By Maureen Hoersten
As we head into 2019, we’re seeing a shift in the call center industry. As companies expand, the effects are felt by the call center industry and many are changing operations within their organization. Doing so boosts engagement, retention, and helps them remain competitive both in the labor market and the marketplace.
Here are four trends that are changing the call center internally in 2019.
Increased Agent Training
Training and development programs are the most effective way for companies to improve their customer experience and stay competitive in today’s tight labor market. As competition for talent continues to grow, training and development will be more important in 2019. Not only do training and development opportunities directly impact how engaged employees are at work, but the better employees are trained, the more likely they’ll be good agents.
A hiring tip for employers in 2019: in today’s tight labor market, don’t seek talent that meets the hard skills necessary for the job. Instead hire agents with strong skills for customer service and train them on the technical skills they may not have.
Customers should have to put in low effort to achieve the results they need. Efficient, user-friendly service is critical. Long phone wait times, faulty service, and being transferred to different departments all should go away in 2019. Companies should invest in training their customer service reps to have enough expertise in all areas a customer may call about. Automation will help process calls faster and better direct them to the appropriate people. Companies may also spend more money on programs to help them overcome faulty service, such as dropped calls or delayed responses.
Implementation of Career Pathing
A critical move call centers will want to make in 2019 is developing career paths for agents, especially in the tight labor market we’re currently in and will continue to see. Agent career pathing will not only boost retention but will also help call centers build out their talent pipeline.
In terms of career pathing, it’s important to recognize that individual agents may seek out different career paths based on what motivates them. For example, not all high-performing agents will grow into managers and supervisors, and that’s okay. Some high performers may be better on an account management track. Making sure you help your agents find the right path for them by identifying their unique motivators is critical. Someone who doesn’t want to be in a leadership role but is in one won’t be effective in developing the next generation of talent at your organization.
Promotions within customer service roles are typically based on skill and tenure. Career pathing is critical to retention because someone who’s been with a company for a few years isn’t going to want to be ranked at the same level as someone who started a month ago.
Some call centers find success by having levels of accreditation, where an agent must complete certain tasks to move up in an organization. Others offer different titles to deal with different types of call. A more seasoned agent will deal with more difficult callers in this sort of system. With both, a pay increase comes with the title change.
Push to Retain Agents
Turnover has always been an issue in the call center industry. Today’s tight labor market doesn’t make it any easier to keep employees. Losing a contact center agent, then hiring, onboarding, and training a new agent is costly. Focusing on employee retention by meeting the needs of call center agents in 2019 is key.
Consider offering opportunities for flextime or remote work. As call center technology advances, there are more opportunities for employees to work remotely. Remote work is highly sought after by call center professionals and may keep them at your company longer. Those who manage remote call center workers can find success by putting mandatory check-ins, call logs, and daily reports in place. Technology and software has been designed to help manage remote workers, such as screen sharing, schedule assistants, analytics tools, and automated reporting software.
Another way to effectively retain employees is holding daily or weekly competitions. Call centers are intense, and agents feel the heat with metrics. Creating competitions around metrics can help motivate and engage agents more. Competitions can be as simple as announcing that the first five people who hit a certain metric will receive a gift card or get to leave early.
Offering benefits to employees is another retention tool. Companies now often offer health benefits. If you’re not offering benefits to your agents, you won’t be competitive in the field. Go beyond basic health benefits to be more effective in retaining your agents.
Hiring More Recent Grads
A few years ago, we saw more companies hiring recent college graduates for customer service roles. As the labor market stays hot, we’re going to see more of this. Recent graduates join organizations in customer service positions and then transition into other departments such as marketing or accounting.
There are two main profiles companies look for. One is the traditional call center professional who has experience in the field. The other profile is a fresh grad. Traditional call center professionals use intense goals and metrics, but often they may be stuck in their ways, complaining, “That’s not how we did it at my old company,” or they bounce around from company to company for more money. That’s why it can be beneficial for firms to recruit fresh grads to fill call center roles. Companies can train and develop them how they want, and the role helps the recent grads learn the business from the bottom up.
By staying ahead of 2019 trends, call centers can be successful in recruiting and retaining talent that meets customers’ needs better than ever before.
Maureen Hoersten is the chief operating officer of LaSalle Network, a national staffing, recruiting, and culture firm specializing in customer service and call center roles. Hoersten has helped hundreds of businesses find top customer service talent, from small to large businesses in a range of industries. She has developed a deep knowledge of the space and understanding of what sets apart the top professionals during her more than fifteen years of experience.