Earlier this year, Gartner, the research analyst firm, changed its Magic Quadrant evaluation category from Workforce Optimization (WFO) to Workforce Engagement Management (WEM), highlighting an adjustment in what they view as important for the Contact Center industry. Such a renaming and refocusing goes hand in hand with the needs and values that we here at Teleopti have always taken into account with our WFM offerings. However, it is worth taking a look at exactly why Gartner announced what it called an “essential shift.”
Moving forward from an old, stale approach
It is necessary to first take a look at the word ‘optimization’ itself and what Gartner has acknowledged as a somewhat outdated term, in need of improvement. The definition of optimization is “an act, process or methodology of making something (as a design, system or decision) as fully perfect, functional or effective as possible.” Functionality and effective systems are of course still a necessity in contact center workforce handling, however, the sole use of this term and mode of thinking is to forget a vital element of the workforce: the people.
This sense of something, or someone, being forgotten could be seen in Contact Babel US & UK 2015/2016 reports’ findings that agent attrition rates were up to 22% in November 2015. All of which was in spite of the continued rise in employee wages, such as the average agent salary increasing by over 5% in the UK in 2015. A closer inspection was clearly critical, and Gartner, with its team of research analysts, is a company that would look closer and investigate how previous optimization methods could be improved and adjusted. The first step in this examination was to stop seeing the workforce as an automated block in need of optimization alone but a collection of employees, of people, who are looking for more than just a good salary.
The shifting employee landscape
Gartner’s focus on employees doesn’t represent a situation for contact centers alone, but rather reflects a worldwide transformation of employee demographics, expectations, and consequently, treatment.
There has been, and will continue to be, a large shift in the workforce’s generational composition. More and more baby boomers are leaving the workforce, with millennials starting to make up the majority of employees. Deloitte in fact forecasts that, by 2025 millennials will account for 75% of the global workforce and, as has been well documented in recent years, millennials come with a different set of priorities and expectations. Expectations that have to be listened to if employers wish for effective results, lower re-hire rates and a positive public image.
In Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends 2015 report, ‘Culture and Engagement’ topped the chart as the priority for businesses and HR leaders, whereas it had barely charted in 2014. With this change of attention, employer branding and employee treatment has found itself at center stage. Companies can no longer choose whether to offer a welcoming work environment or not, it is an expected standard, and something that could negatively affect a company’s reputation if ignored.
But why Workforce Engagement Management in particular?
To retain a productive workforce, companies, including contact centers, need to change their attention and methods. Attempting to optimize a workforce as if they are robots will no longer work. Now, workforce handling has to be person-oriented, as can be seen in the two areas of focus that Gartner has selected for its transformed Magic Quadrant: Engagement and Management.
Combining Gartner’s new criteria and Teleopti’s own experience and findings, here are some crucial points to remember when thinking more closely about the individuals in a contact center workforce:
- The voice of the employee – A new emphasis for Gartner in its evaluation of contact center workforce treatment is the “voice of the employee”, demonstrating that, to retain a talented workforce and get the best from them, they have to be listened to. Whether it is in looking at an employee’s professional development or respecting their lifestyle requirements, management needs to offer room to speak, not a closed door.
- Communication is key – Engagement is a two-way street. As contact centers have found, communication channels have opened up and multiplied with digitalization and social media, so employers need to also adjust to these methods of contact with their employees. Internal communications systems need to be expansive, efficient and digital to keep agent-management contact as open and effective as possible.
- Gamification – Stress and boredom can lead to dissatisfaction, and consequently, attrition. This chain of events can be avoided by motivating agents in an enjoyable way, enabling them to see their achievements and therefore perform better in the long run.
- Engaged customer service – A recent Avaya study found that companies with the highest levels of employee engagement have significantly higher productivity, profitability, and customer ratings, along with lower turnover and absenteeism. So, engaging the workforce isn’t an option but a necessity for contact centers.
- Development and training – In Gallup’s report on ‘How millennials want to work and live’, 87% of those surveyed answered that development in a job was important to them. So, good management needs to see the competency of each agent and look at how to best position them, as well as acknowledging and implementing the training that each agent needs. An employee that feels invested in will invest more of themselves in their work.
- Good management also means good leadership – Report after report is finding that having faith in senior figures and the direction of a company is vital for employees. Gartner itself writes of the need for a positive perception of leadership where “the employee believes that the senior leaders of the organization are capable and moving the organization toward a better future.”
A final thought
Teleopti has always believed in the human touch of Workforce Management so it is refreshing to see this movement away from an outdated, robot-like approach. Good management and effective engagement drive employee retention, making them essential cornerstones in the effort to reduce contact centers’ high attrition rates. Just as Gartner noted the changing employee landscape and has altered its requirements accordingly, contact centers, and companies in general, have to be observant and adaptive to their workforce to stay ahead.