Flexible Contact Centers Keeping Your Business Nimble and Scalable

Aakash Kumar, Founder, and CEO, ShiftsmartAakash Kumar, Founder, and CEO, Shiftsmart
A company’s contact center should be managed as if it were a critical hotline. The goal is to communicate a calm sense of urgency, intelligent solution, and a timely resolution of problems. Sounds easy enough, right? Sometimes it’s good to look back in order to see how far we’ve come.

Have you ever wondered how the current “flexible contact center” came to be? Some call center historical background might be helpful here. Reportedly, Rockwall Automation built the first American call center in 1973. They became more prevalent in the early 1980’s, largely within the U.S. financial and retail industries. They typically began as flat employment hierarchies within the company to achieve cost minimization (the vintage image of a large room with rows of agents at banks of telephones, ideally with partitions so that employees can hear their callers).

An early study of call center management by 3 academics (Philip Moss and Chris Tilly of the University of Massachusetts, and Harold Salzman of the Urban Institute) collected and analyzed employment data within call centers over a 7-year period which revealed interesting findings. (Source: Moss, P., Salzman, R, & Tilly, C. (2008).

Under construction: The continuing evolution of job structures in call centers. Industrial Relations, 47, 173-208.) Companies initially assumed a flat employee hierarchy within the call center would meet their goals; however, companies discovered high-quality service required a motivated, loyal and highly skilled workforce. Thankfully, job structures in most call centers have changed over the years and more have embraced layered hierarchies, as well as heightened skill and qualification requirements for employees has become the industry norm. Moss and his colleagues discovered that adding supervisory layers along with recognition and rewards, provided career growth opportunities to valued employees and thus reduced turnover. Call centers generally responded to customer service and workforce demands for recognition and career growth with pay increases for improvements in skills and performance; however, workforce managers focusing solely on pay increases met with relatively little success. Employees were more interested in promotion opportunities. Promotion brought formal recognition as well as changes in status and responsibilities.

Moss and his colleagues also uncovered some interesting long-term employment patterns. Although call center turnover rates were high, much of that turnover was due to new employees quickly realizing that the nature of call center work did not suit them. Many call centers had a substantial core of employees with long career histories in the business. The addition of hierarchical layers in call centers was the major factor in creating internal labor markets with good career growth opportunities for employees. Interestingly, another contributing factor was that hiring supervisors and managers from the outside generally failed to deliver good results.
Externally hired managers did not adapt as quickly to the call center culture, nor did they possess the same degree of loyalty as their internally promoted counterparts. Consequently, many call centers moved over time toward policies that focused on promoting from within.

What can we glean from this early study and carry with us into the modern day flexible contact center? The human quotient is paramount to a positive call center experience. The winners among those who provide the workforce behind flexible contact centers, are those who can recruit, onboard, train and manage qualified agents most effectively while engendering loyalty and offering career advancement opportunities. By utilizing technological advances such as AI, mobile apps and messaging tools, we can maintain a world class network and technology platform that is optimized to deliver agents and business results.

To illustrate how far the call center has developed over the past 30+ years, in the mid 90’s, the retailer LL Bean developed what was considered groundbreaking forecasting models for their call centers which allowed them to schedule their workforce two weeks in advance. Their algorithm was based on ARIMA/transfer function methodology to model data that exhibited seasonal patterns that are strongly influenced by variables such as holiday and advertising. LL Bean was thrilled that their models of scheduling efficiency saved $300,000 annually on $870m in sales via scheduling efficiency. (Interfaces, 25(6), 1-13.)

Needless to say, companies who outsource their call centers in modern times would be unimpressed at a pitch to “save their company .0003% of annual sales”. Businesses must now be prepared to shift on a dime, adapting instantly to changing circumstances. The new requirement is a “24/7/52 always-on” digital customer experience. Companies who contract with a 3rd party on-demand contact center that offers quality at scale are empowering their own opportunities for business growth. A successful modern contact center requires the ability to react quickly, attract and retain an excellent talent pool, offer a multi-channel approach, provide automation and self-service for those who desire, and provide a high quality personal experience for those who do not.

The Work-from Home model is attractive to the call center workforce. Countless studies have examined the relationship between remote work and job satisfaction in the workforce. The major implication of the findings is that increasing remote work in the workplace may be an efficient way to increase employees’ job satisfaction levels. This is because remote work influences employees to have higher perceived autonomy, less work-family conflict, and more telecommuting intensity, which in turn influences their job satisfaction. (Schall, Marie Antoinette, "The Relationship Between Remote Work and Job Satisfaction: The Mediating Roles of Perceived Autonomy, Work-Family Conflict, and Telecommuting Intensity" (2019). Master's Theses. 5017.)

A business that empowers a third party workforce management company to execute their on –demand contact center is freeing up incalculable time for their management team to concentrate on forward thinking matters such as business expansion, long term goals, research and development, and more.

A third party workforce management firm with quantifiable contact center capabilities offers an intuitive end-to-end technology platform built to unlock speed, scale, complete coverage and availability from remote agents (on multiple digital platforms). Your business is able to flex schedule quickly to meet surges, track metrics in real-time, pay workers quickly and easily. Outsourcing to a reliable vendor allows you to recruit the best talent by offering their workforce more/better shifts, faster pay, control of their schedule, training, and opportunities to grow professionally. The economies of scale are a boon to your business with access to 400,000 registered diverse workers.
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