Digital transformation in the contact centre – Is there a millennial skill gap?
By Nigel Dunn, MD EMEA North, Jabra
Lazy. Entitled. Workshy. Uncommitted. Just a few words that are regularly used to describe an entire generation of workers. Millennials carry with them a stigma in the workplace that simply won’t go away. For many employers, the fact that millennials will make up half of the global workforce by 2050 may be a major concern. However, while some of the stereotypes about millennials might not be completely unjustified, surely, they are good at something? When it comes to technology, millennials are leading the contact centre revolution.
Contact centres are changing and technology is one of the major factors behind this. As customer experience becomes ever more important, so the quality of contact centre services and their agents has become a strategic focus for businesses. It is now possible to connect with a business in a multitude of ways, such as email, social media, text and online support. Despite this, voice channels are still the most highly valued contact points for customers whose frustration may have been further exacerbated due to the fact their enquiry has not been solved effectively by alternative communication channels. Even for millennial customers, voice is still the preferred channel for more complex, personal or sensitive enquiries or when a resolution hasn’t been met by other means. In addition, the way contact centres measure success has evolved. Agents are now increasingly judged on the quality of customer care, rather than the speed at which each customer is processed.
Despite the shift to improved customer care, phone agents who deal with the public can often be underinvested in and therefore, tend to be younger employees. The volume of calls may be dropping, but the importance of these calls has never been higher. If stereotypes are to be believed, millennials avoid phone calls, choosing messaging apps to communicate instead. So how can contact centre managers help staff to develop in their roles and how can millennials overcome these charges?
Millennials bring plenty of positive traits into the workplace, not least the fact that they are tech native. While contact centres are going through a digital transformation, younger workers already have many digital skills which are easily transferable to a role in the contact centre industry and which even make them equally valuable than older, more experienced employees.
Contact Centre Agents now must deal with multiple streams of information when they receive a call, including background information of previous conversations, the customer’s name, account information and many other details that must be quickly processed and understood. As the generation that has grown up using computers, games consoles, mobile phones and tablets, millennials already have the ability to interpret and respond to huge quantities of information quickly and effectively. However, this means that contact centres must provide the correct training and equipment to best utilise this valuable skill set.
Contact centre managers need to embrace technology and empower young members of staff to lead this digital revolution. Millennials by nature are independent workers who crave responsibility and flexibility. The days of being chained to a desk are gone. The latest generation of wireless headsets on the market enables agents to work away from their desk and even from home due to the fact they are wireless and offer noise-cancellation. By utilising technology that is customisable, technologically advanced and intuitive, contact centre managers can solve issues around density in the traditional call centre environment, but also handle their staff effectively while granting them the independence they need to conduct their calls wherever they are.
Contact centres must prepare for the work-from-home trend and embrace the softphone environments that most young people are already accustomed to. By using a combination of hardware and software that provides live on-screen microphone guidance for agents and rich call analytics for the business, agents can deliver professional-sounding calls away from the traditional desk. Similarly, new applications such as the direct measurement of customer stress levels during a call which can guide, advise or even override an agent if needed, is another huge bonus for agents and managers alike. Yet without the correct training, the advantages this technology can bring will be wasted.
Play to your agents’ strengths
While it is true that millennials will be the driving force behind digital transformation in the contact centre, the fact remains that in some areas, improvements can be made. When it comes to certain soft skills, young agents would benefit from training from experienced managers. It is apparent that millennials simply do not like using the phone. Indeed, more than 75% of UK adults own a smartphone, but a quarter never uses it for calls, preferring instead one of the huge range of messaging applications available on the market. When you have a younger generation with a strong preference for written rather than spoken communications, contact centre managers must identify those members of staff who have potential and can be trained to be competent voice-based contact centre agents.
Managers need to train new members of staff on how to effectively speak to the public. It is often said that millennials are self-focused; less discussed is how they are also open-minded and problem solvers. Teaching staff to understand customer problems in an empathetic, compassionate, yet professional manner takes both human coaching from experienced agents but also from technology. Software that can detect the emotions of customers will certainly be a game changer in the contact centre by, metaphorically speaking, holding a new agent’s hand when dealing with callers and guiding them to get a positive result.
If the customer is becoming angry, the technology can detect this and advise the agent how best to deal with the situation. Of course, this technology requires skilled humans to be able to take the advice – for example, a new line of questioning – and communicate this to the customer effectively and in the most natural way possible. The combination of technology that adapts to each and every call, managers training staff in traditional customer care techniques and most importantly, agents understanding and feeling equipped to thrive in their role will see the acceleration of the contact centre digital revolution.
Create a culture – digital transformation
A contact centre might implement the best headsets, technology and training, but these alone are not enough. What’s also needed is an entire shift in attitude at all levels of the contact centre. The “burn and churn” approach that’s become synonymous with the contact centre worker is no longer relevant in a world where the quality of customer care is now the overriding concern. Recognition, retention and responsibility should be the three Rs that contact centre managers repeat to themselves on a daily basis.
Celebrating success is not a bad place to start when it comes to recognising the success of agents. Events such as Contact Centre Awards foster pride not just in the industry, but also in the job role of contact centre staff. It creates tangible goals for staff to aspire to. Millennials are ambitious and image-conscious; being recognised for outstanding performance by their peers and superiors is a powerful way to encourage excellence and retain the cream of the crop.
In addition to industry recognition, millennials also like to understand how well they are performing. Voice analytics can provide agents with useful statistics on their performance which enables them to assess what they are doing right and adjust what needs improving. By placing the responsibility and accountability of an agent’s performance literally at their fingertips, managers can track performance, intervene when necessary and also allow staff to learn, develop and grow as experts in their field, independent of their line managers. This is the key to retaining staff and bringing through the next generation of contact centre leaders.
Obviously, high pay and great benefits are enticing to millennials, in fact, which generation doesn’t want to be paid well? It is, however, the fact that millennials want to make a difference that is perhaps one of their greatest qualities. They want to be valued and they want their voice heard. If you give them the right technology, the right training and the right environment, they will thrive, they will leave their mark and crucially, they will be loyal. Millennials’ demanding nature should be celebrated, not ridiculed. If they see something isn’t working properly, they will demand change. This can be difficult for contact centre managers, but they will reap the rewards of this constant push for innovation. Allowing younger members of staff to drive technological change in the industry can only be beneficial.
Make the right call
It’s time for contact centre managers to let go of legacy technology and embrace the platforms that enable employees to be coached on the fly and to work in the way that is most comfortable and convenient for them. Not only will this improve efficiency, customer care and call quality, it will incentivise loyalty in the millennial workforce.
Ultimately, the contact centre is changing and businesses must adapt in order to facilitate the new workforce and empower the current one with technology. Those who do not innovate and embrace the next generation of digital first, contact centre leaders will be left behind by those willing to adapt to the millennial workforce.
Nigel Dunn is MD EMEA North at Jabra
Jabra is a leader in engineering communications and sound solutions – innovating to empower both consumers and businesses. Proudly part of the GN Group, we are committed to letting people hear more, do more, and be more than they ever thought possible. Through sound, we help transform lives. Jabra engineering excellence leads the way, building on 150 years of pioneering work. This allows us to create integrated headsets and communications tools that help professionals work more productively; and wireless headphones and earbuds that let consumers better enjoy calls, music, and media.
Jabra employs close to 1,100 people worldwide, and reported annual revenue of DKK 4bn in 2017. The GN Group, founded in 1869, operates in 100 countries and delivers innovation, reliability, and ease of use. Today, GN employs more than 5,500 people, and is Nasdaq Copenhagen listed.