After a tumultuous 10 months for contact centers and agents, new possibilities open
There’s a concept in Zen Buddhism known as shoshin, or beginner’s mind. We’ve all felt it—an openness that comes from looking at something with fresh eyes. It can be freeing because we don’t have preexisting expectations and can try something new.
This may seem an awfully philosophical topic to raise in reference to contact centers. But I’d argue that shoshin is the dominant mindset right now in countless call centers nationwide.
Last year, the changes brought about by a global pandemic pushed pretty much everyone out of their comfort zone. Rapid adaptation was necessary to survive and thrive during uncertain times. It was unsettling, to be sure, but it also led many call center leaders to experiment in ways they perhaps hadn’t done recently or, in some cases, ever before.
Positive news regarding Covid-19 vaccines has many of us eagerly looking forward to “getting back to normal.” But maybe that’s not what’s coming for SMB contact centers over the next several months—maybe a difficult period led companies to get even better in ways our sector would be wise to remember.
What do I mean?
#1 Efforts to garner employee input increased
No one had all the answers in 2020—not call center executives, workforce managers or agents themselves. Although this was often frustrating, many leaders solicited more feedback and ideas from all corners, including from frontline employees.
After all, who could better understand changing customer needs than the agents speaking with them every day?
Many contact centers found that employee input was essential in understanding the new lay of the land and shaping the best response. And for employees, to have their opinions and firsthand experience valued in this manner was extremely motivating—and that helped enhance contact center employee engagement.
#2 Employee engagement improved
Speaking of employee engagement, it recently got a big boost in many SMB contact centers.
Sure, there’s always talk about call center workforce engagement. But let’s face it, sometimes employee engagement initiatives are window dressing on regular business operations. Other times, strategies aren’t revisited frequently enough and the techniques get stale.
With certain “go to” engagement concepts—e.g., the Employee of the Month luncheon—on hold, leaders had to refresh their contact center employee engagement efforts. If most employees transferred to remote work, for example, methods had to be invented to maintain the call center culture.
Fortunately, tough questions often breed interesting answers, and the attention to innovative workforce engagement in the call center paid off for many companies.
#3 Agent support became central to employee engagement
We can’t pretend that everything was roses in 2020. A lot came at employees, professionally and personally. Some were working from home while kids were pursuing remote education in the same room. There was plenty of stress, fear and isolation.
In many cases, agents’ direct supervisors found themselves boiling their leadership down to the essentials. How could they help agents through this time? What type of support really makes a difference?
For instance, could they offer more flexible call center scheduling to alleviate some of agents’ conflicting responsibilities? Or would open door (or “open videoconferencing”) discussions with the team help everyone blow off steam and identify solutions together?
Asking these types of questions—and taking action on the brainstorms that followed—is key to employee-centric operations and many contact centers made the connection in 2020.
#4 We tried out some technology
It’s not news that suddenly the whole world was Zooming like never before, but contact centers did more than integrate teleconferencing solutions to keep in touch with newly remote agents.
Many call centers looked to workforce management software to deal with scheduling issues and take a time-consuming manual task of leaders’ plates. Others had to invest in new quality management options for call monitoring, recording and evaluation of the contact center’s remote agents. Interactive, web-based training became a thing in more SMB contact centers, too.
These are the types of technology investments that will keep on giving in 2021 and beyond.
#5 Confidence skyrocketed
Overcoming hard times tends to breed confidence, and the contact center industry has reason to walk proud. Teams were asked to do more—process more customer calls of greater variety and with new demands—and do it in the face of huge operational overhauls. Did everything go as planned? Of course not! But by and large the sector succeeded and that’s worth celebrating.
As difficult as the circumstances that drove change, reimagining call center workforce management and engagement was a positive result. Hopefully, as the global community turns the corner on Covid-19, SMB contact centers will continue to experiment with processes and technologies, ask agents how they’re feeling as they get back to “normal,” and keep up the real employee engagement and support efforts that made such a difference in the trenches.
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