Contact Center Workplaces Are in the Midst of a Renaissance

Everyone is talking about the Great Resignation, but it might be more accurate to refer to this evolving period as a workplace renaissance, as the changes that are occurring are a catalyst for improvements (or an awakening) in the working world. This is the case for many contact centers, where agents have been under-appreciated, under-recognized and under-rewarded for decades.

The employee-employer relationship in contact centers is finally being re-evaluated and redefined, and not a moment too soon. Since the founding of call centers, agents have been paid some of the lowest wages in companies to do a job with little flexibility in working hours, breaks, and vacations. While it's understandable that agents need to adhere to an agreed-upon set of working hours for a contact center to meet its service level (response time) commitments to customers, demanding overly high occupancy rates (the percentage of time that agents are required to be available to handle interactions) is not a good practice. It's time for contact center management and business practices to transition and align with the requirements of the general working population who expect fair treatment, recognition, and compensation.

The technology and applications to transform the management of contact centers is available; what's required is for leaders to recognize the need to adapt and the willingness to work with their employees to implement the changes. Importantly, many of the modifications that contact center agents are requesting will not cost companies more and might even reduce operating expenses. This includes the ability for agents to continue to work from home, as is allowed for employees in other departments. Agents are also asking for the right to work non-traditional and flexible work schedules, which proved to be very successful during the COVID-19 health crisis.

During the early days of the pandemic, contact center leaders around the world did an amazing job of getting their people home to work, and executives took note. They recognized the dedication of their front-line agents and management and the essential role these departments played in keeping their companies open while most other customer-facing departments had to close down. It's time for this to translate into lasting improved treatment for contact center employees.

The service world is also undergoing major innovation in the form of intelligent self-service solutions that customers find compelling and engaging and that are increasingly preferred over live agents to handle all but their most complex requests. These conversational self-service solutions, along with vastly enhanced automation applications, are taking on the bulk of routine inquiries, allowing agents to concentrate on more complicated tasks and high-value interactions. Implementation of these capabilities is giving rise to a new category of customer-facing employees who are vastly different from the agents of the past, who primarily answered questions about balances and payments. The working world has changed, and so must contact centers; companies that want to be able to hire and retain great agents must listen and respond to their needs and create a more flexible and engaging work environment that enables them to deliver a consistently outstanding customer experience (CX).

CX is More Important than Ever

Delivering an outstanding omnichannel CX at all touchpoints in the customer journey requires the right blend of people, processes, and technology. While agents need smart technology to perform their jobs efficiently and productively, this is only one aspect of what is needed for customers to have an easy and frictionless experience. Agents also require processes and procedures that empower them to become customer advocates. This means that it's time for companies to review and replace their outdated procedures and ineffective and obsolete processes that were designed for phone-centric inquires. Organizations that want to realize the benefits of the digital channels and self-service solutions that their customers increasingly prefer need to enhance both the customer and agent experience.

To optimize their overall service experience, enterprises need to view it through the eyes of their customers and re-imagine the entire customer journey, not just what happens in the contact center. Companies need to put in place mechanisms and tools that enable them to identify operational obstacles throughout the company that are major impediments to delivering a great CX. This is where workforce optimization (WFO) (also known as workforce engagement management (WEM)) solutions are instrumental. Many of the applications that comprise these suites (See Figure 1) should be rolled out to employees in all departments that are part of the customer journey. This includes the use of customer journey analytics, a relatively new concept and application to capture and provide the insights that companies need to identify the bottlenecks that disrupt the service experience.

Figure 1: Workforce Optimization/Workforce Engagement Management Suite

Source: DMG Consulting, December 2021

Technology Takes a Leading Role

The pace of innovation in the contact center is more rapid than at any other time. Artificial intelligence (AI), automation, analytics, digital transformation, self-service, and a lot more are helping change and improve the servicing world. WFO/WEM applications are giving enterprise leaders the data and insights they need to enhance their organizations, enabling them to deliver a coveted service experience while becoming employers of choice. During the past year, it's become increasingly common for companies to transcribe a majority of their calls to gain the insights needed to improve handling and reduce the need for customers to call. Interaction analytics is automating trend discovery as well as improving agent compliance and reducing fraud. Analytics-enabled quality management (AQM) is enabling companies to automate the 50-year-old manual QM process while enabling managers and employees to delight their customers. Gamification applications are identifying and rewarding agents for the outstanding job they do while keeping them tuned in to their department and co-workers, whether they work from home or in the office. The new generation of workforce management software is giving employees options for when and where they work and empowering agents to balance their personal and professional responsibilities by themselves, without having to ask for permission. Real-time guidance and next-best-action applications position agents to get things right the first time, delivering a new and much more positive approach to coaching and training. The list of innovation that has come to market in the last couple of years is large, but it's just the beginning of what is expected to be delivered as part of the new AI-enabled WFO/WEM applications.

There is a great opportunity to use WFO/WEM applications throughout enterprises, beginning in back-office departments, to improve quality, employee engagement, and productivity. WFO/WEM solutions can deliver the necessary oversight, analytics, automation, and intelligence to managers throughout the enterprise, just as they have to contact center leaders. It's time for many of these WFO/WEM applications to become standard employee productivity and engagement tools. As this will also help to improve the customer journey, it's the next frontier for these highly beneficial solutions.

Donna Fluss, president of DMG Consulting, is an expert on contact centers, analytics, and back-office technology. She has 30 years of experience helping organizations build contact centers and back-office operating environments and assisting vendors to deliver competitive solutions. She can be reached at