The events of the past couple of years took a strange, unexpected toll on the labor market. During the lockdown, unemployment was high, and workers clung to their jobs. However, now that things are getting (somewhat) back to normal, a significant percentage of American workers have decided not to go back to work.
In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that 2.9% of the workforce walked away from their jobs in August of this year; some to take different jobs and some to leave the labor pool altogether. So, not only are people not reentering the workforce, but they’re also actively leaving it.
By now, most of us have experienced the labor shortage as consumers. Employers are also more than likely feeling the pinch of what's been dubbed the "Great Resignation." A survey conducted by Fortune and Deloitte revealed that 73% of CEOs believe "a labor/skills shortage is the most likely external issue to disrupt their business in the next 12 months."
The contact center industry is used to battling high turnover rates and the struggle of attracting and retaining talented agents. But current labor market conditions promise to create challenges never experienced before. To weather the storm, a best practice for organizations is to creatively improve the contact center agent experience and take other measures in order to attract and retain skilled employees.
The great resignation is a real phenomenon that may profoundly affect your contact center
This is clearly a job seeker's market. The labor shortage creates a situation where workers can jump from job to job as they chase higher wages, better benefits, better work/life balance, an employer that's highly focused on social issues, and other things a person might value in their job environment.
Additionally, the proliferation of remote work has opened up more employment opportunities for workers. Job seekers no longer have to look for an opportunity within a specific radius from their home. Their employer and manager can be located halfway around the world.
These factors mean that in addition to challenges recruiting and keeping agents, contact centers may also experience difficulty with mid-level position turnover, such as supervisors, trainers, and workforce analysts. In the current job market, mid-level employees may be more likely to job shop, and their positions can be more difficult to fill than those of agents due to a demand for more experience and a more technical or managerial skillset.
Contact centers may also face higher operating costs as they increase wages and benefits to attract and retain employees. 50% of CEOs say their businesses have increased employee pay in an effort to strengthen their appeal as an employer.
Though this is definitely a potential route your contact center could consider taking, higher wages won't solve all employee retention problems. If the employee experience is bad, a fatter paycheck won't keep workers from leaving. People typically want more from their employer than high wages. They also want things like recognition, a reasonable workload, modern tools, and positive and supportive workplace culture.
It’s in a contact center leader’s best interest to address persistent causes of frustration that prevent their organization from becoming a job seeker’s first choice and garnering a potentially harmful reputation. Issues such as poor leadership, limited training, antiquated technology, and inflexible work schedules can cause employees to disengage, lose loyalty to the company, and eventually leave.
These persistent issues negatively impact the agent experience and are only compounded by recent worldwide effects. The labor shortage has existing employees handling larger workloads. Additionally, the pandemic has driven higher interaction volume within the contact center, stretching the limits of understaffed agent teams.
Constantly overwhelming workloads can quickly lead to agent burnout. According to one study, 74% of call center agents are at risk for burnout. And 30% of those individuals are at severe risk of burnout.
In addition to causing disengagement and employee attrition, agent burnout can negatively impact customer experience (CX). At a time when CX is a competitive differentiator, businesses can't afford to have burned-out agents trying (or not trying) to make meaningful, loyalty-building connections with customers.
An article published by Customer Think states that customers base 70% of how they feel about an experience on how they were treated. Additionally, when customers feel connected to brands, 57% report increasing their spending with that brand. Expecting overworked agents to make meaningful connections with customers may be too much to ask. But if they don't, your business results may suffer.
What lessons can contact center leaders learn from The Great Resignation?
Microsoft conducted a comprehensive work trends study involving 30,000 workers in 31 countries. They found that 41% of workers considered leaving their employer this year and employees, in general, are looking for a change because so many of them are struggling to stay engaged and fulfilled at work.
Let's take a look at some of the reasons for employee attrition, and some of the ways contact center management can counter these issues and avoid the impact of the Great Resignation.
1. Contact center agent burnout
Workers all over the world in all different kinds of industries are feeling the effects of the labor shortage. We've already discussed agent burnout and how it affects employee attrition, so let's now review some ways to make workloads manageable again.
- Self-service. Decreasing the demand for agent assistance should be a top priority right now and self-service is a great way to do it. Contact centers today have plenty of ways to help customers help themselves. You can revamp your business’s website FAQ page or implement a thorough, searchable knowledge base so customers can easily find answers to their questions. To automate self-service transactions, look at conversational IVRs and AI-powered virtual agents. 81% percent of consumers prefer to try to resolve their own issues before contacting a business for help, so adding effective self-service creates a win-win situation.
- Automate agent tasks. Another good way to reduce workload is to automate part of it. Solutions such as robotic process automation (RPA) lend agents a helping hand by performing some of their simple, routine tasks for them. Agents definitely won't miss making address changes in multiple systems or activating new mobile phones, and relieving the stress of performing mundane, repetitive tasks will give them more energy to focus on customer experience.
2. Fear for personal safety
Some people have a genuine fear of contracting COVID-19, and justifiably so. As more businesses call for remote workers to return to physical facilities, this can increase stress and cause employees to quit out of concern for their own safety.
Acknowledgment by contact center management that personal safety is a legitimate concern, especially in an environment where employees often sit shoulder to shoulder, is an important gesture. They should also adopt effective measures to prevent the spread of illness, such as thorough and frequent cleaning and placing plexiglass barriers between cubicles. But perhaps the most effective measure contact centers can take to address this concern is to continue using a remote or hybrid workforce model. And this shouldn't just be available to agents—mid-level employees should also have the option to work from home.
3. Employee dissatisfaction
"Dissatisfaction" is a broad term and has many root causes, including burnout and fear of contracting COVID-19. As mentioned previously, dissatisfaction also results from poor agent experience. Focusing on improving the agent experience can increase satisfaction, engagement, and ultimately long-term retention.
To enhance the agent experience, contact centers can equip agents with necessary tools and resources, including:
- Helpful, knowledgeable supervisors
- Clear expectations of how their performance impacts business results
- Regular feedback and training
- An attractive, attainable career path
- Modern technology that makes them more successful at their jobs
- Have a say in their work schedules
- Acknowledgment and implementation of agent feedback by management
- Competitive compensation
For more insight on agent training best practices, check out these New Agent Training Tips for Today’s Digital World.
4. A shift in priorities
The lockdowns gave people a lot of time to think and a lot to think about. After all of this contemplation, many workers concluded that they're more than just their jobs and that they want more work-life balance.
Contact centers that retain valuable, hardworking employees recognize this desire for more balance and take measures to make it possible. This may mean moving a high-performing agent to a less stressful role or letting more employees transition to a part-time or job-share workforce model. Contact centers can also, if possible, be more flexible with work schedules. And remote work creates more balance in employee lives as it eliminates commutes and allows people to grocery shop or finish household chores on their breaks, as long as they’re accountable for their workload. This kind of flexibility and freedom is incredibly desirable to workers.
Protecting your contact center from the effects of the Great Resignation and preventing employee attrition
The major shift in the labor force will be one of the most significant issues contact centers will grapple with in 2022. The key to success is proactive and disciplined planning. Follow the steps below to mitigate the effects of the Great Resignation.
- Step 1: Understand the impact of the problem. To address a problem requires an understanding of the nature of the problem and its impact. For example, is your contact center experiencing trouble recruiting employees, retaining them, or both? What is the year-over-year change, and how is the data trending? What are the impacts on your KPIs?
- Step 2: Identify the root cause of the problem. Once you've identified the problem and its scope, it's time to identify its root cause. If it's a retention issue, employee exit interviews or surveys are a good way to find out why employees are leaving. Or, ask your current employees to identify existing issues that might cause them to quit. Once you find that a key driver of employee attrition is low pay, lack of work-life balance, bad work environment, etc., you can develop an actionable plan to address it.
- Step 3: Build a plan for change, and then carry it out. Create and execute a plan to correct the problem, and let employees know that positive changes are coming. Consider implementing some of the solutions we've already discussed. For example, if burnout is the root cause of attrition, implementing customer self-service options to alleviate overbearing contact volumes might be the cure.
Your contact center's success depends on having a plan to identify and subsequently reduce the impact of the labor shortage, and time is of the essence.
Spot and alleviate workforce pain points for an improved employee experience
CXone is the industry leading cloud contact center platform that gives your team the technology and analytics to resolve issues faster, personalize every experience, and forge deeper connections and loyalty with each customer. Include CXone in your workforce plans to access the following capabilities that enhance the agent experience.
- Optimized for remote work so at-home agents and supervisors have access to the same resources and capabilities as your on-site employees
- Real-time interaction guidance software that coaches agents on soft skills while voice interactions are happening. This relieves supervisors of some burden and empowers agents to make satisfying customer connections even when they feel a little burned out
- AI bots built for effective self-service, which can reduce agent workload and increase productivity
- Smart workforce management software that optimizes forecasts and schedules, and enables agents to conveniently have more control of when they work
- Quality management solutions that foster a culture of continuous improvement and facilitate agent feedback regardless of where agents and supervisors are located
In addition to creating advanced software and contact center applications, CXone also provides insightful publications that contact center leaders can rely upon to help optimize operations, CX, and the agent experience. Download one of our latest eBooks, Inner Circle Guide to Agent Engagement and Empowerment, for ideas about how to keep more of your talented agents around longer.
i Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor: Job Openings and Labor Turnover—September 2021 (2021)
ii Fortune: The Great Resignation is no joke (2021)
iii Fortune: The Great Resignation is no joke (2021)
iv Customer Think: 8 Ways to Avoid Call Center Agent Burnout Intensified During a Crisis (2020)
v Customer Think: Why do Customer Experience and Conversational AI go hand in hand? (2021)
vi CMS Wire: How Contact Center Agents Benefit From In-the-Moment Guidance (2021)
vii Microsoft: The Next Great Disruption is Hybrid Work—Are We Ready? (2021)
viii Harvard Business Review: Kickass Customer Service (2017)