Are There Better Ways to Staff the Contact Center?

FROM THE MARCH 2020 ISSUE

Challenges and Priorities Survey

Executives regularly ask contact center leaders to explore new operational paradigms that could benefit their organizations. Some of these ideas come from things they hear from peers or vendors. Others result from their own research or exposure to analyst perspectives that speak to innovation and disruptive change.

The following three ideas crop up frequently on client projects. The first two need to be examined in the context of what you intend to do with technology and its impact on staffing. The last one may prove more attractive with the right technology, support resources and effective planning.

Gig Workers

This topic is perhaps the hottest of all: If only you had a pool of (non-employee) resources at the ready to help with the ebb and flow of volume. Passionate customers could help other customers, and everybody wins! It’s a spinoff of concepts like Uber and AirBnB that have proven so effective in disrupting their respective industries. As far as I can tell, this idea first gained traction in customer service through gamers helping gamers.

While I find a disruptive force exciting with its potential to address so many common contact center issues, I’ll throw a caution flag and ask you to do a bit of awareness-building with your executives. They need to understand the length of training and time to proficiency, the volume of contacts that are real-time (voice, chat, text) versus have the luxury of time (e.g., email), the need for quality review, and liability exposure for poorly handled contacts. You should explore technologies for gig worker access, integration and security only if these considerations can be addressed effectively.

My current posture is to advise clients to watch and wait to see if gig workers take hold in similar industries for the types of contacts they need handled. We may also need to see if it remains a third-party resource as it is today, or becomes viable and attractive for companies to hire gig workers directly.

Outsourcing

I wrote an article way back in 2013 titled, “Can’t We Just Outsource It?” I still share that article with clients who have leaders thinking that is the easy answer for their center. While it’s an eight-year-old article, the concepts summarized in the subtitle still apply: “Outsourcing has its place. Know what it takes to get it right.”

Yes, outsourcing may be a great fit for your center, but you have significant decisions to make about what channels and contacts you might offload. Then, the Statement of Work, Service Level Agreements and Account Management are still the keys to success in working with any partner that is going to be the face of your business to your customers.

Work From Home, Forever

Most centers have moved some (or all) staff to work from home. Many will struggle with what comes next: Do we move them back to the center? Do we make WFH a standard part of our staffing strategy? Can we then have staff anywhere, or only close by?

The answers to those questions are not easy, and must consider culture, legal and HR policies, security and liabilities, etc.—things that were likely not a key part of the decision about what to do when COVID-19 hit. My hope is that every center that has had success with WFH will take a careful look at its role and value in their strategic plans going forward, and address the gaps that may have been created when it was done fast (as opposed to done right).

Look Before Your Leap

In all these opportunities, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Plan carefully, even in a just-do-it, fail-fast, whatever you or your leadership wants to call it pursuit. You need to make sure that all the pieces are in place before you move forward.
  • Start small/simple; learn, and extend. Pilot where appropriate, and define phases where possible.
  • Specify success metrics so you can objectively assess whether or not all the excitement was justified. Then make prudent decisions about what is next, whether that is tuning and optimization before further rollout, or termination because it just isn’t working out or paying off.
  • Apply change management. Change management will undoubtedly make projects around any of these ideas achieve better outcomes and in some may be the difference between success and failure. (See my March 2020 article, “Change Management May Be the Most Important Part of Your Next Project.”)