Five tips for leading millennial customer service agents in the call center
Illustration by Jonathan Liu

The millennial generation (those born between 1980 and 2000) has been described as the most high-maintenance workforce to date, but it can also be the most high-performing, if you learn what makes them tick.

We spoke with Bruce Tulgan, a leading expert on generational issues in the workplace, about how to provide the type of highly engaged leadership that will help millennials perform well and thrive in your center. Tulgan is founder of the management training and research firm RainmakerThinking, and author of Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y. The following five tips are based on Tulgan’s research.

1. Invest time in each agent. While the previous generation (Gen X) has been characterized as fiercely independent and self-reliant workers who prefer a hands-off management approach, millennials want a manager who knows who they are, knows what they’re doing, is highly engaged with them, and sets them up for success.

Practical Tips for Call CentersPractical pointer: Clearly explain what you want your agents to do and how you want them to do it. Look for ways to help them avoid unnecessary problems—for instance, teach them the shortcuts and how to make the best use of their time.

2. Communicate constantly. Don’t assume that millennials know the best way to approach their work just because they’ve completed the required training. Communicate frequently and follow up your conversations with a detailed email.

Practical Tips for Call CentersPractical pointer: Give your agents written tools to help them do their jobs—encourage them to get in the habit of taking notes, and provide them with checklists.

3. Be a leader, not a “best friend.” Tulgan’s research shows that millennials don’t want their managers or companies to help them to make friends in the workplace, nor do they want their bosses to be their buddy.

Practical Tips for Call CentersPractical pointer: Millennials want a manager who takes an interest in helping them to further their careers. They want a boss who will spend time to teach them the tricks of the trade (i.e., the lessons of experience) and someone who will help them to succeed in the workplace.

4. Offer engaging work, not fun and games. Unlike Gen Xers, who like to have fun in the workplace, millennials want to be taken seriously at work. When millennials use the term “fun” when referring to the workplace, typically, they mean that they want more task choice, learning opportunities, control over who they work with, when they work and where they work—and they want opportunities to succeed.

Practical Tips for Call CentersPractical pointer: Give agents as much control over aspects of their work life as feasible. For instance, allow them to personalize their cubicles, provide them with more training opportunities, and give them interesting tasks and projects to work on.

5. Separate technical ability and basic transferable skills. Millennials are very tech savvy, but they often lack some of the basic transferable skills, says Tulgan, such as how to arrive on time, dress appropriately, practice good manners and stay focused on key tasks.

Practical Tips for Call CentersPractical pointer: When hiring millennials, evaluate and address the technical and transferable skills separately—then train and manage them individually, as well.