The Long Game: Contact Centers Need to Evolve to Handle Volatility

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Companies have been navigating increasingly complex workplace environments and volatile macroeconomics for several years. Now, we find ourselves facing yet another challenge with a potential economic slowdown. There are signs that this threat is starting to reverse the job market from the first half of 2022, which saw millions of workers quitting or changing jobs each month. Customer experience (CX) teams were hit especially hard, as agents grew tired of poor treatment from customers and a lack of resources from their employers.

But the pendulum is swinging again. When business is good, CX leaders typically discuss improving employee engagement and ensuring agents are happy. When the cycle is on the downswing, the focus shifts to fixing inefficiencies and cutting costs. It’s never been clearer that CX leaders need a strategy in place to sustain the constant push-pull of the economy–shielding both agents, and customers, from impact. 

Happy call center agents
Photo by Yan Krukau from Pexels

Two Types of Contact Centers

There will always be leaders that understand the direct relationship between the contact center and the bottom line, and there will always be those that don’t.

Some contact centers are still stuck in the last decade. Their agents are there for a quick paycheck, and will leave as soon as they start to experience burnout. The company will constantly be recruiting, hiring, and training new employees, which can cost up to $4,700 for every new hire—or even more when you consider the time and cost of training new agents. Regularly ushering in new agents can severely impact the customer experience, too. Our annual ‘State of the Contact Center’ research shows nearly all consumers (98%) acknowledge contact centers and agents influence brand loyalty—and loyalty impacts revenue.

These centers are typically overlooking the root issue. They focus on hiring new people to solve their challenges. Instead, they should first look at reducing the number of repeat interactions coming into their center. Reducing the number of repeat calls from customers can have a dramatic impact on the occupancy of the agent as well as the resources it takes to support them.

Then, there are contact centers that are starting to offer more money, better benefits, and a defined career path for agents. They take Glassdoor reviews and social media rants seriously, knowing one bad review can deter a strong candidate from accepting a job offer, or even applying in the first place. These companies adopt the right systems and tools to train agents effectively and eliminate the challenges causing agents to quit. They don’t push their agents to the limit, but rather respect them for managing a difficult position, and engage and empower them as the brand’s guardian.

These centers understand that to provide exceptional customer service, they need to hire and nurture great agents. They know that creating a workplace environment that makes extraordinary customer service possible, manageable, engaging, and even exciting, will attract top-tier talent.

Which Contact Center Do You Want to Be?

It’s obvious which type of contact center will be able to navigate highs and lows and still experience long-term success; yet companies are hesitant to make changes and investments in their contact center when economic uncertainty is lurking. Transitions of any kind, including economic transitions, are when new winners emerge in the market. A look back on the last two or three cycles shows the winners were those who invested in their people and technology, and didn’t try to take a shortcut to success. 

The truth is, fully solving contact center challenges is a two-to-four-year process. Offering more money to new hires is only a short-term fix. In reality, improving the CX takes a full organization-wide culture shift. It requires ongoing patience and prioritization from both leaders and agents as well as an investment in the right tools. 

Here are some suggestions for leaders to keep top of mind as they start to evolve their contact centers into environments where agents want to work:

  • Flexibility: Remote work is here to stay and, when embraced, it can lead to more available, qualified agents by adding new geographies to recruit from. To create smooth, seamless remote experiences, companies should adopt cloud-based systems that work with The right solutions eliminate context-switching between platforms and enable greater agility within an agent’s day. They will appreciate having more flexibility and control—and engaged agents lead to happy customers.
  • Technology: Instead of focusing on squeezing every ounce of productivity out of agents, certain tools can create efficiencies that naturally boost productivity. Implementing self-service technology, for example, can reduce the number of inbound communications agents are fielding. This allows them to focus primarily on high-touch interactions with less distraction and stress.
  • Training: Navigating tense customer calls is inherently difficult and can take a mental toll on agents. Offer ongoing, individualized coaching so agents can better navigate difficult interactions and know when to take breaks if they’re feeling depleted from an especially challenging call. There are also eLearning tools that help provide ongoing training for agents as they go through their days, rather than a separate course that takes up more of their time.

Economic uncertainty will come and go. To navigate it more effectively, leaders need to take the time to pause, and start to fix the problems impacting their employees now, even if it might not be an overnight fix and/or require a larger upfront investment. Otherwise, CX problems are just going to continue, agents will continue to be unhappy and unengaged, and businesses will spend more over time.

The right strategy combined with the right technology can help CX leaders address real-time challenges while also taking care of the long-term health of employees and the business.

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