Question: We have a 350 seat contact centre that operates 24 by 7. We also have several lines of business and a few tiers within some of those lines; so we have multi-skilled agents. It can take four weeks of initial training to get a person up to speed on the basics in one line of business. When they demonstrate mastery of that skill, we provide training that enables them to move up the tiers or add new lines of business. We are achieving our goals but attrition is a continuing problem. We are trying to lay out a 5-year plan. What changes do you see coming that could affect contact centre operations in unanticipated ways?
Answer: Oh my, if I had a nickel for every 5-year projection that went far off the mark, I’d have at least twenty bucks. But you bring up a good point: Is it reasonable to expect that contact centre operations five years hence will be largely the same as they are today? I think it is not reasonable and may be dangerous.
Five years from now some customer engagement centres will be very involved in virtual agent technologies, where customers interact with simulacrons on basic matters via voice and text. Using a basic artificial intelligence backed up by speech and text analytics in real time, all the simple interactions become automated by virtual agents. Of course this means that the tougher issues will require agents who have more training, more business sense, more autonomy and more authority. Here’s where I think it gets potentially interesting: Traditional Workforce Management practices could get tipped upside-down. And, it’s being driven by the demographic changes in the workforce.
Today, the WFM team creates a set of shift patterns and agents have some ability to signal their individual work preferences. Using some performance or seniority ranking, schedules are built that will grant only a certain percentage of employee preferences. Then, business need takes over and agents are increasingly assigned schedules that they may not like.
I anticipate more employee-driven scheduling. Briefly, the WFM team first educates the agent population about current scheduling practices and the results being achieved. It’s important to point out problem areas in the week or month. Then, a poll should be taken to determine if enough agents are interested in a more flexible schedule. Finally, agents are invited to either select from a vastly expanded set of shift patterns or, in an extreme case, are invited to produce their own idealised schedule for the next several weeks or month.
All these new choices are input into the WFM solution to test for goodness of fit against interaction demand. Negotiate where needed to cover holes. Big improvement in morale produces less turnover leading to even better customer experiences. Big change.