Q&A with Cliff Rees, President, Voxox
What is the biggest challenge contact centers are facing right now?
Cliff Rees: Contact centers are finding it hard to recruit people who can immediately qualify for the available jobs. The Philippines contact center industry, for example, needs to hire over 100,000 workers annually to keep up with demand, but there are only 60,000 new qualified applicants for those positions. This supply/demand imbalance will mean call center wages will increase, in some cases dramatically, making the use of call centers more costly for their clients.
When I’m looking to recruit domestically, should I focus on communities that have Gigabit residential services? For example, besides providing the speed that some bandwidth-intensive CC applications require, such as video, does Gig service also indicate that those communities are filled with people whose tech savvy makes them better able to serve my customers?
Cliff Rees: Communities that have Gigabit residential services tend to have significantly higher levels of tech savvy, but they also have significantly higher levels of earning potential and disposable income. Wealthy people (or those who expect to become wealthy) aren’t great candidates for call center positions. Recruiting tech-savvy but relatively less affluent people like college graduates is a more promising talent pool.
What can contact centers do now that will help them scale in the future?
Cliff Rees: Automate, automate, automate… More and more companies are moving away from voice-based customer service. A recent study conducted by the Forrester Report showed that only 28 percent of Americans prefer talking to agents. Most would rather use a search engine or chat to find answers to their queries. Outsourcing legend Tom Topolinski thinks that computers will eventually take over many aspects of customer service in the contact center industry. Alastair Bathgate, CEO of robotics company Blue Prism, thinks over 50 percent of call center functions will be replaced by interactive applications, especially the repetitive work that many CSRs do.
What are some of the factors that impact the culture or morale of the contact center? Does technology or the tools available to employees play a role?
Cliff Rees: The morale of a call center is primarily determined by the attitude of the supervisors and secondarily by the physical environment. If a supervisor is genuinely interested in supporting the staff, serving both as mentor and as resolver of conflicts, the morale will be much higher than if the supervisor is rarely available and emotionally distant. If the physical environment is clean, in good repair, and has enough sound-absorbing materials to significantly mute the hundreds of other voices, a call center worker will be much more relaxed and effective than if they work in a loud environment with uncomfortable seating, dim lighting, etc..
When does it make sense to eliminate contact center facilities altogether in favor of agents working from home? What are the pros and cons I should consider?
Cliff Rees: Having a central contact center facility gives workers a much greater sense of belonging to a larger organization – a “tribe”, if you will. This identification increases loyalty along with the desire to see the tribe as a whole succeed. In addition, it makes provisioning and trouble-shooting telecom services vastly easier when there is only one router and one network to worry about, as opposed to the hundred+ individual personal networks that at-home workers will have. A call center service that's running on a high-bandwidth, enterprise-class infrastructure (which is what we offer at Voxox) will work far more reliably and with higher quality than when running on a low-bandwidth home network where activities of other house-hold members (e.g., gaming) may be consuming resources such that the call center employee experiences very low quality connections.