Recruitment and Retention: Demand for Agents Skyrockets Amid a New Era of Customer Service

By Tom Goodmanson December 17, 2021

The pandemic has turned the workforce upside down as millions of people worldwide remain unemployed, and many are looking to greener pastures in the wake of shifting labor needs and expectations. Some do not want to re-enter a low wage landscape; others need to adjust hours due to changes in school or childcare, and still others just want more flexibility. These individuals are now looking for new jobs that offer better pay, more schedule flexibility, career training or the option to work from anywhere.

Enter the new in-demand job – the customer service and support agent. With remote work opportunities, flexible scheduling and on-the-job-training, customer service agents are poised to become the new in-demand job for 2022 and beyond. A recent study commissioned by Calabrio found that 87% of contact center managers believe the pandemic has elevated the importance of the contact center in their companies long term. No longer the “smile and dial” telemarketing or “answer 100 angry phone calls a day” job of previous years, today’s customer service and support agents can be highly skilled and well paid, offering enormous benefits to companies that want to rise above the competition.

Calabrio’s 2021 Health of the Contact Center: Agent Wellbeing and the Great Resignation study showed what agents want from their current employers:

  1. Higher pay
  2. More flexibility
  3. Sense of Career Path

But, when they actually leave, “higher pay” falls to the third factor at only 18%. This highlights that companies need to look beyond pay for how to attract and keep these in-demand team members.

At Calabrio, we stay close to our customers to stay close to their needs and views. We recently interviewed some of our customer network on ideal candidates for customer service and what goes into a successful agent recruitment and retention plan.

Make Opportunities for Advancement Abundant

“Anyone who has the ability to show empathy should look into jobs in customer service,” said Beth Bax, assistant director for quality assurance at Grand Canyon University.

The pandemic had a disproportionate impact on those in the workforce, with women and service industry workers bearing the brunt of job loss. Individuals who worked the same job in hospitality or food service for years were suddenly laid off. Millions of women reduced their work schedules or left their jobs altogether to care for families. These individuals understand better than most that the longer they remain unemployed the harder it may be for them to return to work. They are looking for jobs that offer new paths toward career advancement instead of endless quotas and sales pressure. In this case, working as a customer service agent can be an ideal match. Many roles are open to those with a minimum level of education, but other support jobs are designed for individuals who hold real-life experiences in specific industries.

Many CX providers offer advanced training and fast-track career paths for those who want to build a career and achieve financial security. There are opportunities for general customer support employees or specialty roles for healthcare workers, technology support, financial experts and more. Agents may talk to customers on the phone, but more and more companies offer customer service via social media channels, chat, email and SMS as well giving agents a range of options in the tools they use to connect with customers.

CX job benefits are also in line with many top companies. When asked, our customer experience client base listed the top reasons reported by their teams for entering the industry as: career advancement, job security and overall job benefits (i.e., health/dental, pension, and tuition).

Global customer experience BPO providers like Webhelp are attracting more people interested in becoming advisors because of the scope of opportunities these roles now provide. Webhelp creates game changing customer journeys for the top global brands in fashion and retail, travel, automotive, healthcare and more, for today’s digital world.

“Our advisors are the face and voice of our clients and we recognize their value in creating incredible, human brand experiences. Because of this, we provide extensive on-the-job training and promote from within,” said Sandrine Asseraf, Group Managing Director, Webhelp Americas and ESG. “We also offer a number of different job tracks that our people can pursue, so new advisors have an opportunity to grow.”

Advances in onboarding mean that agents can be trained from anywhere, and they have resources at their fingertips when they need help. Indeed, Calabrio’s 2021 cloud State of the Contact Center study found three in four contact centers now use the cloud, with 68% of these migrations having occurred between 2020 and 2021.  Today’s contact centers incorporate cloud-based, integrated workforce engagement technologies to help managers troubleshoot customer issues or determine performance gaps and areas of training needed. This new breed of contact center analytics quickly identifies unexpected customer or agent experiences and helps find opportunities for agent training or support.

Similarly, giving insights and dashboards to the agents themselves helps them gain ownership of their work. As Wendy Cutler, Workforce Specialist at Peckham observes, “Remote agents are able to see their own ‘live’ metrics, meaning they can now take charge of their job or reach out for assistance to improve their KPIs.”

New Technology Means Enhanced Flexibility and Support

“The pandemic has expanded the ways we get to interact with customers,” said Daniel Acosta, who works as a call center application analyst at Houston Methodist. “Now that working from home is no longer a far-fetched idea for customer service representatives, pretty much anyone could work in customer service.”

As demand for highly skilled agents continues to climb, contact centers are under more pressure to invest in the tools and technology to elevate agents on the path to success. Many customer service agents can work from home, or any other location given new technology that allows for remote connectivity. The pandemic demonstrated how full-time remote working is possible, and most contact centers upgraded their agent software to make working remote seamless. Agents also have more autonomy and flexibility in their schedules than ever before, in some cases only working for one or two hours a day to meet demand. New mobile and online tools for self-scheduling offer flexibility so agents can choose their shifts and pick up additional ones on the fly.

Many of the roles Webhelp is filling today are remote positions. “By offering flexibility with our ‘Webhelp Anywhere’ model, we can hire the right talents for all types of industries and create an environment that supports our teams throughout their career,” Asseraf added.

Evolution Brings Opportunity

With digital brands, eCommerce, telehealth and other companies and services doing the majority of their business on channels other than face-to-face, customer service and support agents have become a strategic differentiator for companies. It’s growing fast. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment of customer service representatives was projected to grow 10 percent between 2014 to 2024, but the pandemic has accelerated this growth and more jobs are available.

This growing industry has evolved from its old history as a temporary phone job to an on-demand career that offers a lot of flexibility, remote work, options for advancement and the employment benefits that modern employees want. The pandemic transformed the way we work and reset our expectations. This seismic shift raised the standards for customer experience and accelerated employment opportunities. Today, the customer support agent is the unexpected breakout star in the post pandemic job market. And when it comes to retaining these stars, as I said at the beginning of this article, if only 18% leave because of pay, it’s all about how we help them shine brighter, travel further and give them the empowered space that new working contexts require.

Edited by Erik Linask
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