It’s time to stop treating people like machines.
Jonny Bradshaw _ January 2017
"That’s right, treat agents as intelligent, self-determining individuals with a desire to increase their knowledge and improve their skills."
Last week Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled plans for a new industrial strategy, designed to boost the post-Brexit UK economy. Her pledge included a £4.7billion fund to pay for research and development into emerging technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence.
How far the government’s commitment will eventually extend only time will tell, but the impact of the ‘digitisation’ of jobs has long been the subject of debate. In a study published by researchers at Oxford University and Deloitte, it is projected that about 35% of jobs in the UK are at a high risk of automation over the next 20 years.
There’s even an online calculator to work out the likelihood that a job will be automated within the next two decades. Put ‘Call and contact centre worker’ into the calculator the likelihood of the role succumbing to automation is rated at 75% and summed up as “fairly likely”.
The threat is based on the premise that certain aspects of a job are simpler to automate than others. For example, jobs that involve interactive tasks which don’t need a high degree of social intelligence are very exposed. While roles requiring people to think on their feet, show empathy, involve negotiating skills, and require an understanding of human emotions, are considerably less at risk.
A company's competitive advantage lies in its employees, not its technology.
Over the last few years, we have seen the steady increase in the use of chatbots and digital channels across numerous high-profile organisations. Yet even RBS points out that their IBM-designed Luvo chatbot is complementary to existing customer service agents, stating: "Luvo frees advisers from spending time on simple, easily-addressed queries so they can help customers with more complex issues."
And it’s here that the future of the call centre agent lies. While technology takes over the more simplistic, mundane tasks, it will leave human agents to deal with the more demanding enquiries.
As a result, the role of the agent will actually be enhanced and the skills required will be greater than ever before. The growing requirement for human initiative, will leave companies depending more on people, not less.
Consequently, CEOs need to make people a priority, or risk leaving scores of workers behind and undermining their company's core competitive advantage.
Accenture surveyed 10,000 UK workers in order to discover what actions companies need to take to help their employees keep up with radically changing work environments.
The first action was: Help workers learn new skills faster. It went on to point out that workers are well aware of the need to develop new skills to remain relevant. In fact, 85% of respondents said they would be willing to invest their free time to learn new skills.
The second action was equally revealing: Redesign work to encourage collaboration and flexibility. The shifts in demographics are as significant as the shifts in technology. Older workers are steadily retiring, so in less than a decade millennials will make up 75% of the workforce, supplemented by increasing numbers of the first true digital natives: Generation Z.
So what can a call centre do to ensure its agents keep pace with an increasingly changing landscape?
1) Reduce reliance on pure efficiency metrics.
In the desire to streamline performance and improve call centre agent productivity, call centres turned to Workforce Optimisation and performance metrics.
While Speed of Response and Service Level have their place, what’s more important is that a problem or query is resolved at the first time of asking. Similarly, Average Handling Time may have helped to increase productivity, but trying to get the call over in the shortest possible time does little to enhance brand loyalty.
Call centres are still relying far too heavily on pure efficiency metrics. Little wonder that agents have become disengaged; treat them like machines and you will get a machine-like mentality in return.
2) It’s time to retire the carrot and stick.
In an attempt to improve call centre agent motivation, the sector turned to productivity-related incentives.
This ‘carrot’ is also destined to fail. The reason behind this is that rewards work well for tasks where there is a simple set of rules and a clear outcome, as they narrow our focus and concentrate the mind. But for tasks that require you to think outside of a pre-set framework and find a solution, they simply don’t work.
So as agents have to deal with the more complex queries, simple rewards will fail to increase motivation or productivity.
As for the stick, Gallup research recently highlighted that Millennials already have the lowest employee engagement and the highest likelihood (47%) to switch jobs within 12 months, so good luck wielding that.
3) Start treating your agents to a healthy dose of autonomy, mastery and purpose.
That’s right, treat agents as intelligent, self-determining individuals with a desire to increase their knowledge and improve their skills.
But in order to achieve these goals we need to increase agent engagement through a new operating system, one that revolves around three elements: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.
- Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives
- Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters
- Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves
This ‘radical’ approach provides the building blocks that lead directly to an increasingly capable, engaged and motivated workforce; all working together to deliver the very best customer experience.
Which is why we have placed it at the very heart of the EvaluAgent Workforce Engagement platform.
A single solution that provides the answers to multiple challenges.
The EvaluAgent Workforce Engagement solution combines a range of software tools into a single platform.
It has been designed to capture both internal and external feedback across all interactions, and then provides agents and team leaders with access to timely, relevant and valuable information.
Furthermore, it allows this information to flow freely through transparency and permeability. This prevents ‘silo mentality’; the situation in which regional offices, departments, different communication channels and teams. isolated, proprietary, and competitive.
It’s this free-flowing approach to feedback which supports independent action, aids learning, and improves skills; all of which are then reinforced by recognition and self-fulfillment.
Engagement isn’t just about keeping staff focused on their day-to-day workload, it’s an understanding of purpose, of contribution and the opportunity to learn and progress.
It’s about treating them like people.