Too many contact centre agents are dissatisfied with their roles….here’s why that’s important, and what you can do about it
Amongst the complexities of running customer contact centres on a day-to-day basis, it can be easy to forget that your most important resource could be suffering from dwindling motivation. The people who man the phones and have to weather the storm of frustrated customers on a daily basis are the greatest expense and the most vital asset for any contact centre manager. Unfortunately, too many of them are not engaged in their work – with negative consequences for themselves, and for their employers.
The importance of engaged employees
It seems intuitive that having engaged employees is vital for business performance, and this innate judgement is reflected in research from Aon Hewitt, who found that every five points your business gains in employee engagement metrics is directly linked to a three-point increase in revenue growth in the subsequent year. How engaged an employee is in their job will be a driver for their work performance – and in a customer or client-facing role, this is vital for the wellbeing of the business. It is therefore alarming that, according to our recent research, less than two thirds of customer service agents are generally satisfied with their roles.
The consequence of this widespread dissatisfaction is clear – over a third of agents intend to leave their current place of work. This has financial implications, considering the expense of engaging in costly hiring processes on a regular basis. It also has an effect on workplace culture, knocking morale and making it harder to develop a strong skill base. On the flip side, being engaged makes for a happier employee who is more likely to stay in their current role – only 22% of engaged customer service agents are not satisfied with their work, and the vast majority of them (76%) intend to stay in their current positions.
The meaning of work
To address this issue of engagement, we need to understand what factors are preventing many customer service agents from feeling invested in their roles. It’s worth taking a step back and thinking generally about what people want from their work. Being financially well-remunerated for your time and energy is important, but it isn’t the only meaningful element. A sense of progress, that you can move be recognised for your achievements and ascend through your chosen profession is vital for workplace engagement. After all, being engaged is all about caring about what you do, and what’s the point of that when you won’t be rewarded for your efforts?
This is related to another vital element – ownership. At essence, this is being able to apply your personal abilities into the workplace whilst taking responsibility for the work that you do. It’s this capacity to feel a personal connection to the work you do that separates a human employee from a cog in a machine, and this is therefore fundamental to engagement.
When looked at through the lenses of the meaning of work, it becomes clearer why so many customer service agents don’t feel engaged, and what action can be taken to remedy that fact. In regards to a sense of ownership, about 40% of agents report that they don’t receive adequate autonomy or responsibility in the work they do. Moreover, only 46% of customer service agents feel that their organisation provides opportunities for them to move up. Clearly, many contact centres aren’t meeting the basic human needs that makes employment engaging and satisfactory. To add insult to injury, only six in ten (58%) feel that they are being paid a competitive rate.
Addressing these points is undoubtedly a long process, but technology can help make a significant positive impact. For one thing, it can reduce elements that might increase an agents sense of day-to-day frustration by, for example, ensuring that the workforce management tools that they use on a daily basis are well-designed and align well with their requirements. The clever use of software can reduce the burden of administrative and other basic tasks by simplifying the required steps and interactions.
On a more fundamental level, technology can radically change the kind of work that customer service agents do. With the rapid advances of automation and the possibilities of machine learning and artificial intelligence, it’s viable to hand over an increasing number of customer service tasks to machines. This leaves those tasks that technology can’t handle for customer service agents – which is fortunate, as these are exactly the kind of tasks that these people would like to tackle: 79% say that handling more complex customer issues improves their skill, and 72% say it makes them feel that they are having a bigger impact on the company. Clearly, this makes for a greater sense of ownership, but it also has implications for progress – employees with a more advanced skillset are more valuable to the organisation, and therefore more likely to advance.
This is good for business and for the people it employs. It is an established pattern in economic history that as more basic tasks are automated and humans take on more advanced work, their wages go up. In essence, this is down to increased productivity, which leads to more profits for the business and more money left over to go to employees, who deserve to be better rewarded as the work they are now doing is more economically valuable to their employers.
Attacking the problem of employee engagement is vital for anyone looking to create an effective contact centre, full of capable and skilled workers. Technology offers a compelling way forward on this core issue.
Colin Whelan is a WFO Expert / thought leader with “over” 25 years experience in customer contact and engagement at Aspect Software