The Future: Preparing for the Next Generation of Agents

By Tom Goodmanson

Generation Y, also known as millennials, are getting their fair share of attention with respect to today’s workplace and their place in it. Born between 1981 and 2000, millennials expect interesting and challenging work. They anticipate fast and upward mobility, along with ongoing mentoring and feedback from their supervisors. Members of generation Y expect to be equipped with the latest technological tools. In order for contact centers to attract and retain this new generation of workers, a few leadership and technological changes are required.

Unfortunately, in the minds of many millennials, it appears that meeting such expectations in a contact center environment is not a likely scenario. For example, author Jim Rembach comments that a survey highlighting generation Y’s perceptions of work in Customer Management IQ conducted by Sodexo Motivation Solutions in the UK is not too encouraging:

  • Only 5 percent regard working for a call center as exciting.
  • Over half (55 percent) have negative perceptions about working in a call center.

Such findings don’t bode well for an industry that already consistently struggles with high turnover and employee dissatisfaction. To help change these dynamics, contact centers need to prepare for the next generation of workers and create an environment that appeals to generation Y’s working style.

These changes must come from the contact center leadership, and organizations should apply new methods from a technology perspective. Specifically, it’s important to choose and apply technology that appeals to this group of tech-savvy individuals for optimal productivity. Generation Y is more interested in different modes of communication than previous generations. For instance, in the contact center, millennials want to be able to personalize social networking tools – such as widgets on their desktop – so they can quickly access information to address a caller’s concern or ask their superiors a question in real-time if they are on a difficult call.

Here’s what contact center leaders can do to help attract and retain the next generation of workers as part of their workforce optimization strategy:

Implement Web 2.0 Technology: Web 2.0, in the consumer world, is most commonly associated with interactive social media sites, like iGoogle, and the ability to personalize one’s desktops and network with other users. Millennial workers are hungry for feedback on their performance, and applying Web 2.0 technologies and networking concepts in the contact center supports the need for ongoing feedback. Generation Y is used to Web 2.0 technology, and incorporating technology that the majority of these users are most familiar with promises improvements in workplace efficiency and job satisfaction – ultimately improving customer service.

One popular function of Web 2.0 is its ability to incorporate widgets or gadgets. Web 2.0 enables users to install widgets in any HTML-based Web page, which can add a visual component or application. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) enable separate software programs to share data, simplifying integration from one application to another. For these reasons, a workforce optimization suite built in a Web 2.0 framework delivers on all the benefits a software suite should offer.

Web 2.0 makes incorporating new software components easy as the contact center’s needs evolve. By keeping the suite simple, contact centers have the flexibility to quickly incorporate new functions. Web 2.0 also allows for the personalization of each agent’s toolbox. For example, agents can track their own performance, manage their schedules, and collaborate with their colleagues and supervisors.

Overall, Web 2.0 delivers on the promise of workforce optimization, which is bringing multiple software tools and components together for a truly efficient and powerful worker experience. Providing agents and supervisors with visibility into the metrics and activities that are most vital and allowing them to access the core applications quickly in order to take action takes productivity and service excellence to a new level.

Encourage Gen Y Agents to “Speak Up” Millennials need to feel appreciated; they want to know that their ideas are being heard and considered by both their peers and their superiors. It can be tempting for company leaders to dismiss the ideas of younger employees because of a perceived lack of experience. However, older generations can learn a lot from millennials by allowing them to share their ideas.

Contact center leaders should create opportunities where generation Y agents can share their knowledge and ideas and develop their leadership skills. These younger agents want opportunities to receive recognition when they have provided a good idea. Millennials are more likely to stay at an organization if they feel like they are being heard and provided with opportunities to develop their leadership skills.

Provide Positive Reinforcement and Avoid Command-and-Control Management: Generation Y is not motivated by being reprimanded. Instead, they are motivated by receiving positive reinforcement within a supportive environment. In contrast, older generations like the baby boomers and traditionalists are known for a command-and-control management working style, but this approach does not fare well with millennials due to their upbringing.

In general, generation Y has had parents who served as hands-on coaches and advisors, providing guidance in all areas of their life. Consequently, this new generation of agents expects just that when it comes to working with their supervisors. They view their supervisors as mentors and expect their office to be a safe space where they can receive continuous feedback on their performance. Quality management tools can help with meeting this need since they capture the agent and customer experience. The supervisor can then monitor and evaluate a call and provide generation Y agents with the feedback they seek.

Provide Schedule Flexibility with WFM Tools: It’s important to realize that members of generation Y don’t always place boundaries between their work life and their personal life. Therefore, employers should provide schedule rewards and flexibility, and workforce management (WFM) tools can help. For example, WFM tools allow agents to view their schedules and monitor their performance through their own personal interfaces. Additionally, WFM solutions include automated tools that help manage vacation time and enable simple shift swaps based on agents request and manager approval. Overall, these tools facilitate the flexible scheduling and control generation Y desires, while helping managers control requests without short-staffing the center.

Contact centers must prepare themselves for this upcoming generation of workers, or they can expect to face unproductive management struggles and high turnover. Generation Y is not afraid to leave an organization if it is not meeting their needs; by embracing a culture that appeals to millennials, contact centers can combat negative perceptions of “life as an agent” and attract and retain this new generation, thus making their workforce stronger.

Tom Goodmanson is president and CEO for Calabrio, Inc., a provider of contact center management and customer interaction software that enables continuous business improvements in productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction. Tom can be reached at

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2011]

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