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Contact Center Managers Need Generational Awareness

headphonesRecently, I had the opportunity to engage in a lengthy conversation with a National Director of Contact Center Training for a global high-tech company. He shared some great insight around the challenges involved in creating an award-winning training program resulting in peak performance and exceptional agent retention.

One of the most important factors, in his opinion, is recognizing the motivational differences between the generations working within most contact centers. Many times, a company may have representatives from four different generations working within one contact center. One motivational “size” does not necessarily fit all agents. We’re probably all aware of the standard generational breakdowns as currently defined:

  • Baby Boomers, those born between 1946-1964 - generally seek financial gain and security
  • Generation X, those born between 1965-1979 - Generally seek professional advancement
  • Generation Y (also known as Millennials), born between 1980-1995 -Socialization and acceptance
  • Generation Z, born between1996 and later -Life/work balance, flexible scheduling and “being heard”

Recognizing the motivational emphasis of each generation and how to address them is critical for agent performance and extended tenure according to my contact. While Baby Boomers may be motivated by financial gain, Gen Z’s are typically looking for life/work balance, flexible schedules and a feeling of “being heard”.

For example, let’s examine how to support younger agents. When they leave a company, they typically move from one contact center to another. They rarely change, professions but are seeking an environment where they can fit in and thrive. They’re looking for intangibles such as schedule flexibility, easy socialization, peer contact, and support.

The question then becomes, how does a management team accommodate all these different generational goals and challenges? Failure to recognize these differences and address them can result in a generalized approach with high turnover and lower agent effectiveness.

First, realize that training and recruiting functions are people-oriented, while middle management is typically performance focused. Potentially, there can be a significant shock to agents when they leave the protective environment of a training classroom and enter the real-life work environment of a functioning contact center.

This “shock” can be enhanced by the current work-at-home imperative with little peer contact and support. Younger agents (Gen Y and Z) looking for the socialization which is critical to their generation may find it difficult during that transition. Many struggle to feel recognized and avoid being a “cog in the wheel”. My director contact suggested a proactive effort of agent surveys and focus groups, with feedback provided to the agents in no more than 60 days. This should be done, even if the agents are part of a BPO partnership, in order to minimize agent churn and turnover. This approach has been shown to increase average tenure of agents by over six months.

Second, understand that metrics benefit the company and not necessarily the agent. According to my contact, it’s best to try and tie corporate and personal objectives together, particularly for younger agents. Make the customer a mutual priority.

When performance issues arise, as they will, it is always better to focus on the individual as opposed to the metric in question. For example, if an agent begins to extend the average handle time of their calls and an opportunity for coaching becomes available, look to understand the underlying cause which may be contributing to the lower performance. “I’m concerned about you” or “help me to understand” are good ways to begin a conversation with agents who are suddenly experiencing performance issues. While this approach may require more insight and effort, it will ultimately create an environment in which individual agents feel heard and accepted.

Third, evaluate your agent recruiting ratios. Highly successful centers typically have a 20:1 interview to hire ratio. Poorer performing centers will operate with a 6:1 ratio according to my conversation. Being selective and drawing from a larger pool of candidates will allow for better compatibility with the existing culture and environment minimizing generational challenges.

According to Kimberly Abel-Lanier, vice president of workforce solutions from Maritz Motivational Solutions, “The multigenerational workforce requires flexible leadership, policies and programs. Today’s leaders must familiarize themselves with the perspectives, needs and influences of each generation.”

This aspect of leadership is inherently difficult and requires extra effort and discernment on the part of management. However, redirecting management and agent dialog from performance metrics to individual achievement and recognition with a generational awareness is well worth the effort.