Chapter 1: Contact Centers in a New Age of Workforce Dynamics

The millennial generation, the most populous in US history, is rapidly overtaking the labor force. In 2020, millennials made up over 40% of employees, as baby boomers—the second-largest generation to date—continued retiring at an increasing rate. In less than a decade—by 2030— Gen X will start retiring, and millennials, along with the subsequent Generation Z (Gen Z), will become an overwhelming 74% of the workforce.1 Most contact centers have likely noticed the shift in demographics, but they may underestimate the technological and cultural demands that go beyond simply having “younger people” in the office. Coupled with the sudden acceleration of virtual employee and customer interactions brought on by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, employers should be aware of the trends unique to new workers and the best ways to engage, train, and retain these critical team members.

In less than a decade—by 2030—Gen X will start retiring, and millennials, along with the subsequent Generation Z (Gen Z), will become an overwhelming 74% of the workforce.

While the idea of working for the same employer for one’s entire career began to dwindle decades ago, millennials and Gen Z are perceived to be more likely than their predecessors to switch companies more frequently. Data to support this assertion is not entirely conclusive. For example, while Gen Z workers may be more than three times more likely to switch jobs than boomers2, other surveys indicate millennials would rather work for the same employer for five years than leave after two.3 Regardless of seemingly conflicting trends on a macro level, however, with typical churn rates hovering around 30% to 40%, contact centers need to consider the following unique characteristics of these groups when creating employee engagement strategies.

High technology skills and expectations: Millennials and Gen Z are often defined as technology-driven generations, born after the creation of the internet and with access to smartphones since they were teenagers or younger. They are accustomed to setting filters, customizing dashboards, and enabling features that increase their value and engagement with technology. Businesses that try to force antiquated, static user interfaces that do not evolve with the company, employee, or customer needs may find workers frustrated, non-compliant, and ready to move to the competitor.

Cultural shifts, such as growing diversity and social responsibility: Workplaces will need to ensure that both company culture and technology are accessible to, and inclusive of, increasing diversity. The millennial generation has a roughly 44% minority rate, as opposed to 25% of boomers, and Gen Z is on trend to be the last US generation with a Caucasian majority.4 Millennials and Gen Z also put a higher priority than previous generations on working for employers that demonstrate environmental responsibility and promote positive social causes.

Historically high levels of education: Millennials have higher rates of education than any preceding generation, providing them with more bargaining power as employees. Forty-one percent of millennials have a bachelor’s degree or higher, as opposed to an average of 34% for older generations.5

Comfort with technology eased the transition to work from home: A recent benefit of having millennial/Gen Z workers is that their tech-savvy abilities may have made their transition to work from home (WFH) more seamless than those with lower technical aptitude. This advantage will persist well into the future: A recent Frost & Sullivan survey shows 79% of organizations have at least one-half of their staff working from home on a part- to full-time basis, and 57% expect this to continue in the coming years.6

Giving Contact Centers an Edge on Talent Acquisition and Retention

Frost & Sullivan’s conversations with the industry repeatedly show a growing interest and investment in workforce engagement platforms, particularly those that are robust, sophisticated, and client-focused. Figure 1.0 outlines the seven strategic areas in contact centers that are witnessing improvements in the work environment. These areas speak directly to millennial and Gen Z priorities, providing benefits such as voice of the employee (VOE) agent experience, customizable technologies, flexible scheduling, and agent empowerment.

Contact centers wanting to optimize engagement and productivity of both new and current employees need to evaluate which aspects of current workforce strategies still apply and the best ways to engage a changing landscape. Businesses can augment traditional workforce optimization (WFO) processes through advanced workforce engagement management (WEM). WEM goes beyond legacy WFO by placing a focus on improving the employee experience (EX) in contact centers. WEM is invigorating the contact center market with benefits that reverberate across the organizational landscape, from reduced costs and lower churn rates to improved customer satisfaction (CSAT) and customer experience (CX). WEM enables employers to provide their workforce with important differentiating factors such as agent personalization, a need for connection, and the ability to be mobile, flexible, and self-sufficient.

Figure 1: Six Strategic Areas of Workforce Engagement

The New Roadmap for Workforce Engagement

Contact centers ahead of the EX and CX curves recognize that partnering with a WEM service provider can be a crucial step in turning potential challenges into competitive differentiation. Critical areas that these solution providers should be able to address include the following:

Tools for managing remote contact center agents: While millennials and Gen Z may seem better prepared for remote work environments from a technical capabilities perspective, they still need adequate training, clear processes to follow, and intuitive systems and user interfaces. They want to interact with colleagues and customers in ways that are engaging and help them feel part of the team. Managers and supervisors also need tools to ensure WFH agents are as productive as their bricks-and-mortar agent counterparts. An advanced WEM partner can provide a cloud-based solution, tools, and metrics that are secure and easy to access, regardless of where the agent is located.

Creating greater agent specialization: Stratifying agents by product, customer need and level, and channel (e.g., social and video) can improve productivity and performance. Expert specialist agents provide a more efficient, high-quality, and personalized CX and can have a more rewarding work experience than generalist agents. Advanced WEM solutions can facilitate agent specialization. For example, they can create “smart routing” of calls based on a customer’s recent purchase or open service ticket or help employers create metrics designed to consider a specialist’s functions versus blanket metrics across all roles. They can also ensure those customer interactions are tracked consistently across channels: chat, email, mobile apps response, SMS/text, or social media.

Optimizing IT teams with advanced, cloud-based platform: Millennials and Gen Z will not just populate agent roles, they are also part of the IT teams that will support contact center operations. IT personnel costs continue to rise rapidly as these roles become increasingly complex and are being added more quickly than they can be filled. Organizations will get better ROI from expensive IT teams if IT is focused more on key business objectives and less on mundane fixes or vendor management. Partnering with a WEM solution provider with a comprehensive platform that can cover agent departments across the organization streamlines IT’s activities. Robust functionality can also maximize agent productivity and minimize idle time. A cloud-based platform and applications also help ensure IT costs scale with use, can be accessed more reliably and securely by remote agents, and can grow with the business.

An advanced WEM partner can provide a cloud-based solution, tools, and metrics that are secure and easy to access, regardless of where the agent is located.

Meeting the Challenges Head-on with Technology Solutions

How can organizations unleash the power and full potential of a changing workforce? Understanding which digital technologies are required today and which will be important in the future is critical when it comes to sketching out plans, prioritizing budgets, sequencing investments, and scheduling workforce implementations. Digital leaders will be those organizations that are skilled at utilizing business analytics to offer deep insights into customer behaviors, wants, and needs; developing new products and services; and ultimately innovating and exploiting new business opportunities. Embracing and leveraging WFH can also work to a business’s advantage: Advanced WEM solutions can provide remote- based millennials, Gen Z, and all employees more flexible scheduling, secure mobile connectivity, end-to-end performance monitoring, improved training solutions, friction-free access and interfacing with systems, and cloud-ready collaboration tools. Frost & Sullivan research shows that leading enterprises, when equipped with a complete set of the right WEM tools, are better positioned to enhance agent retention. New workforce management tools was the top measure being undertaken by contact centers globally, according to a Frost & Sullivan survey of 661 contact center decisions makers.7 Additional leading measures included enabling flexible/remote workers and management training. Workforce engagement tools can be utilized to enhance these measures by providing the following benefits:

  • Drive higher productivity
  • Accelerate innovation in products and services
  • Vastly improve knowledge sharing across teams
  • Conduct customer interactions anywhere they are best served

When it comes to keeping contact centers filled and humming at peak efficiency, the newly dominant millennial and Gen Z agent population will thrive with flexible scheduling and shift bidding, near real-time performance dashboards, and an environment that sustains employee growth. The ultimate goal of greater organizational flexibility is to connect, engage, and motivate employees to meet customer needs and work efficiently, regardless of their role or location. These benefits translate into an improved customer experience that reduces the risk of churn, improves satisfaction, and ultimately leads to higher customer lifetime value (CLV).

Beginning quotation mark  New workforce management tools was the top measure being undertaken by contact centers globally, according to a Frost & Sullivan survey of 661 contact center decisions makers."

Let's get started.