By Ben Bekhor
For retailers and contact centers, the holiday season doesn’t end January 1. The fact is, post-holiday sales, gift returns and exchanges, and questions about setting up new devices, toys, furniture, and more keep customer experience (CX) centers humming well into the new year.
Combined with the wide plethora of digital options consumers have to connect with brands (including in-app messaging, social media chatbots, voice assistants, and more), contact centers can expect a higher-than-average number of consumer touch points during the post-holiday season.
The challenge is keeping employees motivated and engaged once the holidays are over, which is critical when you consider the steady rate of low unemployment and resulting labor shortage. In truth, it’s a challenge contact centers need to address proactively if they want to retain the top talent they worked so hard to win ahead of the holiday season.
While wages are always an important contributing factor to employee happiness and retention, the fact is there are multiple avenues through which contact centers, and the brands they represent, can boost employee satisfaction year-round. Options include continuous learning, alternative pay options, and long-term incentives.
Here are three ways contact centers can look beyond wages to retain top talent and keep post-holiday momentum alive:
Invest in Growth for Lasting Engagement
Learning and development (L&D) is one of the primary benefits applicants seek when evaluating a potential employer. However, more than half of companies do not have L&D programs in place to train workers for skills of the future. This naturally sets in motion fears and rumors of job automation and displacement. However, artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to create more jobs (133 million by 2022) than it’s poised to displace (75 million by 2025).
The post-holiday season is the perfect opportunity for contact centers to skill up employees to work alongside AI-driven tools—chatbots, voice assistants, or automated texting—if they want to stay relevant, maintain a highly skilled workforce, and beat out competitors. Walmart, for example, has invested nearly $3 billion in training, education, and higher wages. Their training programs boast a strong focus on technology, as well as a blend of traditional classroom learning with experiential, on-the-job training. As the nation’s largest employer, this means providing hundreds of thousands of US employees with skills they might not have acquired otherwise.
Contact centers may also consider offering continuous learning opportunities in the form of massive open online courses, which offer instruction on a wide variety of subjects such as coding, business management, and languages. These enable CX agents to stay engaged in their day-to-day tasks while improving skills in areas that foster their long-term growth within CX. Additionally, L&D offerings create an opportunity for agents to grow into promotions (and, inherently, higher wages), which in turn allow contact centers to benefit from a more professionally driven and motivated staff.
Prioritize the Perks That Matter to Individuals
While high-profile brands such as Amazon and Disney are paving the path for even more competitive hourly wages for customer service representatives, contact centers might consider offering alternative pay options to retain top talent—either instead of or in addition to increased wages.
Perks and benefits most sought after by employees include flexible hours or remote work options—favored by 38 percent of employees according to a recent survey by beqom; incentivized bonuses, such as more paid time off or cash prizes as the result of high resolution numbers (that is, resolved inquiries); and personalized benefits, which enable employees to better achieve work-life balance, such as on-site childcare, fitness reimbursements, or tuition assistance.
What’s key is for contact centers to leverage relevant employee data (ascertained through AI-driven compensation management platforms, or even employee surveys) about the types of benefits that would most support employees’ individual needs and, as a result, help to ensure their long-term employment. Remember that people are interested in certain benefits at different stages of life. For example, a Gen Z employee might appreciate tuition assistance as part of their compensation package, whereas a late-millennial might be more geared toward higher 401(k) matches.
Consider Long-Term Incentives for Loyalty
Contact centers that want to retain workers and keep them motivated long-term should explore long-term incentives (LTIs). Sweetening 401(k) plans with higher matches or increased vesting over time, as well as profit sharing or deferred cash, can be critical to ensuring the longevity of top talent. What’s more, employees will have the incentive to stay if they feel their employer has their long-term financial security at heart.
LTIs also incentivize employees to focus on (and hopefully surpass) specific performance goals. For example, profit sharing might be a benefit exclusive to employees that exceed performance metrics, while sabbatical programs might only become available to employees after they’ve achieved a certain status or worked a certain number of years at their contact center. The goal of LTIs in terms of achieving employee retention is to align employee needs with the contact center’s expectations for individual job performance so employees feel that they are recognized and valued contributors to their contact center’s success.
These strategies to foster growth, personal balance, and long-term financial security are three easy methods for contact centers to leverage year-round, but they are critical steps to deploy when employee motivation slumps after the busy holiday season. When it comes to incentivizing workers to maintain productivity after January 1, it’s important that contact centers endeavor to make CX agents feel they can share in their employer’s successes and reap the rewards of their labor. Doing so helps contact centers retain the top talent they need to make the post-holiday season a success and grow a dedicated, motivated, and high-performing staff for many years to come.
Ben Bekhor serves as vice president, human resources, Americas for Sitel Group, a leader in the delivery of traditional and transformational customer experience management—business process outsourcing (BPO). Bekhor oversees all aspects of HR operations for the US, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, and Colombia, including compensation and benefits, talent acquisition, talent management, and learning and development.