Great Resignation or Reset? Contact Centers Seize the Moment

This syndicated post originally appeared at No Jitter.

AI technologies and tools to enable and manage agents wherever they work will continue to see adoption, as companies try to appeal to younger consumers concerned about sustainability and social issues.

COVID-19 created a reset in the workforce, decoupling work from the traditional office location. This was the start of the Great Resignation, where an unprecedented amount of people moved on from their jobs in favor of better opportunities. Now more than two years into the pandemic, employee churn is at an all-time high.

According to U.S. Department of Labor data, 4.4 million U.S. workers voluntarily left their jobs in September 2021. It’s projected that 55% of the U.S. workforce will churn in 2022. While some may view this massive employee churn as a business disruptor, the Great Resignation may actually have a positive impact on companies looking for skilled workers, as an unprecedented amount of talent is available at the moment.

Talkdesk and ZK Research recently hosted a webinar to understand how the Great Resignation is impacting contact centers and ways in which companies can improve agent engagement. During the webinar, ZK Research conducted a live poll to gauge contact center turnover in the past year compared to past churn rates. Almost 70% of the respondents said they have had significantly or slightly more turnover in the past year.

Historically, contact centers were hit the hardest by employee turnover. Before the pandemic, contact center churn remained high at 35-40%. Post-pandemic churn is estimated to be double the historic numbers. Agent churn is extremely expensive. The cost of replacing an agent can be anywhere from $4,000-8,000 per agent, or even more when it comes to up-leveling their salary.

Agent churn is not only costly, but it can also negatively impact the customer experience (CX), which has become the top brand differentiator. For many businesses, the contact center is the epicenter of CX. Customers want seamless interactions with brands, fast responses to their inquiries, and to be proactively reached out to by brands instead of reaching out first. For this reason, most companies have digital transformation plans that involve CX.

A CX study conducted by ZK Research found that two-thirds of millennials have changed loyalties to a brand because of a single bad experience. This is true for almost every demographic, where a single bad experience can result in a customer leaving a brand. The same study found that 90% of companies today compete based on CX, which is a huge increase from 28% five years ago.

People switching jobs want to work for companies that are contributing to the greater good. Interestingly, the employee experience and the customer experience are closely tied together. In its “The Future of Customer Loyalty” report, Talkdesk Research found that consumers are likely to choose – or leave – brands based on their position on social issues, sustainability, and diversity.

According to the Talkdesk data, 46% of Gen Z consumers stopped using a company’s services or products because of its views on social issues, and 40% have stopped due to their stance on sustainability. Meanwhile, 53% of Gen Z consumers have started using a company’s services or products because of diversity in their customer service. These percentages were similar for millennials, and although the numbers were slightly lower for Gen X and Boomers, all expressed similar feelings about corporate social responsibility (CSR).

The pandemic underscored the importance of having skilled contact center agents and digital technologies that enhance CX. In fact, 52% of companies surveyed by ZK Research last year said they’ll invest in AI to improve CX. That number is likely to be even higher this year since AI is a leading transformative technology for companies shifting to the cloud.

ZK Research ran another poll during the webinar, asking participants about the role of AI in the contact center. 43% of companies said they’ve deployed AI and are actively using it, while 30% said they don’t believe AI is ready for production yet. The same number (30%) of the respondents are evaluating the technology.

In 2020, only 35% of interactions were completed by AI, mostly by basic chatbots. The number of interactions is projected to rise to 85% by 2025, driven by more advanced AI capabilities like sentiment analysis to better understand human emotions.

Chatbots are becoming more intelligent thanks to recent advancements in conversational AI and natural-language understanding. Mundane, repetitive tasks largely contribute to agent dissatisfaction. If agents only perform mundane tasks — which can otherwise be handled by a chatbot — it will be reflected in the quality of the customer service that they provide.

Sales, marketing, customer service, and customer success are converging together and creating an opportunity for contact centers to level-up talent. People want to work for companies where they can be successful, which requires equipping agents with the best tools and processes. Well-trained contact center agents can turn a contact center into a profit center. Therefore, companies should be investing in integrated systems, AI, and omnichannel capabilities.

The last poll conducted by ZK Research assessed how contact centers will approach work post-pandemic. The majority of the respondents said they will keep agents working from home. As companies transition to permanent remote work, they’ll need to modernize the contact center. Software-as-a-service and AI-enabled solutions are ideal for remote and hybrid work. Companies that don’t have AI-based management tools will have difficulties ensuring that managers stay on top of what’s going on in the contact center.

Moving to the cloud offers many CSR benefits as well. Companies with cloud-enabled contact centers can deploy more agents in more places and arm them with the right information. Modernized contact centers can turn agents into super agents, making them smarter, faster, and able to solve customer problems in a compassionate, socially responsible manner.

Author: Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.