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Contact Center Executive Forum Recap

Hire Dynamics held its annual Contact Center Executive Forum on September 23rd, and the main insight that came out of it was…

Candidates and employees are now “in charge,” and we’re happy to accommodate them.

Three contact center operations and technology experts discussed their pandemic recruiting, hiring, managing, training, and retaining experiences:

  • Earl Parker, Operations Executive for Delta Dental
  • Kimberly Gant, Director of Customer Service for Attorney Kenneth S. Nugent P.C.
  • LuAna Boykins, Chief Operating Officer for GuideWell Connect

The pandemic more than likely forced every contact center/customer service center in the country to transform its operations. And they no doubt had to do so exceptionally quickly: within a matter of days. (Or as Parker mentioned: “We moved 1,500 people from 100 percent at-center to 100 percent remote in eight days.”)

As such, the forum’s main topic focused on lessons learned over the last 18 months and what contact center operations managers and recruiters could expect moving forward.

Panel Members’ “Quick” Insights:

  • The past several months have changed how the public sees your company: your contact center/CSR team members are the “face” of your business now.
  • As you plan a transition – either to remote work or back-to-the-contact-center – have a goal or end-result in mind and “work backward” from that result/idea as you move toward it.
  • If you plan to use chatbots, make sure you purchase a platform that allows you to move to live-agent chat. Otherwise – as many contact centers are — you’ll probably need to buy an entirely new system.
  • Training CSRs on the new technology was more of a challenge than expected: after all, most CSRs and contact center agents use computers at the center. As a result, panelists said their companies started creating training programs that were relatively simple and extremely clear. The programs included written materials and how-to videos for virtual training purposes.
  • Team leads and supervisors who excelled in an in-person setting didn’t necessarily transition to being great managers/leaders in a remote setting. Remote training takes a slightly different skill set, particularly in being able to virtually “read” if new hires understand the training.
  • Online game sessions (online Jeopardy was a favorite) and other group “play” activities helped create and strengthen a feeling of camaraderie among remote workers. Birthday gifts, cards, and small hand-written notes from managers also helped managers and team members feel connected.

Moving Forward: Remote, On-site, or Hybrid?

Only Boykins said her company would stay fully remote: “If you’re comfy at home in your pajamas and you’re contributing and having a purpose in the workplace while balancing your children/caring for your families, I’m totally good with that.”

The other two panelists indicated they would follow a hybrid-remote setup, at least for the foreseeable future.

Recruiting/retaining contact center team members: remote work, schedule flexibility, AND money talk

Recruiting CSRs is extremely difficult today. Retaining them isn’t much easier.

All three panelists mentioned that they had raised pay rates considerably (one by at least $5/hour) and offer retention/attendance incentives. Dr. Boykins said that a few of her agents could end up grossing “six figures this year” as a result.)

All three panelists also indicated they’d offer remote work, at least part-time to most of their agent employees/CSRs. Why not all of them? Some employees just work better on-site, they’ve found.

It’s not always about the money: schedule flexibility also is critical to contact center agents.

While the extra pay does attract/retain employees, the panelists indicated that their team members also clamor for flexible schedules and that they’re happy to accommodate most, but not all, requests. That is due to some of their team members not being able to self-regulate as well as others due to personal characteristics or other external reasons.

Major Takeaway: CSRs “call the shots,” and that’s more than fine!

Raising pay rates, offering remote work and scheduling flexibility, sending small birthday gifts, and “thinking of you” cards all are important when it comes to attracting, recruiting, and retaining contact center talent.

But empathy and patience are paramount.

Talent today is faced with more than we can possibly know: childcare/caregiving issues, loved ones at risk, making ends meet, homeschooling children, worrying about children returning to school during the delta variant’s rise, and on and on and on.

“We don’t need to beat our agents over the head with attendance, working in the office, scheduling issues,” Parker said.

Instead, all the panelists agreed that now is the time to practice patience, understanding, and providing their team members the gift of trusting that they’re responsible when they ask for more flexibility.

Putting it all Together

The pandemic turned the world inside out, upside down, and sideways. It’s caused contact centers to rethink how much they pay their agents, where they work, how they’re trained, and how they’re managed as well as what kind – and how much – flexibility they can have.

And the answer? For the time being, at least, it appears to be as much as reasonably possible on all counts.

Hire Dynamics 43rd Contact Center Event will be held in February 2022

We found that many forum attendees had more questions than we had time, so we’ll be holding our next Contact Center Executive Forum in February to continue this discussion.

Learn more.