One of the numbers in the combination that unlocks the door to customers and their spending—the others include effective marketing and supplying the right products at the right price--is the hiring, retaining and properly managing problem-solving-empowered top quality contact center agents and supervisors.
No secret there. Bright, helpful, results-oriented motivated individuals generate superior performance both in higher profits and lower costs. Yet how come so few firms do this? Why do despite new methods, technologies and best practices in e-screening and interviewing, e-learning and in-person training, voice and screen recording and quality monitoring and speech and desktop analytics and in supervisor management so many get it wrong: resulting in poor service, substandard sales and high and costly turnover?
The answer lies in “HR”: not just human resources departments but in the corporate “cost-center" mentality that staff are merely material: biomass to be sourced, transported (by themselves), sifted, processed, used and when finished, discarded. This is reflected in the traditional HR method of hiring. This is based on selecting and jamming the irregular shapes known as people into specific molds that are too often designed to meet uniform standards of corporate convenience rather than to the work that is to be performed. Applicants are put on invisible conveyor belts, screened and tested, interviewed by HR and only then do they get to meet the actual people they would be working for and with and be exposed to the conditions they will be working in. The process therefore relies on near-useless screens like certifications, diplomas and degrees that give no indication of actual job-translatable ability. There is no allowance for life experiences that can provide even better results if these hires are given a chance.
One of the worst kept-secrets in the contact center industry—and in others such as hospitality and retail-- is that they like the auto industry is based on “planned obsolescence”: that their business models informally count on employees leaving after X amount of months to avoid paying benefits, higher wages and refresher training costs.
These outfits know from experience that most staff will not stay long; they will get fed up of the boring, stressful, inflexible, dead-end and low-status work and go elsewhere. That accounts for the blind eyes for example to the notorious practice of promoting the best agents into supervisory roles rather than taking the time and effort to assess them for leadership qualities and monitoring them for how they treat their charges. Contact centers or more accurately their site selection partners can fairly accurately forecast labor market churn and negotiate leases—and taxpayer-funded goodies from employment-desperate governments—around an expected depletion of readily tapped agent and supervisor “resources.” Contact centers are well-placed to exercise this strategy because unlike other service work—and more like manufacturers-- they can locate anywhere because they are not dependent on local/regional markets for volume and sales.
That is why the notions of hiring to retain and cutting churn, and monitoring for overall quality--as opposed to sourcing fast and cheap, QM just to comply with regulations and to keep agents on their toes to extract maximum utility in a short period of time--are all too often given lip service. Why employee comfort, ergonomics and convenience matter little. It makes about as much sense from this perspective to put money into polishing people as it is to shine up lumps of ore.
Here’s the problem: one that only the smart outfits are realizing: processing and spewing out staff no longer pays: any more than doing likewise to customers.
Why? Because customers will no longer take any nonsense—from sullen, mishired, questionably competent, and/or badly trained and supervised agents or tolerate lousy products and services--and will tell the world via social media--which risks sales and profits going to the competition at the speed of light. It is their money and especially these days they want and need to extract maximum value from their expenditures.
The lesson is this: the outfits that treat their employees as disposable--believing that with still-high unemployment and that they can shift the work offshore with ease their resources will tolerate the pressure until they are squeezed out as planned--will find themselves fit to be treated likewise.
Yet by the same token those firms and centers that instead get rid of the HR mentality will be rewarded by focusing on total quality. This is accomplished by regarding, accommodating, screening, training, coaching, managing and treating their workforces as truly worth while individuals by using the tools and methods long discussed in these pages.
They would be given an idea what it is like to work in a contact center through video over their PCs or smartphones and be given an opportunity to chat with prospective managers after basic skills assessments but before further testing: with the HR role only to check credentials and to inform them of wages and benefits.
For if bad news travels fast, the raves of fans—including employees--move faster. And with this goes the greater returns to the organizations’ bottom lines.