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More agency for your agents

Unified communications tools give people more freedom at work. They can decide their hours. Even their location. But which people? Until recently UC powered self-determination was only for those near the top. No longer…

What makes people love their work? What stops them leaving for another employer?

Yes, money. But ever since the 1950s, management science has understood that the real clincher is self-actualisation.

This idea was first articulated in Maslow’s groundbreaking theory of the ‘hierarchy of needs’. He showed that, after basic human needs are met, people seek personal growth and discovery. This is what ultimately makes them fulfilled.

At around this time, two brothers (Wolfgang and Eberhard Schnelle) began to apply a similar philosophy to the design of office spaces. They developed an ethos known as Bürolandschaft. It rejected the scientific management theories behind the familiar rows of desks popular in the 1950s. Bürolandschaft proposed an open environment more conducive to privacy, flexibility, and comfort.

But Maslow’s insights and Bürolandschaft rang pretty hollow for most employees at the time. Self-actualisation was only available to a select few in the stratified workplace of the 1950s.

Today, that’s no longer the case. Unified communications technology has the power to liberate people. We’ve explored this in a previous blog.

But until recently, the ‘self-actualised’ were still those in more senior or creative positions. Employers could say to the incoming sales director: here’s your laptop and smartphone, here’s your access to unified comms, go and get results, we don’t care where you work or what hours you keep.

The rest of the organisation were not afforded the same latitude.

Now, that’s changing. And we think the implications could be profound in terms of job satisfaction for employees and in terms of ROI/staff retention for employers.

Take what’s happening with the newest Contact Centre systems. Today’s platforms return a degree of self-determination back to agents. They provide a consolidated view of customer information, which means agents can avoid screen switching, look ups and other manual processes. Ultimately, this hands initiative back to agents and helps them to make better decisions.

Agents can also modify their desktops to their own preferences. They can use simple widget tools to customise the view without disrupting the fundamental communications environment.

These small adjustments make for a happier workforce. And they save money too. According to Avaya, screen jumping alone can cost a typical contact centre $1.57 million a year.

Every contact centre should investigate these options. However, bigger enterprises can accelerate agent autonomy even further by using  workforce management (WFM) products such as Teleopti.

WFM tools allow teams to assign the right employees with the right skills to the right job at the right time. This is critical work, especially given the growing emphasis on ‘first call resolution’ as the best way to deliver customer satisfaction (again, something we have written about before).

In many organisations, managers allocate work shifts and staff allocation on spreadsheets that are not designed for this purpose. By contrast, the best WFM systems are intuitive and feature rich.

But what’s really significant these platforms is that they return some autonomy back to your customer agents. Teams themselves – not managers – can use WFM to decide:

  • How many advisors are needed for a set period
  • Which agents can best handle which queries
  • How to cover holidays and sickness

Senior management should not have to micro-manage these arrangements. Instead, they should specify service level agreements. Once these SLAs are defined, it should be up to agent teams to meet them.

This is what’s known as ‘objective based’ working, and our experience with multiple clients shows that it pays off in the following ways:

  • More staff loyalty: Engaged employees are less likely to leave. That cuts recruitment, on-boarding and training costs.
  • Better customer interactions: Happy fulfilled agents have better conversations with the people who call them.
  • More productivity: Agents who stay in their jobs longer tend to do their jobs better. They’re faster. They know what works.
  • Higher morale: Contentedness is contagious. Happy agents make for a great environment that benefits even those who are not in public-facing roles.

It takes money and time to recruit and train good people. You do not want them to leave. Giving some self-determination to your agents will make them more fulfilled, and keep them from leaving.

That is true RoI.

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