Mitigating the New Norm


Mitigating the New Norm

In all my years in the field of contact center leadership, I have seldom witnessed a more challenging time to recruit and retain customer service agents.

The difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as other longtime recruiting struggles that have faced the contact center industry, are made even worse by the fact that a great number of today’s contact centers have been forced to a work-from-home model. Which impacts their ability to successfully onboard, develop, and connect with the few new employees they are able to hire.

Consider this scenario. ABC company is a mid-market company led by a talented group of entrepreneurial leaders, marketing team, and a core group of 20 agents. They all worked happily ever after at their in-house contact center located in some small town in a state near you.

Boom!… The pandemic arrives, everyone is sent home to work remotely, the lease to the building is terminated, and everyone is high-fiving one another on how they were able to accomplish this overnight, all is good.

Fast forward to 2022, the pandemic is over, ABC company has an amazing business model, and they are hiring at all levels of the organization with the greatest increase of staff taking place in the contact center. No longer are they supporting 20 tenured remote agents, they have now grown their contact center need to 150 full-time-equivalents (FTEs).

Staffing Challenges

High-five time again?

Not so fast.

First of all, recruiting, onboarding, and training has always had its challenges even when done in a brick-and-mortarcontact center. It takes a truly sophisticated and mature organization to succeed in this area or one that has strong funding.

Another challenge is that talented contact center agents are not easy to find, the secret is out, and they are leaving the industry for higher-paying positions in other customer-centric industries.

Many would agree that the role of a customer service agent has never been more demanding with the low tolerance level of today’s customers or more stressful due to the attitudes and behaviors of these same customers.

Today’s agents are often being asked to work split-shifts and overtime on a regular basis as a gap stop to overcome staffing shortages.

Like most organizations, ABC company significantly improved their healthcare benefits, paid-time-off, and wage offering.

Turnover has taken over as the new number one challenge as contact centers head into 2023.

For ABC company and others struggling to retain staff, even with such moves, is the new norm. Recent surveys have confirmed that U.S. employers no longer have control over wages. And that it pays for employees to change jobs.

In fact, new data from Pew Research Center showing the pay gulf between employees who left their jobs and those who remained with their companies should be a wake-up call.

The median worker who changed jobs between April 2021 and March 2022 saw an increase of 9.7% in real earnings when adjusted for inflation. The median worker who stayed put experienced a loss of 1.7% in real earnings.

Call it a loyalty penalty or call it the cost of doing business during the new norm.

For ABC and other call centers the end result has been long hold times, high abandon rates, emails that take days to respond to versus 1-hour response time and employee turnover rates that exceed 100%. A shared reality for many.

Month after month, for every 25 agents contact centers like ABC hire, 25 are quitting and are simply no longer showing up to work.

The annual financial impact of turnover for ABC company? $1.8 million.

That’s right, it bears repeating, the cost of turnover for ABC company has resulted in an annual cost of $1.8 million. That is the new norm.

Not the desired outcome, as you can imagine. And ABC company is not alone.

If you’re a contact center leader reading this, you can probably relate.

Other leaders would agree. Turnover has taken over as the new number one challenge as contact centers head into 2023.

The Outsourcing Answer

So how do businesses, contact center leaders, and their call center agents achieve their goals and embrace the new norm heading into 2023? Unless you’re new to the contact center industry, you’ve likely heard of BPOs (business process outsourcers) and outsourcing.

Outsourcing can provide companies like ABC the opportunity to mitigate the staffing shortage and often cost, by outsourcing a portion of their contact center. Maybe 20%-30% or possibly the entire contact center, thereby allowing them to focus primarily on their internal teams, their customers, and growth.

While some small-midmarket companies may view outsourcing as a short-term alternative, most if not all find it to be a long-term solution.

Traditionally, these companies and their contact center leaders have not viewed outsourcing as a viable staffing strategy.

So, why has partnering with a high performing outsourcing partner become the new norm for small to mid-market and even enterprise contact centers?

While the pandemic certainly accelerated the acceptance of hybrid and remote contact center agents it also pushed the global button to outsource.

Let’s Start with the First Strategy, Staffing

The United States is short-staffed; most contact centers in the U.S. are not only struggling to hire the number of agents they need, but they are also challenged to find talent.

Unless you/they are in a position to outbid your competition for agents, many companies are settling for bottom-quality talent, especially in large metropolitan markets.

Outsourcing providers located in countries like Costa Rica, South Africa, Mexico, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic are able to selectively hire highly educated, often college-educated agents.

These well-populated locations are home to multiple universities: while having unemployment rates ranging from 11% to 29%, with some as high as 40%. Well above the current 3.5% in the U.S. and 5.5% in the U.K.

While I was writing this article an HR leader from a well-established mid-size business shared her outsourcing story with me.

“We just couldn’t recruit, hire, and retain staff no matter what we did. We increased wages and paid time off. Our clients were receiving poor service, and our sales were declining, we felt outsourcing was our only option.

“We were suspicious, nervous, and scared at the thought of outsourcing to a contact center in Colombia. A year later we are overjoyed and happy with how well they are supporting our clients, in fact they are doing so well we have decided to outsource additional departments within our call center.”

This Is Not Just a Successful Outsourcing Experience; This Is the New Norm

Recruiting is the key that all BPOs point to regarding their success in supporting U.S.-based clients. Hiring employees with the right education, talent, and skillset, right?

The best contact centers are filled with quality/educated agents who are motivated by many things and working for a high performing BPO provider that is culturally responsive, and providing wages, benefits, and training. They even have on-site healthcare, exercise facilities, and shopping in addition to great wages to support their clients.

Regarding the people the BPOs hire, ask Joe, whom I met in the Dominican Republic while on vacation this past March.

Joe was our hotel activity director who in his excitement to share a list of must-do activities with our family couldn’t help but share his excitement regarding an upcoming interview with a BPO in his country.

The best contact centers are filled with quality/educated agents who are motivated by many things…

Joe who is 29, shared that to be hired by a BPO is a coveted job in his country. Nearshore BPO providers are destination employers that attract top English-speaking and bilingual talent that allow their customers to focus on the core of their business. This combination creates a winning customer experience (CX) strategy.

Now, Strategy No. 2: Work-Life Balance

In the U.S., work-life balance is no longer a token phrase or a nice to have in the contact center space; it has now become an expectation.

Remember when the only shifts you hired for were evenings, overnights, and weekends? We have already noted the talent nearshore BPOs can provide. They can also fill the shift gaps that often cause poor CX.

When outsourced these shifts can become a strength of a contact center. BPOs also support overflow call volume on days of peak volume or high attrition along with seasonal call volume, especially during the holiday season. They provide the vehicle that allows your workforce management team with the resources to provide their U.S.-based employees the work-life balance they are seeking.

By eliminating unpopular shifts and hiring for redundancy that can be as much as 20%-30% of your staff, companies like ABC have found these strategies have led to improved EX (employee experience). In the form of employee retention that culminates to tenured knowledgeable agents caring for your customers.

The formula? EX = CX.

Up Next: Technology Startups

The startup industry will continue to be the driving factor for global innovation and business growth for many years.

Startups become the small-midmarket and enterprise companies of the future. While they differ from one another in several ways they mirror each other when it comes to finances. They can only grow with the money they make, and they move at the speed of their cash.

So how does ABC start-up leverage a BPO to impact their CX? Technology. All BPOs love to be part of a success story. They also have telephony platforms, ticketing systems, CRM software, and artificial intelligence (AI) tools that can be leveraged to bridge IT gaps due to financial constraints helping evolving businesses embrace the future.

Startups need partners with CX expertise to support their dreams. BPOs embrace the dreams, becoming good stewards for the future.

Finally, Smart, Creative, and Innovative

As we enter 2023 contact center leaders are embracing highly talented onshore and nearshore BPOs that help solve their CX problems.

These BPO professionals apply their learnings, shaping them in new, innovative ways…

Scalability, talent, and technology have all been touched on but what is often overlooked is intelligent learning to be gained by working with a BPO that excels at providing CX to similar industries as yours. If they are creating experiences through best practices they have acquired from decades of supporting global companies, then why not for ABC company?

Top-performing BPOs remain at the pinnacle because they have the ability to retain and hire smart and creative leaders who have leveraged their industry experience from their years of supporting well-known brands.

These BPO professionals apply their learnings, shaping them in new, innovative ways for clients. From training and learning adjustments, process best practices, and to analytical capture of voice of the customer that could lead to evaluating what metrics are truly important to your CX and your business beginning to end.

Change is inevitable — the pandemic certainly reminded us of that. Partnering with a BPO in the contact center industry is fast becoming part of the customer centric organization’s playbook. Yes, they are doing what they have never done before and discovering the value of a strong BPO partner.

Cory Gallagher

Cory has spent 25 years in the contact center industry leading large B2B and BPO contact centers. As a partner with the Contact Center Consulting Group, he works with contact centers across the globe, consulting and assisting clients to identify the best outsourcing partner to fit their needs.