The future of Contact Centre Planning

A recent conversation with Doug Casterton really got me thinking.  We started chatting about a debate Doug had been having with some planners around the world on an Uberesque approach to staffing, and on reflection I believe it is valid.  One benefit of being an Uber driver is the ability to choose when you work and for how long you work.  Will this be the future of contact centres?
 
Several years ago I met an ex-colleague, Sean Canning (President & COO, Customer Management at Firstsource) and we were debating ways to address attrition and sickness issues.  He said “How do you stop people taking absence and in effect choosing their own hours – they know more than ever how much money they need in their next pay packet and often just do enough hours to get that.  Many staff in effect come to work for beer money – they know what they need for bills and for their night out – and do those hours and no more.”
 
Having worked in several customer contact operations since, I can fully empathise with that point of view.  A recent project saw me work in a centre with standard business hours – one shift for all frontline agents – no early or late starts, and a salary that was comfortably above the minimum wage threshold – yet our sickness levels was as high as I have seen in any centre.  This sample of one centre starts to support in my mind the arguments that the needs of the workforce is changing.  It is no longer about a steady job, loyalty to the company and/or the customers – it is starting to be about ‘what I need for the lifestyle I have’.  
 
We now have Generation Z entering the workplace, and let’s be honest, those leaving education are the lifeblood of contact centres.  No one expects them to stick around for ever – albeit those of us who do stay within the industry can start to carve our a career.  However Generation Z want something else.  A recent BBC report (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-49508854) talks about how costs are soaring for the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ with children staying at home, or returning to live at home for longer than ever previously.  There are many reasons for this – including the horrendous costs of property – but this could change perception of what people want to earn and how many hours they want to work to earn it.  
 
Generation Z has been profiled as having uncertainty about navigating the pathway to future financial security, causing feeling of freedom and also anxiety.  They have also embraced the rip of micro-communites, based on social media connections.  They have also delayed many of the traditional traits of adulthood like marriage and having children.  This all leads to them wanting a different conception of freedom than previous generations.
 
So what does this mean for the workforce of tomorrow, and more importantly for those who have to organise the workforce in contact centres to meet demand.  The traditional 5 day week, 35 – 40 hour week will not satisfy that new found freedom of the generation Z workforce.  Their need for freedom to live life is hampered.  This doesn’t mean people won’t work long hours – the rugged determinism of this age group will see they work hard when they are focussed on a goal.  Therefore the resource planner of tomorrow will have to consider how to meet customer demand without alienating the available workforce.
 
So how do we get this ultra flexible staffing methodology which satisfies the needs of both customer and employee? Surely it starts with ripping up the rulebook? Workforce management software is now relatively inexpensive – starting as low as £9 per agent per month.  Combine WFM with the possibilities of the possibilities of automation software and it leads to the concept of dynamic scheduling.  Allow staff to choose their hours.  Outsourcers like Arise and Sensee have already showed that their work from home specialists will work a base number of hours and then ‘grab’ extra hours that suit them to supplement or enhance their schedule.  
 
Zero hours contracts have been rightly lambasted over the past few years in the UK & Ireland. A contract of employment which doesn’t guarantee any work at all does lead to many ethical and morel questions. However, the concept has merit.  What about a 25 hours base contract? Maybe add the constraint that the business can increase this a number of times in the year to deal with seasonal spikes – but other than that as long as the frontline agent agrees to work the minimum then all is good.  On top of this, lets have an App where the agent can login on their phones and see if any shifts available – maybe even with only a few minutes notice.  Make sure that App has a push mechanism to ask for help when we know we will be short staffed – there are often people willing to come in early / stay late / do an extra shift if they knew there was availability. As a business embrace channel shift and the different response times associated with each channel.  Bring in the potential of robotics and AI to deal with base level contacts and we will be moving towards a solution.
 
We need to get a win/win/win solution for the 3 stakeholders in the contact centre – the business, the employee and the customer.  Find a way to meet the changing needs of our workforce and surely the customer and the business will be happy.  Less unexpected absence, less attrition because the business gives staff the freedom that Generation Z desires, and embracing technology to change how we engage with both employees and customers has to be the future of contact centre resource planning.
 
It’s going to be an interesting few years ahead!
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