Shifting Roles and Reskilling Workers to Create a Win/Win for Your Contact Center

When businesses first shut down due to COVID-19, they quickly began rethinking their business models. How could they survive if they couldn't open their doors? Within days, many had solutions. Retailers with ecommerce sites pumped up their online shopping capabilities. When restrictions began easing, stores that remained closed to customers began offering curbside pickup, allowing shoppers to use the store's inventory and speed delivery. Restaurants that couldn't open for dine-in service switched to pickup and delivery.

As companies pivoted, they also needed to consider how their workforces could support the change. Retailers, banks, and restaurants had employees who couldn't work in their frontline jobs. On the other hand, some of those businesses desperately needed people to work in other functions, such as in their contact centers.

With so many people at home during the shutdown, online activity spiked. People shopped for groceries, exercise equipment, athleisure wear, and technology to make working and learning at home comfortable. But online use wasn't limited to shopping. As the lockdown lengthened, people had to rearrange their lives. They had to cancel weddings, celebrations, and vacations. If they had questions about online purchases, banking services, or Zoom technology, they had to call or go online to reach a contact center.

Contact centers were overloaded, and they still are. During the first months of the pandemic, it could take hours to reach someone at a contact center. Like other businesses, many customer call centers sent their employees home to work and needed to ensure they had the right technology and connectivity. Companies whose employees stayed in the office had to reconfigure workspaces to keep employees safe. Some also had to cope with decreased staff when employees got sick.

The spike in contact center needs and the surplus of frontline employees have created an opportunity. We've seen a number of our clients successfully transition grocery cashiers, bank tellers, and retail sales associates to work in customer contact centers. This shift helps employees, the business, and customers.

However, you can't just toss employees into a contact center job without preparation and thought, no matter how desperately you need to fill the positions. Even though time is critical, it is also crucial to plan how to best shift roles and reskill frontline workers.

The Overlooked Complexity of Contact Centers

Customer contact centers are the face of companies. How customers feel they are treated when they have a question or problem influences their impressions about the brand. Unfortunately, as essential as contact centers are for building relationships with customers, businesses don't always ensure these positions are staffed with the right people, or more correctly, with people who have the right skills. So when you're moving people from frontline, customer-facing positions into contact center jobs, make sure they have the skills to represent the business well.

Those specific skills will depend on your business, but some characteristics, such as empathy, active listening, and positive language, are universally necessary. And even though your frontline employees have worked with the public, not all of them will have the skills needed to do well in a contact center. What's more, even employees who have the skills will struggle without the right onboarding, right when you need them to succeed.

Before you determine who to move to contact centers, look through your employee data to see who has the experience and skills for the job. Who knows the products and services? Who has worked in customer service before? Who wants to make this move, not just to get a paycheck (although that alone is understandable), but also to exercise new abilities?

Next, what type of training can you give? If you expect these employees to continue working in the contact center, what reskilling do they need to prepare them for a new position? As more stores open, will they have a hybrid role, splitting time between a contact center, a sales floor, or delivery? If so, what cross-training skills will you give?

Don't neglect to onboard employees entering the contact center, even if they are familiar with the company. Even if neither they nor you have time for training sessions that last days or even hours, they need that foundation for success. Employees ramp up best when they have short, bite-sized, just-in-time training at their fingertips, so they have a solution when they encounter a question or problem. This gives them knowledge and confidence and helps them quickly resolve issues, which increases customer satisfaction.

Reallocating your employees is more than a plan to help your business survive the current crisis. Shifting roles and helping your existing and new contact center employees gain new skills should be part of a continuous learning strategy; one that gives your business flexibility and agility during a pandemic and beyond.

Carol Leaman is CEO of Axonify.