training content in-house. Comprehensive online learning is available from many training companies, technology vendors and even social media platforms. Supervisors can use gamification with eLearning tools to encourage more participation. In addition, engaging in culture-building activities build proficiencies and add new competencies.
With so many organizations shifting to hybrid work, there’s also an opportunity to redesign existing office space into experience centers. These environments allow employees to spend time immersed in learning and development activities. These centers allow them to collaborate with colleagues on optimizing customer journeys and receiving targeted coaching.
Using artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance the employee experience is another way to support a learning culture. Examples include using AI to improve real-time coaching, prompt next-best actions on the job, and skills-based routing. More than 60% of organizations that The Economist Group considers “AI leaders” are using the technology to identify employees’ career growth capabilities.
CX employees have a valuable set of interpersonal and analytical skills, as well as deep knowledge of an organization’s processes and pain points. As CX leaders look to the future, they’re working on developing career paths not only within the CX department but also in other functions. Supervisors should consider a wide range of opportunities when discussing and designing career paths with their employees.
Organizations must create learning and development programs that do more than just provide skills-based training. They also need to build quality career paths, offer flexible schedules so people can invest in their development and use AI to provide job-related insights.
By better developing and retaining contact center employees, organizations will reduce hiring and onboarding costs and improve the customer experience. Investing in CX employees by creating a company culture around learning isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s a worthwhile investment for your business.
A version of this article was originally posted in Customer Experience Magazine.
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