call center

Check out the first installment of this series: The Times They Are a-Changing: Talent in the Contact Center Part 1: Setting the Stage

In our second part of this blog series, we continue our examination of how to staff the contact center of tomorrow. Just as a sports team consists of players and coaches working in concert, the contact center’s backbone is comprised of agents and supervisors. Let’s take a look at where those roles are headed.

Human Touch – Role of the Agent

Today agents are the front line players in the contact center.  Unfortunately, their work today is often tedious. Seats are frequently filled by lower-skilled workers in unfulfilling roles, leading to a turnover rate of 30-45% – more than double the average for all occupations in the U.S. The high turnover rate contributes to low morale among employees, and leads to huge recruiting and  training costs for management. 

Can technology help? Virtual Agents (aka bots) and other forms of self-service will take over many routine tasks that bring monotony and boredom to today’s agents. While much is predicted about the negative impact of AI on the workers of tomorrow, the truth is that AI will help to transform the lives of agents for the better. AI will vastly increase the number of concerns that customers can resolve themselves via self-service, and the tasks left for the human agents will be the more complex ones that self-service tools and the machine learning algorithms of AI cannot yet master. AI will also assist agents in solving these problems by suggesting possible next steps or solutions, but agents will use their expertise combined with the computer’s recommendations to determine the best path forward. 

Challenging work is more interesting and rewarding, and also requires higher skill sets. Contact centers will need to provide better training for their agents to address their now more complex work. These jobs will also demand higher pay than the typical contact center positions of today, and will provide experience that enables more career advancement opportunities. What does this mean for their supervisors?

From Taskmaster to Mentor – Managing the Human Agents

As the nature of agent work changes, not only is the agent role transformed, but so is the role of the supervisor. Managing staff who are low skilled and unmotivated is a daunting and sometimes thankless task.  In some call center environments today, supervisors act like a cross between a task master and a kindergarten teacher, and eke out only satisfactory performance from their employees.

As the agent’s role becomes more sophisticated and agent problems more complex, Supervisors need to learn how to manage agents more like a coach manages players on an athletic team: 

  • Motivate agents to continuously improve their knowledge and skills. 
  • Use cheerleading and positive reinforcement techniques to encourage and coach workers.
  • Mentor agents to advance in their careers. 

Not all supervisors will be successful in making this transition, but those that excel at this form of management will be highly valued. 

Check out the next installment of this series: The Times They Are a-Changing: Talent in the Contact Center Part 3: Rise of the Machines – Meet the Virtual Agent