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How Management and Agent Roles are Changing

There are two divergent yet related trends in contact centers that are changing the nature of job roles. Being aware of them leads to better decisions.

Changing Agent Roles

One is, at the management level many responsibilities are becoming more specialized. The traditional “jack-of-all-trades” contact center manager role of the past is (in medium and large contact centers, anyway) being divided across specialists doing everything from data analysis, to scheduling, quality monitoring, and reporting.

System capabilities with specific areas of focus—contact channels and routing, workforce management, analytics, mobile and social, and others—are contributing to the emergence of managers who must invest in the training and expertise to understand and leverage their potential. And there’s a growing distinction between IT’s involvement in putting these systems in place and the management skills needed to operate them.

Customer expectations, particularly the clamor for a seamless experience across access channels, have (ironically) also contributed to specialization in management activities. Forecasting the contact center’s workload, to take one example, has almost become a profession in and of itself. And the same can be said for recruiting, training and other aspects of management.

Of course, if you manage a small contact center, you probably wear many of these hats, or have a small team that divvies them up. But they are increasingly specialized hats, nonetheless, requiring you to develop specific skills and knowledge, or at least know where to find the know-how needed (e.g., other departments, outside resources, etc.).  

Paradoxically, contact center activities have never been more interrelated. None of these specialty areas can operate in a vacuum. So as a leader, you must find ways to both cultivate the specialized skill sets needed while encouraging the collaboration that’s ensures all are working in concert. A cohesive strategy and supporting culture are more important than ever. 

At the agent level, job requirements are in many ways becoming more generalized. You could perhaps get away with more specialization in the past—these are sales calls, those are customer service, and this group handles this or that channel. Today, specialized agent groups are proving to be increasingly problematic. Some contact centers have learned this the hard way. While it may be possible to route “easy” calls to new hires, customers have a way of asking additional questions that necessitate transfers. Agents must understand the access channels customers use, the interrelated nature of services the organization provides, and the breadth of needs and expectations that customers have.

The broadening nature of agent roles also presents an interesting challenge when considering when and how to promote agents to management positions. Given the complexity in today's environment, it can take longer than it once did to become proficient as an agent. For those who later move into management positions, experiencing the challenges, frustrations and opportunities of serving customers first hand, along with commensurate insight into the organization's services and processes, is invaluable. Moving an agent too quickly into a management role can short circuit this process.

Running an effective contact center is, more than ever, a team sport. The most successful organizations are cultivating training and development programs that support specific skills and knowledge while reinforcing overall objectives. And the most successful leaders are encouraging collaboration and an appreciation for the diverse and challenging responsibilities the contact center requires—while keeping everyone focused on goals and objectives that matter most; they are leading change.

My advice, in short, is to take realistic inventory of the expanding breadth of skills and knowledge your contact center needs at the agent level, and the increasingly specialized skillsets required to manage the operation. Look for opportunities to shape hiring, development and promotion plans accordingly.  And be sure your strategy, culture, and ongoing communication are bringing it all together.