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7 Trends Shaping Contact Center Workforce Management

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Brian Cantor

A version of this article first appeared in the CCW Digital Special Report on Workforce Management.

At its core, the goal of a workforce management strategy is to empower agents to deliver great customer experiences.

It is important to remember that customers determine what constitutes a great experience.  The age of customer centricity empowers customers to impose their wishes on businesses.

Some businesses stubbornly refuse to accept this new normal.  They continue imposing their own conventions, standards and perspectives onto customers.

Others understand the flaw in that approach.  They accept the notion of the empowered customer, and they accept the importance of listening to customers.  When the customer makes a demand, they do everything in their power to adapt.

The latter set of businesses – those primed for success – recognizes the fluidity of workforce management strategy.  It knows that the processes and technologies that drove productivity in the past may not be effective in the present and future.

This set of businesses is paying attention to key trends that are defining how businesses must engage customers and, in turn, how businesses must manage their contact center workforces.

Seven trends affecting workforce management

1)      The Frictionless Experience: Customers are demanding fast, easy interactions with organizations.  They are demanding a "frictionless experience.”

Workforce management strategy must empower agents to deliver these experiences.  They must know how to communicate in a manner that is natural, intuitive, informative and concise.  They must also be able to quickly and seamlessly navigate backend systems – including CRM and knowledge base tools – to ensure they can deliver accurate, relevant information without delay.

2)      The Personalized Experience: Customers do not require – or even want – in-depth conversations about their pets and vacations.

They do, however, expect the interaction to be tailored to their specific circumstances.  They expect the organization and its agents to know who they are, why they are calling, and what they specifically want.

Workforce management must facilitate this form of personalization.  Agents should have instant access to all relevant information about the customer, the customer’s history of interactions, and the product or issue about which the customer is calling.

The agent, moreover, must be able to adapt to the customer’s personality and communication style.

3)      Consistency across channels: The omnichannel movement requires organizations to deliver consistently great experiences wherever customers choose to interact.

Agents must be empowered to meet this demand.

Queues and CRM systems must span all channels to ensure the agent has a 360-degree view of the customer.  These employees, moreover, must be comfortable communicating in most or all channels.

4)      High-complexity conversations: As self-service channels become more prevalent and robust, customers become less reliant on agent assistance for simple, transactional matters.

If they contact a live agent (and, specifically, if they call a live agent), it will be for the purpose of resolving complex, unique, nuanced matters.

Agents must be conditioned for this era of high-complexity conversations.  They cannot be robots who simply parrot back information from the knowledge base; they must be versatile experts capable of quickly and accurately interpreting and resolving complicated, unfamiliar challenges.  They cannot simply “hear” what customers are saying; they need to “listen” to what customers are really demanding.

5)      Collaboration with other departments: Customer interactions may fall under the auspices of the contact center, but the customer experience is a concern for the greater business.

Organizations need to ensure today’s agents are comfortable in this environment.  Systemically, they must ensure employees can communicate seamlessly across department lines. Culturally, they need to ensure employees have a firm understanding of how different stakeholders value the customer experience.

6)      Rise of career-pathing: The Millennial generation possesses a thirst for mobility.  Millennials are not looking to perform the same task for the entirety of career; they expect frequent change and growth.

To accommodate this demand, organizations must accommodate career-pathing into their workforce management strategies.  They cannot simply focus on empowering agents to perform today’s tasks; they need to prepare agents for a lucrative and exciting future.

7)      Soft-walled contact center: The customer experience team is no longer restricted to the conventional “contact center.”   Agents are not sitting in rows of cubicles but instead working in different buildings or regional offices.  Some are even working from home.

Workforce management must account for this “soft-walled” reality.  It must promote seamless collaboration, consistent performance and unified culture between agents who are not necessarily in the same country, let alone the same room.