In 2021, three words shaped the world of work, “The Great Resignation”. Anthony Klotz, organizational psychologist, and professor at Texas A&M who coined the term, tells us “This is a moment of empowerment for workers, one that will continue well into the new year.” As we look at who is quitting, the increase in quits is mostly about low-wage workers switching to better-paying jobs. For companies like ours in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector providing contact center services, we rely heavily on people on the front lines to do the job, many of which are low-wage hourly workers. My co-founder, Ron Petrie and I have been in the contact center industry for over 25 years and have seen how traditional BPO strategies centered on labor arbitrage to those that focus on business outcomes.
Far too often, we have been a part of operations where people have had to be resourceful and rely on individual notes they take and store in Notepad or having to create manual reporting with Excel. As work continues to evolve, so does the life of the work and soon, employees create their own way of “working”. It causes inconsistencies, frustration as new information doesn’t get communicated or updated, lack of alignment with processes and procedures with support staff, knowledge being more tribal in nature vs shared, and the entire operations becomes incredibly frustrating and inefficient for the employees and leaders.
We see the world differently and took an employee first approach. It starts with putting together a complimentary technology stack of solutions. We thoughtfully framed the requirements as such:
- Technology must be simple to use from an end-user perspective
- Must be cloud-based
- Solutions must make the jobs of the employees and their leaders easier and faster with real time or near time data and increased visibility
- Solution providers must be just as flexible and agile as we are as an organization – allowing for us to keep pace with changes in the market
- People behind those solutions are experts at what they do, understand the business challenges, and know how to solve the problem that is different, innovative, and forward thinking
For us, the employee-first approach starts with the knowledge base, the foundation of successful contact centers. McKinsey estimates that 19% of employee time is spent searching for answers. By partnering with Shelf, a knowledge management platform built specifically for contact centers, we’re investing in tools to protect our agent’s time, and ultimately our end customers’ time as well. We believe improvements in the agent experience are almost perfectly correlated with improvements in contact center metrics, and Shelf is helping us demonstrate that. We’re uncovering innovative ways to train and upskill frontline workers through a better knowledge experience, and we’re seeing tremendous adoption rates because of it. Customers want consistent answers, and our employees need access to a variety of information in real-time. Shelf powers the backend with automation and artificial intelligence to serve up the right answers, saving our agents time and frustration.
As a new BPO, we wanted to make the investment upfront to ensure that all our technology solutions went towards effectively supporting our employees and leadership. People often talk about customers and how to create a frictionless customer experience. It applies more so to the employees. If you provide a fantastic employee experience, they will deliver a phenomenal customer experience. Employee experience means ensuring that our employees have a great onboarding, understand our diverse culture, understand how they contribute to our company’s overall success, and see our commitment in making sure they are successful. They need to see and experience how we have made their jobs easier with a greater level of support and investment in technology and resources, and it’s all made possible by putting ourselves in their shoes and truly understanding the nuances of their job. According to the 2019 Axonify report: “23 percent of all customer service agents feel as though they did not receive satisfactory training when it comes to handling consumers requests, which undoubtedly leads to customer dissatisfaction.”
Our mission is about providing employment opportunities to marginalized people, people who are a part of our underserved populations. We understand that single parents, LGBTQ, military spouses, people with disabilities, refugees, part time college students, minorities, women, and people released from prison have different sets of requirements for support in the workforce. By taking on a human-centered approach, we have combined a strong technology stack with the “people element” and streamlined processes to ensure that we focus on the outcomes of success for both our employees and our clients. By streamlining our processes with technology that helps simplify the work, our employees spend more time focusing on the customers.
This human-centered approach connects people, technology, and processes in such an efficient manner within the contact center, that it allows for the organization to reinvest that time and money into creating true value-added services to the clients beyond merely satisfying key performance indicators (KPIs). It’s not about offering great technology to the clients. It is about how those technology solutions get used in the context of the clients’ business, how it gathers data, insights and analysis that will help the clients make better business decisions and remain competitive. It is these higher value items that prove to be a differentiator in our industry.
Many have reported and written on the “Great Resignation” and how this serves as a wake-up call to many companies. The bargaining power has shifted in the favor of the employees. In the United States alone, in 2020, there were around 2.83 million people working in call centers. The call center industry was significantly challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Not only was there an increase in calls due to more customers using digital as their primary way of interacting with a company, but there was a significant increase in the rate of difficult calls and the need to escalate them” states Brian Carlson, Founder and President of RoC (Return on Content) Consulting. High volume of calls, frustrated customers, complex issues on calls – these elements all make call center environments incredibly challenging. Yet the executive teams are often too far removed to realize and understand the incredible pain points for the front-line employees and their leaders to truly know how to adequately address the root of the problem(s).
The worst moments of the pandemic are hopefully behind us. One critical lesson any leader learned during the pandemic is the importance of recognizing their employees. The reason a business made it through is because of the hard work and dedication of its employees. We have long heard of the saying, “the employees are a company’s best asset.” At SupportU, we truly embrace and execute upon this mantra and have invested in the right elements with our employees being the center of many of our decisions. Technology in any context can be powerful tools to enable greater customer experience through artificial intelligence (AI) power solutions, omni-channel, CRM, call recording, speech analytics, automation, and IVR as some examples. However, to truly deliver on the best customer experience, we believe it starts with our employees FIRST. “The business of business is relationships; the business of life is human connection” – Robin Sharma. We believe that technology should come easy and support so that our employees can focus on connecting with their customers.
Hui Wu-Curtis is an industry thought leader on customer experience. Having managed global contact center team in various industries, Hui has developed and lead many high performing teams supporting voice and digital channels. She has published several articles on customer experience and data analytics and has spoken at various domestic and international conferences on various topics such as: turning cost centers into true business value, leveraging data and analytics for actionable insights, transforming quality assurance in the digital age, and leveraging outsourcing partners for great customer service. Currently, Hui is the GM- Customer Operations & Strategy for Arizona Public Service (APS). She joined APS in November 2017 to help craft and execute the organization’s CX strategy while transforming the organization to reach new levels of customer experience for the industry.