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As the country begins to “open up”, the economic downturn is beginning to shift to a new post-pandemic normal. Organizations are starting to develop and communicate their return-to-office strategies and the demand for new hires is increasing. Contact center work-from-home models have proven successful during the pandemic and this transition has enabled organizations to tap into new hiring markets since talent acquisition is no longer confined to local markets.

Yet, contact centers are having great difficulty recruiting and retaining employees and absenteeism rates remain high. Large numbers of employees left the workforce during the pandemic and The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. employers might have trouble hiring workers fast enough in coming months to keep up with the projected burst of economic growth. Encouraging former associates to return to contact centers and hiring new associates will require a greater level of flexibility. Some workers have chosen not to return for personal reasons while expanded unemployment benefits continue to deter other candidates from seeking work.

Compensation is a critical factor in both hiring and retention. The minimum wage in some states has increased significantly in the last few years. The Economic Policy Institute found that by 2026 about 40% of American workers will live in areas covered by a $15 minimum wage. However, hourly starting rates in many contact centers have not maintained the same pace. Contact centers need to evaluate their starting pay rates in comparison to the local minimum wage to continue attracting desired talent. They must also address the salary compression that is occurring within contact centers that have increased starting wages for new hires, necessitating a salary review for existing staff.

Contact Center Evolution

The role contact centers play in business success is rapidly evolving. Customers are now able to resolve basic issues via web self-service. As a result, the issues that come to frontline service associates are more complex and require a higher level of troubleshooting skills and emotional intelligence. While service associates used to handle only a single channel such as phone or email, advancements in contact center technology enable agents to manage more channels spread across inbound/outbound calls, chats, e-mails, social media engagements and more. To meet rising customer expectations, contact centers are evolving into Engagement Centers where associates focus on engaging with customers to build life-long relationships with them and ensure highly effective, personalized customer experiences.

As complexity in the contact center continues to increase, the skill levels required of service associates are expanding. Consequently, companies must assess their recruitment strategies to ensure they align with the complex requirements of the developing Engagement Center. Existing associates who take on greater responsibilities requiring more experience and training will expect their compensation to be adjusted accordingly. Contact center leaders must prioritize compensation equity and take steps to prevent salary compression from impacting existing employees to achieve their retention goals.

People Are Your Most Valuable Asset

Contact center associates live your brand with your customers every day, so it is critical to recruit and retain the best talent. Those who transitioned to work from home, and enjoyed it, may now be evaluating job changes if their company is expecting them to return to the office. Since many contact centers are adopting remote workforce models, associates are no longer restricted by location and can re-evaluate their options. This provides opportunities to recruit from new targeted markets but also puts pressure on companies to offer competitive benefits such as “work-from-anywhere”, flexible schedules, and higher levels of remote support and engagement.

As competition in the job market intensifies, the cost of replacing employees increases and retaining top performers becomes more critical. To preserve your existing staff, consider these approaches:

  • To improve your organization’s ability to attract and maintain talent, create a company culture that ensures employees feel valued. Employees today are looking for companies that value their contributions, provide flexibility and support their growth.
  • Provide flexibility around where and when employees work and be creative about scheduling.
  • Ensure your recruiting strategy targets new labor markets and underserved populations within the workforce, especially given the opportunity for work-from-home options. Incorporate robust screening, simulation and testing to confirm candidates’ skillsets match your needs.
  • Evaluate and redesign your training content to target higher-skilled employees and assess your delivery model to ensure it is targeted to a remote workforce.
  • Continuously assess your overall compensation package to ensure you remain competitive in your markets. Starting pay is a critical foundation and should be coupled with a comprehensive benefit program; current trends include sign-on bonuses, pay for performance, extended vacation, expanded medical coverage, office and remote amenities, and many other creative offerings to attract and retain employees.
  • Provide employees with clear paths for career advancement and opportunities for skill development. This motivates employees and enhances their overall capabilities.

Invest in Employee Retention

If existing employees are meeting or exceeding expectations, be sure to recognize their success and allow them the flexibility to choose if they will remain at home or return to the office in the post-pandemic era. Be transparent in your communication with them and disciplined in your approach to change management.

Focusing on your culture and creating a workplace where people feel valued and want to contribute to the business’s success are always worth the effort – this goes across all levels and roles within the company, not just your frontline positions.  Investing in employee retention results in far better returns than spending money training new employees. In fact, culture and retention efforts are often self-funded due to reduced employee churn. Listen to your employees and allow them to engage in discussions with their leaders and become a bigger part of the company and the solution.

The Northridge Group can help you optimize your contact center workforce with strategic hiring and retention solutions. Contact us to learn more.

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