Contact Center Agents Want Greater Autonomy and Flexibility—It’s Time to Give It to Them

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The workplace as we knew it pre-2020 is gone forever, which means the way we work needs to evolve as well. It’s no longer about free snacks or fun games at the office—many organizations have adopted remote and hybrid working models, some are testing out a 4-day work week, and others are offering unlimited vacation days. Changes like this are occurring because the workforce is telling business leaders everywhere traditional ways of working can be and need to be improved upon. However, these improvements don’t always require a drastic operational revolution. Small shifts, made possible with modern technology, can improve both how we work and how the workforce feels about their work.

Photo by Jessica Lewis Creative from Pexels

Over the last two years, transformative changes swept through the contact center world and shifted the paradigm of the global workforce. Though there were 25,000 fewer departures in April 2022 than in March 2022, we still saw 4.4 million Americans resign in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In large part, this is because workers still aren’t feeling energized or engaged at work; instead, they’re feeling limited and burnt out. A recent Gallup survey revealed 60% of employees across industries and roles reported feeling ’emotionally detached’ while at work, and 19% constantly feel ‘miserable.’ Now more than ever, we need to prioritize employee wellbeing, engagement and retention.

The same trends ring true for customer service agents working in contact centers. A Calabrio report found 1 in 3 agents were planning to leave their job within one year because of higher-than-ever stress levels. This stress is primarily stemming from a lack of work-life balance, followed by the desire for higher pay and more flexibility over when and where they work.

Luckily, leaders have tools and technologies available to them today to not only combat these stressors and negative trends, but to enable greater independence, flexibility, and engagement for their workforce, so they’re happier, healthier and feel more fulfilled in their roles.

Take to tech for immediate improvements

Contact center agents – a brand’s frontline staff and guardian – should have the ability to self-manage and problem solve independently, just like every other function within an organization. Yet, many businesses still rely on contact center management to define their team’s schedules for the day, the week, and so on. It’s time to give the power back to agents – to allow each person to truly have autonomy over their workday.

Recent advancements in workforce management (WFM) technology, such as self-scheduling, make freedom and flexibility for agents not only possible, but sensible. It’s a simple, straightforward improvement that gives agents more leeway to shape their day in the way that works best for them and the customer, leading to everyone achieving more while feeling happier and more empowered.

Self-scheduling capabilities, for example, provide agents with greater control over their day-to-day lives by giving them the ability to add workdays, move work hours, access time-off or overtime opportunities, and even execute partial-day shift trading if they need to. When unexpected life events happen or as personal appointments are scheduled, agents can instantly – and independently – move things around in their schedule to better organize it in a way that works best for the individual agent.

Not only does self-scheduling for agents make sense logistically, but it can also help to reduce overall stress levels. Think of the anxiety some workers feel while they wait to hear back on their time-off request just to make it to a dentist appointment or if they must go through their manager first in order to go pick up their sick child from school. These are simple actions most other functions in an organization don’t have to think twice about, yet they’re still pain points for contact center agents. Now, with parameters set by supervisors or resource planners within the self-scheduling tool, these problems can all be solved, allowing everyone to better organize their days.

Importantly, self-scheduling doesn’t lead to poor quality customer-service experiences. Leaders wary of self-scheduling in the contact center need to understand this feature is a benefit, not a limitation for the organization. Self-scheduling for agents allows them to more easily complete their assignments and can even improve their service levels. This is because today’s emotionally intelligent, multi-skilled agents want to reach their full potential, so when they’re empowered with tools that allow them to navigate their days and their assignments with ease, they’ll be happier and want to perform above and beyond expectations. In fact, research from Oxford University’s Saïd Business School found workers are 13% more productive when they’re happy.

It may seem like a no-brainer to implement technology that enables greater autonomy and flexibility in the workplace—because it is. This is the type of immediate improvement business leaders can easily adopt while they sort through some of the larger organizational shifts their workforce is requesting as we continue to navigate new ways of working, now and for the foreseeable future.

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