The Great Resignation and customer service

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The Great Resignation, the Big Quit, the Turnover Tsunami – whatever you want to call it, is a growing trend in the world of work that is taking off across the globe. But what exactly is it, what consequences might it have for the customer service industry and could it be the wake-up call our sector needs to shake up its approach to the workforce? Let’s find out.

COVID-19 and the Great Resignation

As we all navigate the ongoing uncertainty of getting back to work during a lingering pandemic, many companies are seeing greater turnover than ever before in their staff. Now commonly dubbed as ‘The Great Resignation’, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021. This trend has gone global, with a Bank of England survey showing that UK employers are facing the worst hiring crisis on record.
These record figures for employee turnover and job vacancies highlight the acute hiring crisis facing businesses of all shapes and sizes. From typically low-paid, physically demanding sectors such as manufacturing and hospitality, to traditionally white-collar sectors such as finance and tech, the Great Resignation has hit a broad spectrum of industries.

So, what’s driving so many people around the world to resign?

The pandemic has caused a seismic shift in the way people think about work, with many people re-evaluating their job satisfaction and reassessing what they want from their professional lives. Further, with the rise in remote working, many have lost a sense of connection to the workplace and are seeking more rewarding work. Equally, work-life balance is a central concern for many employees – flexibility has become the new currency, with people wanting careers that complement their personal lives, rather than consuming them.

Agent attrition in customer service

For many working in customer service, however, some of these trends will probably be quite familiar. In fact, a recent study found that the average rate of agent turnover for contact centres is 58 percent year over year, with increased workload and a lack of career development opportunities cited as the top two reasons for attrition. In more specialized, higher-level jobs, turnover is lower but can still be a challenge.

From a customer service perspective, the problem is that high staff turnover rates not only damage team morale and reduce productivity, but also lead to vast costs for a business. Similarly, staffing shortages and a high proportion of inexperienced staff inevitably mean a reduction in a customer service team’s knowledge base, subsequently impacting the quality of service customers receive.

We don’t have the data yet to see whether resignation rates have increased over the last few months across our industry. However, irrespective of whether we get this data or not, one thing is clear: the industry’s approach to customer service, employee retention and development isn’t working, and hasn’t been for a long time. So how can we solve it?

Focusing on the agent experience (AX)

As alluded to in the above survey, there is a need for brands and contact centre leaders to refocus and rethink their approach to those on the frontline: support agents.

Broadly defined, AX is how empowered and efficient agents are – everything from how valued and supported they feel at work, to the tools they have at hand to help customers. And getting AX right is important because, as research shows, there is a direct correlation between happy employees and happy customers.

The same research reveals that satisfaction also correlates with improved commercial results, which is unsurprising given that agents are often a customer’s only point of contact with a company, meaning they can shape customer perceptions of the brand and their buying decisions.

But how do you get AX right?

The most obvious starting point is ensuring they have the tools they need to manage their workload effectively and simplify their day-to-day role. This is where technology takes centre stage and thanks to recent advances in automations, artificial intelligence, and analytics, we can now rely on tech to complete repetitive, monotonous tasks that previously fell to agents. This helps to free up time and empower agents to focus on what really matters – the human interaction with customers and resolving problems.

But empowerment doesn’t just mean providing the technological tools to simplify AX and avoid employee burnout, it also means giving them the foundations of tools and trust. For example, giving agents autonomy and trusting them to make their own decisions, rather than relying on their manager, will empower agents to take more responsibility.

However, if we are to truly tackle climbing employee turnover rates, a core pillar must be fostering career development. Brands must provide agents with opportunities for professional development, and paths for progression should be clearly laid out. Whether that’s through an internal upskilling programme to gain knowledge of new, digital tools or the opportunity to specialise, those entering the industry must be able to see customer service as something with longevity and progression, rather than simply a stepping stone and a career on the phone.

Rebuilding a better industry

AX is just one part of the puzzle when it comes to employee retention, but it’s a fundamental one. As we emerge from the pandemic, those brands that don’t recognise the importance of AX will be left behind. Brands that act now and take proactive measures to empower their agents and provide a clear career path will see turnover rates drop and the overall quality of service they provide to customers dramatically improve.

1 COMMENT

  1. Great article Tue – the most recent motivation surveys we’ve conducted within our clients teams has shown that security is currently one of the highest emotional drivers for employees. This is perhaps unsurprising given what’s happened in the last 20 months or so however the need/desire to increase financial security is driving the behaviour to seek higher paid roles elsewhere. There’s so much that companies can be implementing to create a positive, progressive and vibrant culture for agents that can have a huge impact on attrition and subsequent costs. Those that fail to address the challenges affecting agent/employee loyalty are likely to find themselves in a race to the bottom.

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