Tag Archives: Human Resource Management Articles

Striking the Right Chord: Balancing Automation and Human Touch in Call Centers

By Genevieve Carrenard

In the ever-evolving world of customer service, call centers are at a crossroads. Technological advancements have ushered in an era of automation, promising efficiency, and speed. Yet, in this digital age, the value of the human touch remains irreplaceable. To succeed, call centers must master the art of balance, harmonizing automation with the essential element of the human connection.

The Automation Advantage

Automation in call centers has revolutionized service delivery. From interactive voice response (IVR) systems that route calls efficiently to chatbots that provide instant responses, automation has streamlined processes, reduced wait times, and improved overall operational efficiency. Customers today expect quick resolutions and greater availability, and automation can deliver precisely that.

The Human Touch: An Unmatched Asset

While automation excels at many tasks, it falls short in one crucial aspect: empathy. Human agents possess the ability to connect with customers on a personal level, understanding their emotions and providing a reassuring presence. The human touch goes beyond solving problems; it fosters trust, loyalty, and positive brand experiences.

Finding the Perfect Balance

The challenge for call centers lies in finding the ideal equilibrium between automation and the human touch. Here’s how they can strike that balance:

  1. Identify Routine Tasks for Automation: Begin by identifying routine, repetitive tasks that can be automated without compromising the customer experience. For example, routing inquiries, providing account information, or offering basic troubleshooting steps can be efficiently handled by automation.
  2. Empower Agents with Automation Tools: Equip human agents with tools that complement their abilities. Integrated customer relationship management (CRM) systems, knowledge bases, and AI-powered suggestions can provide agents with valuable insights and recommendations, allowing them to personalize interactions and resolve issues more effectively.
  3. Embrace Chatbots and Virtual Assistants: Chatbots and virtual assistants can serve as the first point of contact, handling routine queries swiftly. When necessary, they can seamlessly transition customers to human agents, ensuring a smooth handover without losing context.
  4. Training and Soft Skills Development: Invest in training programs that focus on soft skills such as active listening, empathy, and problem-solving. Agents armed with these skills can turn routine interactions into opportunities for meaningful engagement.
  5. Regular Customer Feedback: Continuously gather customer feedback to assess the effectiveness of automation and human interactions. Use this feedback to fine-tune strategies and prioritize areas that require improvement.

The Road to Exceptional Customer Experience

In a world where customer experience reigns supreme, call centers must evolve to meet the demands of a diverse customer base. Finding the perfect blend of automation and the human touch isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s a dynamic journey of adaptation and optimization.

The call center of the future is one where automation and human touch coexist in harmony. Automation handles the routine, mundane tasks, leaving human agents free to focus on what they do best—building genuine connections, providing emotional support, and delivering exceptional customer experiences.

In the end, the balance between automation and human touch isn’t a choice between efficiency and empathy; it’s a commitment to delivering the best of both worlds. Call centers that master this balance will not only meet customer expectations but also set new standards for service excellence in the digital age.


Striking the right chord between automation and the human touch is the call center’s symphony of success, where technology and humanity harmonize to create unforgettable customer experiences.

Genevieve Carrenard is the business manager at Connections Magazine. She has a decade of call center experience in the US and Canada. She is committed to helping clients meet their advertising and marketing needs. Contact her at clientsupport@connectionsmagazine.com.

Does Your Corporate Culture Get All A’s?

Discover How to Shape the Team Culture You Want

By Jason V. Barger

It’s an instant gratification world where people, employees, and leaders want things to change immediately. They want progress to be at the flip of a switch. They want an “easy” button. Leaders, teams, and organizations want to snap their fingers and magically arrive at their desired outcomes. 

However, developing people and culture doesn’t happen like that. There is no quick fix or hack to developing leaders and the team culture you desire. It’s a process. It takes commitment, discipline, and focus. The most compelling team and organizational cultures invest time, energy, and resources into shaping the culture they want, not just the culture they’ve experienced in the past. They know that one of their greatest competitive advantages in today’s world is not just what they do as a company but the culture of how they do it. People want to be a part of a compelling culture and contribute their skills to something greater than themselves.

Every team and company want to be known for having an amazing culture, but only some understand how they are created and are disciplined enough to lead a culture-shaping process. If you’ve studied change theory in your spare time (you know, the process for how any person or group stimulates change), then you understand the reality that we grow as individuals and groups one step at a time.

All change follows the same pattern. The best leaders and teams on the planet know that growing the ecosystem they desire within their organization takes proactive leadership and support. The best team cultures don’t magically happen; they are intentionally designed and led along the process. And it’s not a top-down dictator style of leadership that is compelling to people, but rather a participatory style that invites cross-functional representation throughout the organization to share in the dreaming and creation of the culture they desire. 

The process to create your culture requires six As for participatory leadership:

1. Assess

Many cultures don’t even know where they are on the map. Where are you succeeding and where are you falling short? You must be honest about your current state as a culture. Momentum begins to build when you can establish urgency and identify opportunities to improve.

2. Align

People are the lifeblood of every team and organization, and in today’s world your people want to participate. They want their mind and heart to be engaged and connected to the “why,” the mission at the heart of your efforts. It takes time and space to establish alignment with your people and constant efforts to stay in alignment along the way.

3. Aspire

What do you want to be different in the future? You must dream together and paint the vision for the future culture you desire. Give your people the opportunity to see beyond your current reality and into possibilities for a newly created future. 

4. Articulate

If you can’t describe where you’re going and the values you want to guide you as a culture, then you can’t be surprised when it doesn’t exist. Your people need a common language and the ability to see and share the story of where you’re heading together. Language drives behavior, so the best cultures have compelling language linked to actions and behaviors for the future they’re creating.

5. Act

All change requires action. However, action without vision and alignment is a nightmare. Once the aspirational vision for the culture is established, the best leaders and teams empower a bias toward action and identify the next steps they will take to stimulate progress. All change happens when actions grow out of an intentional vision and spirit. 

6. Anchor

Culture-shaping is not a drive-through experience. It’s not a one-time company meeting or a poster on the wall. Every culture must create habits that ground the values within their organizational ecosystem. The organization intentionally anchors them with their structures for how they hire, onboard employees, identify emerging leaders, do performance evaluations, raise the bar on leadership at all levels, and develop and empower culture ambassadors.


So, does your team culture get all As?

Good grades don’t just magically happen. Great schools, great companies, great teams, great communities, and great collections of humans don’t magically happen. They are grown, developed, cultivated, and led with intentionality.

It’s far easier to ignore studying, practicing, engaging with your people, and putting your head down to do your job. And because that is easier, it’s the reason many cultures do not become compelling places to work.

The process for developing high-performing and engaged cultures never stops, and the best leaders, teams, and organizations are committed to the continuous journey of development, vision, communication, engagement, authenticity, and action.

Good luck on your next test. I hope you get all As.

Jason V. Barger is the author of Thermostat Cultures, ReMember, and Step Back from the Baggage Claim, as well as the host of The Thermostat podcast. As the founder of Step Back Leadership Consulting, he is a keynote speaker, leadership coach, and organizational consultant who is committed to engaging the minds and hearts of people and growing compelling cultures. Learn more at JasonVBarger.com.

WFM Solutions in the Future

By Donna Fluss

Change is born of necessity. The business world today is dramatically different from what it was fifteen years ago, and not just because of the pandemic. The workforce has changed, management practices have changed, how we do business has changed, and customer expectations have changed. Technology must adapt and transform, and nowhere is this more fevident than in the workforce management (WFM) sector. Today’s new-gen WFM suites are striving to stay on pace with modern management trends, smart technology, expanding global business requirements, and broadened market opportunities. To borrow from a popular idiom, these are “not your mother’s WFM solutions.” And the new capabilities are getting rave reviews. 

Leading Innovation

Contact centers need to address operational requirements, satisfy employee needs, and meet customer expectations, all while managing costs. The last few years have brought significant changes to WFM solutions; they have been enhanced to meet the needs of omni-channel servicing environments, multinational enterprises, digital natives, and the up-and-coming Gen Z workforce. 

AI and intelligent automation are enabling major enhancements to WFM solutions. Vendors are delivering new algorithms and AI-based forecasting and simulation models that include automatic selection of the best predictive models to use. Flex staffing has paved the way for the gig economy and scheduling practices that are built for “real agents and real life.” Real-time adaptive scheduling is altering and improving the handling of intraday staffing variances in real time, making it much more effective than in the past. The use of automation, including pre-defined rules, is eliminating the delays associated with having to involve WFM administrators and supervisors in many processes, from the assignment of overtime to who gets to take vacations. 

Self-Service Comes on Strong

WFM solutions are providing agents with enhanced self-service capabilities that give them the autonomy to create and manage their own schedules and time off. As importantly, these tools allow agents to accommodate their need for work/life balance. Self-service scheduling and time-off management features come with automated dispositioning of agent requests based on client-defined availability and rules. 

A growing number of agent self-service apps include AI-enabled intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) to assist with common WFM requests using natural language in a variety of channels, including short message service (SMS), desktop chat, text, and mobile device. Additionally, employee empowerment features such as gamification and expanded visibility into their personal performance via reports and dashboards keep agents engaged and motivated. Real-time alerts are an important feature for keeping agents apprised of contact center conditions and helping them stay on task and vested in their performance. 

Enhanced Usability

Vendors are investing to improve their user interfaces (UIs) and user experience (UX). In the last couple of years, WFM vendors have started to modernize and simplify agent and supervisor UIs and UXs, applying intuitive design elements that improve access and navigation. An increasing number of agent and supervisor functions are available on iOS and Android mobile devices and tablets, delivered in graphical, interactive, widget-based dashboards with role-based features, functions, and reports. 

Mobile apps enable supervisors to monitor contact center performance and agent adherence via real-time reports and dashboards, track real-time adherence, and make schedule modifications directly from a tablet. Mobility features keep agents engaged by giving them access to personal dashboards and schedules, making it easy for them to view their schedules, sync schedules with personal online calendars, request time off, and view statistics from their smartphone or tablet, even when they are outside the contact center. 

Final Thoughts 

Life has changed substantially in the last few months. Contact centers need enhanced and flexible WFM solutions that address the needs of digitally and pandemically transformed contact centers. Companies that continue to operate with outdated technology and antiquated business practices and management techniques are going to find themselves at a major disadvantage and, worse, at risk of facing increasing employee attrition rates. WFM solutions from the past are ill-equipped to meet the current and future challenges confronting contact centers in the post-COVID-19 world. DMG expects to see significant innovation in the WFM market in the next few years, as well as new vendors coming to the market. 

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary, author, and speaker, Donna drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the services industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community. 

Three Ways for Contact Centers to Maintain Post-Holiday Momentum

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.

Automation Success Requires Human Involvement

By Dan Somers

Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) can help save contact center costs, but primarily it increases customer satisfaction by speeding up responses and reducing customer efforts. Contact center automation falls broadly into three categories:

  1. Speeding up or automating the helpdesk agent (staff who capture and triage queries)
  2. Speeding up or automating the case handler (staff who resolve queries)
  3. Increasing self-service automation (chatbots, searchable FAQs, and self-help tools)

AI Challenges

Certain limitations of AI cannot guarantee the accuracy expected by customers, however. Some of these limitations are temporary, such as the comprehension capabilities of speech recognition, which will continue to improve. But other limitations relate to how machine-learning robots work.

All machine learning relies on studying real-life training data to predict or classify current data. The training data needs to be “labeled”—that is, it must have an outcome or class (tag) assigned to it, as judged by a person. For example, if a query comes in that says, “My server has crashed and is showing a blank screen,” then the chatbot will assign the best label it has in its training set, which might be “server crashed.”

However, in this example, a label of “faulty screen” might be assigned instead. The customer would be annoyed if the bot attempted to address a faulty screen issue instead of a server crash. This is an example of potential ambiguity. Furthermore, new issues will appear from new product launches, changes in quality, and evolution in the market. Lastly, the way people describe or view the same problem is more variable for certain issues than others.


The only safe way of deploying bots within a contact center is to have a human-in-the-loop. This person will validate what the bots are doing, preferably with minimal impact to the customer.

So, who and where is the human-in-the-loop? It turns out that there are four general ways for humans to validate some or all of the process:

  1. A helpdesk agent can validate suggested responses before sending.
  2. The customer can validate that the response—or the question they asked—was comprehended.
  3. A third-party solution provider can check the performance of the bots and curate the process; this might be an internal or external data science team.
  4. The knowledge base manager can check the bots for satisfactory performance.

Considerations of Humans-in-the-Loop

There are pros and cons of different human-in-the-loop approaches. Some of these points are technical in nature but have substantial implications.

Agent: Some solutions on the market have AI recommend the next “best response” for the agent. The agents validate the response, not the categorization. For example, if two queries—“The strawberries I bought were tasteless” and “The strawberries I bought made me sick”—both lead to the same recommended response, “We’re sorry; please accept our voucher,” then the categorization models will degrade as they are not being updated with the accurate root cause.

Also, the insight generated by the models won’t allow executives to monitor product quality, design, and usability to then generate the self-service tools that can reduce contact center traffic. With this solution, other humans-in-the-loop will still be required elsewhere.

Customer Validation: If customers provide the required validation, it is scalable, but customers may not like having to correct their original query or the responses. If the query produces a new category, then there must be a process to deal with it. Fundamentally, the system cannot be relied upon with just these humans-in-the-loop.

Solution Provider: This is the status quo for most machine-learning deployments in real-world environments: a data science team, either internally or a third-party, sets up, curates, and retrains the models on a regular basis to maintain their performance. The pros are that these are the only humans-in-the-loop required. The cons are that these professionals are in short supply.

Knowledge Base Manager: This role has the most hidden potential benefit for having a human-in-the-loop. In a nontechnical environment, they will provide business rules on how to handle queries, as well as the training, trouble-shooting guides, and fault tree analysis to resolve issues.

In terms of their day-to-day role, they will be aware of product launches and modifications, but they also can use the rich insight of the labels coming from the contact center (both triage and resolution) to make improvements to both the knowledge base and the process. This includes updating the FAQs so customers can better use self-service. Also, this insight can inform other functions, such as product quality, product design, and customer experience, to help guide improvements.

Optimized Learning

A new approach that only requires a few humans-in-the-loop can exist because of a new technology called optimized learning. This is a form of machine learning that builds models but invites training from a human in such a way to minimize human input and still provide maximum performance. It is ideal for spotting new signals and improving existing ones.

Optimized learning doesn’t need to be in-line and suffers from none of the downsides of other approaches. Instead, it requires a fraction of the labeling otherwise required, even in a changing environment. The implications of this are profound. It means that a call center would only need to retain a few agents after the automation implementation, and they would handle the training that the optimized learning invited them to do in an offline capacity. This would maintain the models for labeling queries to generate both automation and insight, thus speeding up and reducing issues.

The rest of the automation would come from the rules originating from the knowledge base manager, as informed by the bots. This paves the way for improving chatbots and self-serve, searchable FAQs to free up contact center staff.


Automation of contact centers yields promise, although not without humans-in-the-loop to maintain its performance. There are many different flavors for human-in-the-loop AI automation. With new technology appearing, an optimized system is possible with a minimum number of humans who don’t need any data science skills. There is now no reason why the contact center of the future needs to look like those of the present. The same applies for the customer experience too.

Dan Somers is the CEO of Warwick Analytics, which provides call center automation solutions to address voice of customer (VoC) data, chatbots, service desks, and complaint handling.