Five Ways Customer Service Leaders Can Engage Millennial Employees


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When it comes to Millennials, the statistics are impressive. In 2014, Millennials will make up 36 percent of all U.S. workers. By 2020, the number is projected to be 46 percent (source: Young Entrepreneurs Council). But it is another number that should give the service industry pause: employees between the ages of 22 and 33 years old typically make up over 80 percent of the workforce at customer service organizations. Not in the future, but today.

Gen Y’s consumption patterns and service needs have already altered the customer experience philosophies of many organizations. Companies now provide service in multiple channels, ensure that service is personalized and that positive experiences are easily shared. However, the internal structure and processes at many of those same companies have yet to adapt to the coming shift in workplace demographics. Progressive customer service organizations are already making changes to the way they interact with a new generation – Millennials, who are not just their customers, but are also their employees.

Here are five ways customer service organizations are adapting their workplaces to better meet the needs of Millennial employees:

  1. Shift Communication to Internal Social Networks
    Internal communication in call centers is adapting to the changing demographic by moving beyond email, the communication vehicle of choice for previous generations. Gen Y prefers communicating through text message and various forms of social media. Often Millennials won’t read long, text-heavy emails, especially if the content does not pertain specifically to them. At the same time, companies need to be careful about what they communicate to Millennials, who are often quick to share via social media and discuss with friends.

    To make corporate messages stick, and to ensure security, progressive contact centers are adopting internal social networks. The platforms can be designed to allow employees to see open job positions, make referrals, monitor their performance, chat with management and supervisors, take surveys, provide feedback, post comments and pictures, arrange car pools — and even order coffee to their desk!

  2. Offer More Flexible Career Options
    Millennials want more control and flexibility in their careers than previous generations, who were more accepting of traditional career paths. Gen Y prefers to do things in their own timeframe, which is often focused on immediate success. That’s why it’s important to provide more flexibility in the workplace. People as young as 25 years old are doing consulting and freelance work so they can have a flexible lifestyle. Companies can develop a flexible culture in a number of ways, including:

    • Transparent decision-making. Millennials want to be included in decision-making, so it’s important to create a process to take their point-of-view into consideration. Most companies have traditionally operated on centralized critical decision-making within the leadership team. Contact centers are discovering that open decision-making processes are important for engaging a younger workforce.
    • Independent shift swapping. Employees should have some control over their own schedules. In the contact center industry, inflexible scheduling is often a big driver of agent attrition. Providing tools that assist employees with swapping shifts, ideally with limited supervisor approval, can go a long way to keeping Millennials engaged and motivated to serve customers.
    • Self-assessment and personal control of learning and development. The majority of Millennials are resistant to performance targets that are perceived to be arbitrary or even unattainable. Progressive contact centers allow their agents to set their own performance objectives in line with client objectives and with supervisor approval. Once agents have identified areas of possible improvement, they are more likely to access learning opportunities in an online social environment over sitting in a class room. Progessive employers are creating these opportunities for informal and social learning.
  3. Revise Recruitment Strategies
    Traditional recruiting methods like visiting university job fairs, posting in newspapers, and using HR consultants do not perform as well as the internet or referrals for Millennials. Companies need to inspire their current, successful Millennial employees to refer friends as candidates; as well as leveraging Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social channels as recruiting methods. An immediate response is required and submissions should receive a reply within one or two business days to keep candidates interested

    It’s important to make Gen Y applicants feel comfortable during interviews because they’re assessing the company as much as the company is assessing them. Contact centers are uncovering more talented applicants by making the interview process less formal. They ask situational questions rather than traditional interview questions. One innovation is to turn ‘interviews’ into ‘auditions.’ Putting candidates at ease helps companies assess fit.

  4. Adopt “Training 2.0”
    The new wave of call center agents learn and retain information differently, and they’re constantly assessing their fit with an organization. Many start by looking at who’s in the classroom and at the culture that the trainer conveys. If they don’t feel there’s a fit, they’ll leave during a bathroom break or lunch and move on to a different opportunity. To adapt, contact centers have adopted new training initiatives, including:

    • Virtual training, technology and avatars. Interactive training keeps staff engaged and allows for a higher retention of information.
    • Shortened training programs. Revised training programs have been shortened to improve retention.
    • Revised trainer’s role. The trainer acts as a facilitator, fostering peer-to-peer collaboration.
    • Enhanced assessments. Assessments are short and administered throughout the training versus a long assessment at the end of the course.
    • Change of Scenery. Training takes place in areas where team members enjoy spending time.
  5. Revamp Retention Programs
    High rates of attrition have typically plagued the contact center industry. Recently, revamped retention programs have seen success in keeping talented employees engaged and employed. These programs involve more flexible schedules, and managers who are respectful and considerate of work-life balance.

    • Sense of freedom. Given that Gen Y desires more flexibility and control in their work environment, it’s not unusual for an agent to switch from full-time to part-time. Often they are looking to further their education. Companies should be open to assisting staff in their educational pursuits, even if that education is for a career outside of the customer service industry. Some companies even provide team members the chance to attend university classes onsite at subsidized costs.
    • Sense of belonging. Millennials say family is very important to them, with the majority reporting that their parents are a key pillar in their lives. In many countries, taking care of parents is extremely important. Progressive companies have extended medical, life and health insurance, not just to staff and their children, but also to extended families.
    • Sense of purpose. Millennials are focused on their career paths, but they also want to know the purpose of their work. It’s in their nature – their willingness to help is unlike other generations. Many contact centers find that nearly 100 percent of team members in certain regions take part in giving back to the community. Gen Y wants to be a part of a greater cause so help them achieve that goal.
    • New types of incentives. Motivation remains one of the key differences between generations. Gen X is more individualistic, while Gen Y is more collaborative and team-based. Millennials believe everyone should win, as compared to previous generations where there was always a winner and loser. Contact centers are finding that rewarding teams and not individuals is a better motivator for younger staff.

Gen Y has grown up with a unique set of character traits, personal beliefs, life expectations and career aspirations. Creating a corporate culture that embraces Millennials and their workplace preferences will be a key factor in determining the success of customer service organizations. Companies that cannot attract and retain Gen Y agents will suffer from high rates of attrition and diminished service quality. Those that adapt will find a bright talent pool willing to take their company to the next level of customer experience.

This article is based on research reported in the paper Unleashing Gen Y Potential in Customer Service.

Marilyn Tyfting
Marilyn Tyfting serves as the Chief Corporate Officer of TELUS International, a provider of business process, contact center and IT outsourcing solutions. Since joining the organization in 2009, Marilyn has been committed to creating and fostering a world-leading corporate culture and leading strategic growth initiatives to enable service excellence for global clients. Prior to this role, Marilyn served as the Human Resources leader for TELUS Consumer Solutions. She obtained her Bachelor of Commerce and Masters of Science in Business Administration from the University of British Columbia.


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