Contact centres: Time to put millennials first
The oldest Millennials are now hitting their late 30s (gulp… really?) They make up more than 30% of the workforce with a cohort that consists of 75 million people. What does that mean for outsourced contact centre employers? In our opinion, it means we better be doing a good job setting up an employment experience that meets the average Millennial’s needs, and we better be shaping our industry to support engagement of this demographic for the short term and the long term. It’s that simple. And that complex.
The generalisations about this generation are rampant. And to be frank, most of those stereotypes miss the mark entirely. (Swap out the over-used, misinformed adjective “entitled,” and replace it with “anxious about ever achieving financial security.” Hint: It’s not over-spending on avocado toast that is holding them back from home ownership.)
What do millennials want?
For starters – see above: anxiety is real. A commitment to employee engagement, clear career path opportunities, and a well-articulated value-proposition for the employee will take you a long way as an employer. Focusing solely on what you want in an employee and not looking at the equation from the candidate’s perspective – even for entry-level work – is going to be a mistake.
We need to be asking ourselves critical questions. Can you offer work, even at the agent level, that adds to an employee’s résumé? Will your agents get to work for great brands doing work that goes beyond mere transactional support or are you only offering soul-sucking work that a robot could do? (Pro Tip: If you answered yes to the robot question, we have an AI blog you should read.) Is there room to grow for people with differing skills sets? Not everyone is going to advance into a role of managing people – are you drawing your analysts, specialists, HR, and workforce resources from folks who started in production?
Is your company a good corporate citizen? Do your corporate values align with the vision that Millennials in North America tend to have to “make a difference” for their communities, for the environment, for others in need? The idea of contributing to the greater good – and doing meaningful work - is one that drives many major life decisions for the Millennial generation, even the decision about working in a contact centre. As employers, how do our corporate commitments to our communities and the environment line up? Is there an avenue, through work, for employees to contribute to nurturing healthy, thriving communities?
Is that a pencil?
We’re arguing against the stereotypes that have plagued the Millennials throughout their young lives, but there is one trait common to pretty much all Millennials in North America: they are the first generation of true digital natives. They had computers in their kindergarten classrooms and were likely to be the ones teaching their parents to text. They’ve been using YouTube to learn how to do everything from hacking their video games to curling their hair since YouTube was first created. And in many of the schools they attended, coding is the new cursive.
Millennials’ preferences for learning should be reflected in your onboarding and training processes: Millennials are typically tech-savvy, self-learners who appreciate the convenience of on-demand training in any location.
Baby Boomers grew up with a traditional classroom structure where the teacher lectures and the student listens and takes notes. For your average Millennial, a training plan that leans heavily on classroom lectures can lead to boredom which can lead to a lack of engagement. Although the classroom has historically been a good platform for role-playing and hands-on learning, it’s time to assess how these techniques can be enhanced through technology. Not only does the virtual classroom appeal to Millennial contact centre agents, but many online learning programs in the contact centre can be customized to an individual’s learning style and areas that need the most improvement. These tools are also programmed to be highly interactive, with mobile-responsiveness and self-pacing.
And when it comes to the production floor, a contact centre with an elegant omni-channel offering utilizing leading edge tools offers a win-win for both the customers and the agents who support them. A contact centre that empowers agents to handle the most complex scenarios within the customer journey while using innovative technology (and growing the employee’s technical skills at the same time) is one that creates a differentiated work experience for the agent.
But Wait. What About Workforce Requirements?
In the era of the side hustle, control over schedules is often a priority for Millennials in a way it rarely was for their parents or grandparents. When Ward Cleaver was pushing 40, he wasn’t thinking about pulling a second shift in a taxi after he clocked out at the office. Mary Tyler Moore wasn’t responding to Etsy orders on her lunch break at WJM. For Millennials, the primary job they hold is often just one piece of the puzzle. Intuit recently published a study predicting that 40% of the workforce will be engaged as independent contractors by 2020. On the other hand, success in the contract centre industry depends on agents being in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. We want our workforce to be flexible when our clients require it, but the rest of the time, we value schedule adherence and predictability above almost all else.
Workforce management technologies have evolved (and are continuing to evolve) to better balance an employee’s desire for flexibility with the employer’s requirement for schedule adherence. Employers of choice in the outsourced world will be those that can find the best balance between what workforce needs to meet service level consistently and what Millennials need to make all the pieces of their complex lives work in sync. Right now, we would file this under “work in progress” in our industry.
As that balance evolves, employees should be supported by tools that meet today’s user experience expectations. After all, if you can tap your Starbucks app twice and have a grande soy chai latte with cinnamon waiting for you when you walk in the café door, agents should have slick tools to help them self-serve on things like picking up extra hours or trading hours away. And if your HR processes are still heavily reliant on filling out hard copy forms, it is time to go shopping for some apps to support your employee experience.
Let’s recap the stereotypes, you know that Millennials are entitled, Generation Xers are cynical and apathetic, and Baby Boomers are set in their ways. Right? … Even if we like to think we know better, the truth is that these generational biases can seep into the workforce almost undetected, impacting the way agents and managers interact.
The first place this breakdown will happen is in communication. Today’s contact centre has more channels of communication than ever before, but each channel has its own dedicated generational following. Millennials may be quick to turn to instant messaging and texting, while Gen Xers stick to email and Baby Boomers are more likely to dial the phone to talk. If these preferences are not acknowledged, misunderstandings in expectations and feedback are likely to occur, leading to an even greater tension.
Resolving this issue depends on having a leadership team that is highly aware of workplace diversity and committed to creating a great place to work. Millennials will benefit from robust processes and procedures that streamline communication and foster an open, supportive work environment. Instant messaging is certainly a powerful tool, but they need to be trained on how, why and when other forms of communication should take precedence.
Finally, Millennials value learning and mentorship. They are open to peer-to-peer knowledge sharing at an almost unprecedented level. (Thank you, Xbox Live.) They are open to learning from Baby Boomers and often seek out a mentor. In exchange, they want to be heard and they want their opinions and insights to have impact. As a generation, they know their self-worth and believe they should have a place at the table. (In a funny twist, that Millennial confidence is the supremely annoying trait most mocked by Baby Boomers, right up until the minute they need someone to build an app in an afternoon.)
An intergenerational contact centre has rich potential for valuable knowledge transfer, insightful feedback, and ongoing learning opportunities. Fostering this kind of environment will lead to employee engagement across every generation.
Managing your millennial workforce in the contact centre
Building a strong agent team for your outsourced contact centre program requires an intimate understanding of values, learning styles, communication preferences, and overall hard skills. Often, these factors are highly correlated by generation. As we move toward 2020, let’s stop asking what Millennials can do for us and ask instead what we can, and should, be doing to meet their needs today and tomorrow.