Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Future Workforce: Imagining and Writing the Revolutionary Agent Job Description

In this exclusive preview of the Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange Chronicles: Customer Contact 2014, West, a panel of experts offer their insights on the workforce of the future, with an emphasis on evolving necessary skill sets, engaging millennials, and managing of remote employees.

Michael DeSalles, Principal Analyst, Customer Contact, Frost & Sullivan

- Denise Pullen, Assistant Director, Learning Innovation, Hyatt
- Kelly Ravsten, Director, Americas Audience Operations, Yahoo
- Ann Szymanowski, Global Director, Customer Service, Dow Chemical


With customers’ increasing ability to solve simple problems online, the questions that come in to agents are becoming more and more complex. Consequently, companies need to recruit for, train, and retain intelligent employees with the competence to solve challenging problems. 

What that means for contact centers: The skill sets of today’s agents need to favor problem-solving abilities and adaptability rather than rote memorization and adherence to scripts.


That doesn’t mean agents need to be technical experts; instead, the panelists said, companies must hire agents who can follow questions logically and figure out how to find solutions. In addition, agents need to be able to listen and have empathy for the customer. 

Look for customer-service-oriented individuals leaning toward sales, and recruit for college-educated employees on campuses. That strategy tends to work best in locations with high unemployment rates. Creating relationships with nearby campuses can allow the company to hire students part-time as they work toward degrees.  


Panelists agreed that education is important for today’s customer service agents. According to Ann Szymanoski, all agents at Dow Chemical have college degrees, as and they need strong critical thinking skills. Agents need understand the logistics of the company in order to serve customers.

All agents at Yahoo have degrees as well, Kelly Ravsten said. Her company looks for agents who can solve problems logically and learn. It’s impossible to use scripts to solve complex problems, she said. 

At Hyatt, college graduates are highly sought after but a degree is not specifically required, said Denise Pullen. The company is receiving much more complex calls now because most of the simple questions can be answered online. 


As the workforce evolves, organizations need to adapt to the generational differences of their employees. Younger agents tend to value different things than those who came before. Retaining millennial employees depends on engagement and motivation.


Companies must understand differences between the millennial workforce and prior generations, the panelists said. Unlike baby boomers, millennials often require a lot of feedback. They tend to be impatient and eager for promotion when they meet agreed-upon benchmarks, so it is important to ensure that these opportunities for advancement exist.

Don’t just rely on stereotypes about different generations. There’s a big gap between how most businesses view millennials and how they view themselves. For instance, according to
  • 35 percent of millennials consider themselves to tech savvy while 86 percent of HR managers say they're tech savvy. 
  • 82 percent of millennials think they are loyal to their employer while just 1 percent of HR managers say so. 
  • 86 percent of Millennials think they are hard-working, while 11 percent of HR managers agree.
Despite the challenges, panelists stressed companies should be excited about hiring millennials. Yes, they constitute a change in the workforce that requires a shift in motivation and retention strategies; however, they are the leaders of the future and, if properly engaged, have a lot to offer.  


The panelists recommended companies adapt their business structure to fit millennials instead of expecting them to adapt to fit the company. Create a work environment that challenges employees with clear parameters detailing acquisition of necessary skills and pay increases based on performance.

It’s important to help these employees with tuition reimbursement or loan assistance. The skilled college graduates companies are looking for will most likely have a higher debt ratio. 

For recruiting and retention, use groups and community outreach to help millennials feel connected to the company. For instance, Pullen said, Hyatt has created health and fitness club and a diversity group. Creating a fun culture that millennial employees fit into, fostering friendships, and allowing them to pursue a higher purpose will make them more likely to stay with the company.


Using work-at-home agents can help for recruiting, cutting costs and increasing agent availability. However, there are some challenges companies must overcome. According to the panelists, remote employment is a viable option as long as the right candidates feel connected to the company.


In today’s marketplace, it may be necessary to allow employees to work from home in order to hire and retain top talent. To avoid problems, companies must create a work-from-home environment that allows highly-trained employees to accomplish their work off-site.  

At Hyatt, about a third of agents work remotely. The training for them is key, Pullen said. The company uses a virtual classroom that’s completely interactive to make sure employees are engaged in the training.


The panelist recommended companies implement systems to ensure that remote employees are actively working despite not being physically present. Ongoing communication can help remote employees feel connected. Keep remote employees engaged with daily check-in meetings and frequent instant messaging interactions.

If you are considering a remote workforce but do not already have those capabilities in place, always test with a small alpha group. Allow highly-skilled employees who were originally trained in-person to migrate their work home.  Develop systems to monitor at-home work, such as remote desktop and webcam-based surveillance.

The creation of an at-home workforce may require realignment of leadership teams to service in-house, remote, and transitional employees.  Be prepared with a dedicated team of people taking care of remote employees to help ease the transition from in-person to remote.  


Just as the workforce is changing, HR departments must also evolve.  Leaders need training on generational diversity and what motivates each generation.  

For more valuable information, order your copy of Frost & Sullivan's Executive MindXchange Chronicles: Customer Contact 2015, West, a unique collection of all the key take-aways and best practices discussed at the event

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