Now Is the Workforce of Our Discontent
Modern business has an employee engagement problem. I don’t mean to suggest that the entire labor pool is frustrated, but a highly visible contingent does suffer statistically greater rates of burnout and turnover. This same contingent also happens to directly represent most businesses to their clientele, and therein lies the danger. If the public face of your company is disenfranchised, your brand stands little chance of making a positive impression. I’m speaking about customer service representatives (CSRs) and agents. According to the 2016 Dimension Data Global Contact Centre Benchmark report, agent attrition is twice that of support and management roles (agent absenteeism is also double that of any other role). The report further notes that most organizations spend a lot of money onboarding contact center staff: Training can easily take 10 weeks or more before a new hire is fully proficient at his or her job. But with annual turnover at well over 20 percent, one in every five agents trained will be gone within the space of a year.
The primary culprit here is disengagement, which is much harder to pin down than you might imagine. A 2016 ICMI trend report commissioned by my employer put it thusly: “Employee engagement does not mean happy employees; it does not mean satisfied employees; it does mean emotionally and psychologically committed employees who exert discretionary effort to work on behalf of the organization’s goals.” That report also noted that while 89 percent of organizations surveyed considered employee engagement to be a top priority and 100 percent of contact center leaders thought agent morale directly affects customer experience, only 25 percent viewed their agents as highly engaged.
You must provide your experts with the contextual information and technology they need to meet omnichannel challenges
According to personnel consultancy Human Capital Institute, “The cost of disengagement to American organizations alone is between $450 billion and $550 billion per year. Companies focused on engagement have a multitude of reasons to do so, not the least of which is preventing costly turnover of top talent.” Engaged employees offer measurable benefits. Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace report states, “Business or work units that score in the top quartile of their organization in employee engagement have nearly double the odds of success (based on a composite of financial, customer, retention, safety, quality, shrinkage, and absenteeism metrics) when compared with those in the bottom quartile.”
One challenge to CSR engagement stems from the growing complexity of modern customer interactions. 451 Research found that over two-thirds of customers now prefer digital channels to communicate with businesses, and 42 percent state that a prerequisite for brand loyalty is the ability to resolve issues via digital channels: email, web portals, mobile apps, text, social media, etc. But, as of last year, 68.3 percent of agents were dedicated to telephone communications (up from 56.7 percent in 2015). This is because customers who cannot find answers via digital self-service resort to the phone for expert human intervention—ensuring that most problems agents must handle are guaranteed to be difficult, requiring blended skills and/or advanced cross-channel proficiencies. Tech-savvy customers dictate the terms, and your employees are faced with increasing pressures to rise to the occasion. This is the “omnichannel” age of customer experience. Its inherent complexity can make agents feel overwhelmed and ineffectual, which isn’t a promising platform for great customer service work.
To combat agent malaise in the digital age, you must provide your experts with the contextual information and technology they need to meet omnichannel challenges, and shift sales and service methodologies to better support your staff. Here are three key ways to promote employee engagement:
1. Embrace analytics and automation: Utilizing modern contact center technology isn’t just about managing volume at top speed (though that is certainly admirable). Quality counts, and a system that integrates all the many channels customers use to bring the right information to the right agent at the right time will empower your CSRs with appropriate context and detail so they can excel at what they do best—helping customers. Further, utilize skills-based routing so that your system automatically directs queries to the most suitable employee based on expertise, instead of the next randomly available person. Feeling that your talents are being properly exercised engenders a persistent sense of competence, and purposeful work goes a long way toward fostering engagement.
2. Map employee skills and training directly to KPIs. Review your customer engagement strategy. Are your quality assurance, training, and management programs advancing organizational goals? Improving employee performance? Helping or hurting? If your effort-to-outcome ratio doesn’t add up, your staff won’t buy in. Ask for employee and customer feedback and adjust accordingly. This process can also be integrated and automatically administrated within your customer experience platform, so that experimentation and training is assigned and delivered based on data, aptitude, and interest rather than guesswork. (It also provides a framework for continuous improvement in skills-based routing efforts.)
3. Communicate and sanction. Targeted coaching, opportunities for task switching and new skills training, frequent performance updates—these are the types of initiatives that show employees you respect their work. Make sure your system also incorporates a means for employees to easily surface improvement suggestions or opportunities, as well as provide their own assessments on system updates or new initiatives. Listen to your front-line and visibly incorporate their input into your operating model. Provide your agents some agency.
There is no quick fix or one-size-fits-all solution to the employee engagement problems in an omnichannel world. But this is certain: If you want your customers to feel supported, valued, and heard, then you must ensure your front-line employees feel supported, valued, and heard.