Contact Centre Virtual Roundtable

Coronavirus has forced unprecedented change upon the contact centre. The sector which employs c. 1.3 million Britons, has very quickly had to adapt to a decentralised way of working. Prior to the pandemic only around 10-20% of the UK contact centre workforce worked from home, according to the CCMA. The sector had to quickly adapt, testing every prior technology and tool in their portfolio, but how has it impacted the people and the skills required for the role?

Brook Street hosted a virtual (of course!) round table on the topic. Joined by Trevor Butterworth, CEO and founder of the UK Contact Centre forum (UK-CCF) and facilitated by Chris Gray, Sales and Marketing Director and Mina van Piggelen, Brook Street Head of Region, the discussion heavily focused on the shift contact centres have had to make to adapt to home working.

Joined by an array of talent leaders and directors from the industry from a variety of sectors including banking, financial services, retail and outsourced service, the session was structured around three main areas:

  • Skills – what impact has COVID-19 had on the skills now needed for the role?
  • “Untapped” Talent – how has the increased flexibility and home working impacted who contact centres are attracting?
  • Recruitment process – where have there been significant changes to the process and how has this impacted talent metrics?

When asked, “What impact has COVID-19 had on the skills required for your contact centre operations?” There were some very common themes, regarding the type of person needing to be much more self-motivated, self-disciplined and be able to manage their own time. Also, with the lack of team and management around them for them to be able to “think on their feet.” Ultimately, the characteristics needed in a homeworker becomes of much more importance.

The conversation then turned to the assessment process. There was a very strong sense from the group that there had already been some movement there. Switching assessment centres to an online platform, the obvious one, however, it was great to see that other aspects of the process had been taken into consideration, such as the person spec; job ads; and content to support the new working environment. Similarly, the group felt what had to be remembered is that this isn’t black and white. It’s not office or home, moving forward there will be a much more blended approach and a mix of home working and working in the centre.

A refreshing element that delegates noted was the ability to now attract a much broader array of talent. Those that might have been put off by the contact centre environment itself would now feel more comfortable applying. The discussion then lead into how the types of people applying are changing: more working parents and those for whom the journey may have been untenable before, candidates with more tenure and as such a richer set of skills and those due to being furloughed from such sectors as the travel industries are now grounded i.e. flight staff. As such, this increased diversity of backgrounds is enriching the skills now available to attract from.

Also, the physical environment. Contact Centres, due to their size and scale, are often further out of towns and cities, constantly expanding to cater for more people. With less people physically at a centre, property costs will likely decrease.

Working from home is also having a profound impact on the key HR metrics within contact centres. Trevor Butterworth shared some key findings from a recent UK-CCF report on home working, such as:

  • Decrease in absenteeism
  • Decrease in attrition
  • Increase in engagement of employees
  • Increase in productivity

“Returners” talent who may have worked in a contact centre, and now after starting families or exploring different career choices were viewing the flexibility of homeworking a very big attractor – in particular, working from home around school hours.

The second part of the conversation was relating to the recruitment process, “What impact has COVID-19 and home working had on the productivity of employees and your organisation? How has your recruitment process adapted?” To this, there was some great MI shared in relation to the new virtual recruitment process. One example great example was an offer to acceptance ratio increasing from 25% to 50% and an increase of candidates being open to short-term contracts.

The use of video was discussed, not just through assessment but more so to demonstrate the contact centre environment. Similarly, for current contact centre agents to create short clips of them working from home, what it’s like working around families at home to share with candidates during the attraction and selection process.

Moving forward, the general sense from the group was that the offer to candidates would involve a flexible approach, letting candidates and employees choose where and how they want to work, again a “blended” approach – however, this is also lead by the location of the centre itself. i.e. Centres outside of cities and towns are more likely to see more people returning earlier than bigger cities, such as London.

Chris Gray, then talked through the impact of talent shortages in the UK, from the ManpowerGroup*, Closing the UK Skills Gap: What Workers Want report, some headline points:

  • Talent Shortages in the UK have doubled in the last 10 years
  • 23% of employers find it difficult to find the right talent (global average is 45%)
  • Contact Centre and Sales roles have consistently been in the top 10, however, in this year’s survey 2019/20 (which was reported prior to COVID-19) contact centre was removed from the category, increased automation contributing to the change
  • Offshore coming back onshore and an increase in customers wanting to hear a “voice”

Candidate preferences were then discussed, back up by the latest research (again, complied before COVID-19)

  1. Pay still matters – with wages growing half as quickly as they were 10 years ago especially for lower earners, companies must get creative to enhance compensation beyond cash to differentiate and attract talent.
  2. Personalisation – very much supporting the discussion, research also demonstrates factors such as autonomous working and flexibility, parental leave, well-being policies, financial incentives and access to training and development reward loyalty and attract talent
  3. Purpose – and meaningful work has also accelerated in importance for candidates

The session then closed with positive feedback amongst the group and consensus that everybody is experiencing very similar impacts on their individual contact centre talent operations.

*Brook Street is a subsidiary of ManpowerGroup, a global workforce staffing and solutions organisation.