How Tech Can Help Meet Staffing Needs


How Tech Can Help Meet Staffing Needs

Businesses continue to grapple with high turnover rates — 4.1 million people in the U.S. quit their jobs in September 2022 alone — and contact centers are far from immune.

Even in more favorable times, contact centers have higher-than-normal attrition rates. But with the Great Resignation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these staffing challenges have only gotten worse.

According to Bloomberg, turnover in contact centers has increased post-pandemic, surpassing 50% in some industries. A 2021 Pew Research study found that one-third of call center employees were taking steps to find new employment.

This trend has had a number of troubling implications for customer experience (CX) leaders. Employees are burnt out, customers are frustrated, and staffing costs continue to rise.

The Impacts of Attrition

When working in contact centers that suffer from high turnover, it’s all too common for agents to feel stretched thin.

Employee churn can leave team members overworked and overwhelmed, leading to low morale that impacts new and veteran employees alike.

…high turnover…affects businesses’ bottom lines by increasing the costs associated with hiring and training. It also negatively impacts the CX…

New hires are expected to ramp up and work full shifts before they’re ready. In turn, their more experienced colleagues are expected to step-in to remedy mistakes when customers lose their patience.

Perhaps even more insidious is the steady loss of institutional knowledge as longer-tenured agents leave for greener pastures faster than their replacements can get up to speed.

But high turnover doesn’t just impact agent performance and morale. It affects businesses’ bottom lines by increasing the costs associated with hiring and training. It also negatively impacts the CX as more customers are forced to interact with inexperienced or unmotivated agents who are less than 100% engaged.

In a world where potential employees have more choice and transparency than ever before, a reactive approach to hiring and retaining talent is destined to fail.

Fortunately for CX leaders grappling with these challenges, the right agent experience strategy, supported by a modern contact center technology stack, can streamline the entire employee lifecycle and put organizations back on the front foot.

Let’s explore three ways technology can help businesses build a talented, motivated contact center workforce through more effective onboarding, personalized coaching, and opportunities for growth that promote long-term retention.

1. Addressing the Need for Speed During Onboarding.

According to Forbes, it can take up to six months for a contact center employee to ramp up and be ready to offer optimal customer service. Additionally, McKinsey research estimates that it costs businesses $10,000 to $20,000 per new hire in training, recruiting costs, and lost productivity during that process.

Accentuating the issue is the fact that the first 90 days on the job, which can be particularly challenging for new contact center agents, is critical to long-term retention. These numbers underscore the importance of putting a flawless onboarding process into place that sets new agents up for success.

However, in short-staffed contact centers, it’s common for customer wait times to spiral out of control. Managers often don’t have the luxury of easing new agents into the job by taking the time required to provide them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

As a result, many contact centers expose new agents to customers before they’re ready, leading to stress and negative reactions that can increase the likelihood of early burnout.

But by applying the right technology, organizations can balance these competing priorities, onboarding agents faster without increasing the risk of failure.

The first step can be as simple as streamlining the technology stack agents use each and every day. It’s critical to make relevant customer information available to agents in real-time.

Customers hate having to re-explain themselves, but they love it when agents come into interactions with an understanding of who they are and their histories with the brand.

By integrating the agent desktop with the right sources of customer data, organizations can provide agents with a single pane of glass to serve customers. This method avoids wasting time, and expensive agent resources, which occurs with context switching and grappling with fragmented technology platforms.

Once these foundations are in place, organizations can take their strategy a step further by deploying virtual assistants that use artificial intelligence (AI) to help agents serve customers more effectively.

These solutions use natural language understanding (NLU) to recognize what customers are trying to accomplish during live interactions.

These applications tap into integrated knowledge bases, sources of data, or other business systems to help agents provide the right answers to questions, follow the correct processes to solve problems, or even automatically complete requests like changing a scheduled appointment.

By investing in these AI-driven support systems, organizations can significantly reduce the time required to onboard new agents and give them more time to focus on the most critical aspect of the role: namely empathizing and connecting with the customer.

2. Planting the Seeds for Growth with Insights.

Developing a highly effective coaching and development program is one of the most important investments that organizations can make to improve the agent experience and reduce turnover.

In fact, according to a global Talkdesk survey of contact center agents, “1:1 coaching & mentoring” was identified as one of the top five drivers of agent engagement.

Equipped with deeper insights related to customer sentiment and trends in agent behavior…management can quickly pinpoint skill and knowledge gaps…

That’s because agents want to know that leadership sees them as more than just a number. This starts with recognizing that each individual has different strengths and weaknesses, and providing personalized coaching designed to maximize potential.

Without the right technology in place, this is easier said than done—especially for larger contact centers that handle thousands of customer interactions each day.

Traditionally, quality management (QM) teams have the capacity to review and evaluate only a small percentage of each agent’s interactions. This small sample size can lead to missed coaching opportunities and biased, inaccurate performance assessments.

Organizations can solve this problem by leveraging solutions like interaction analytics and automated QM (AQM) that use machine learning to automatically analyze and evaluate every customer interaction.

Equipped with deeper insights related to customer sentiment and trends in agent behavior from these tools, management can quickly pinpoint skill and knowledge gaps for individual agents and teams. They can also preemptively train agents to handle emerging issues and even provide crucial customer intelligence to the broader business related to products, policies, and more.

By taking a more holistic and fair approach to assessing agent performance, and using it to provide truly personalized coaching, contact centers can empower more agents to reach their full potential.

Not only will agents recognize and reciprocate this investment in their development, but simply equipping more agents with the skills they need to succeed can improve the quality of their day-to-day interactions with customers, reducing stress and the likelihood of burnout.

3. Playing the Long Game to Retain Top Performers.

According to research from Harvard Business Review, long-tenured employees have the potential to significantly outperform their newer counterparts, but are also less likely to be highly engaged.

By extension, this often means that retaining experienced agents can be more challenging, but also more rewarding.

A successful long-term retention strategy requires a multi-faceted approach. For example, introducing gamification tactics into the contact center is becoming increasingly popular— new technology has made them both more effective and easier to administer.

To illustrate, 73% of CX leaders reported in the Talkdesk survey that they expect to increase their use of gamification over the next three years, citing benefits to engagement and retention.

Contact centers should consider methods of gamification that introduce friendly competition and encourage social recognition.

Examples include public leaderboards tied to specific KPIs, time-based challenges for agents and teams to compete toward a common goal, and mechanisms for agents to recognize each other or earn public badges for achieving specific milestones. These strategies can help inject excitement and a greater sense of community into an otherwise repetitive daily routine.

That said, gamification and recognition won’t always be enough to keep top-performing agents engaged long-term.

Organizations should consider other ways to provide top-down recognition, tangible rewards, and opportunities to develop valuable new skills, such as:

  • Establishing an exclusive group of agents that handle VIP customers and promising upsell opportunities is an effective way to recognize their skills through greater responsibility.
  • Demonstrating trust by giving agents more leeway to provide customers with discounts and special offers at their own discretion to drive positive outcomes.
  • Rewarding agents with greater flexibility and work-life balance, such as better shift assignments, first pick of PTO days, or priority access to paid overtime.
  • Helping agents develop new skills by creating agent-to-supervisor development programs or rotational mentorships that expose them to other roles within the contact center.

As leadership designs these types of engagement programs, it’s important to ensure that they are well-defined, transparent, and publicly celebrate success cases. That way agents who do want to stay and grow know that they have something to strive toward.

A Better Way Forward

High turnover negatively impacts nearly every key contact center KPI: from staffing costs to agent engagement, and ultimately to customer satisfaction.

Based on research from McKinsey and Forbes, we estimate that for an average 300-agent contact center experiencing 40% annual turnover, the incremental cost of backfilling their agents could range from $1.2 million to $2 million annually.

The time is now to proactively design a better agent experience…

The impact doesn’t stop there. The time it takes to recruit and onboard these new hires could result in over 525,000 shift hours worked at under-peak productivity or optimal service performance. These factors dramatically increase the likelihood of poor CXs that can negatively impact both agent and customer retention and hurt your brand image.

While the cost of inaction is high, forward-thinking CX leaders have more tools at their disposal than ever before to attract, develop, and retain top talent.

The time is now to proactively design a better agent experience—after all, an investment in empowering the agent workforce is an investment in a better CX and can dramatically improve your business’s bottom line.

Devon Mychal

Devon Mychal is the Director of Product Marketing, Research & Insights at Talkdesk, where he leads a diverse team that helps Talkdesk innovate in new and impactful ways. Devon has spent his career with companies like Deloitte, Dynamic Signal, and Talkdesk covering the business impact of transformational technology trends and is a subject matter expert on the intersection of EX and CX.