As the customer service industry evolves and customer expectations rise, call and contact centers must look to innovative staffing alternatives to traditional onsite hiring to meet operational demands.
From bringing on seasonal workers to hiring remote employees, these staffing alternatives can help companies provide quality customer service without making agents feel that they are being spread too thin.
With the right approach, businesses can benefit from flexible staffing solutions that meet their needs and provide customers with the service they deserve. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these solutions became even more critical for contact centers.
So, let’s look at the baseline, which is Onsite Staffing. The traditional approach to staffing a call center is hiring full-time or part-time employees onsite. Utilizing this approach, companies can ensure that their customers’ needs and expectations are met quickly and effectively.
With the right approach, businesses can benefit from flexible staffing solutions that meet their needs…
Benefits of onsite staffing:
- Increased control over customer service operations.
- Ensured customer satisfaction.
- More personalized customer service.
- Increased employee loyalty and motivation.
Drawbacks of onsite staffing:
- High cost of hiring, maintaining, and managing staff, renting office space, and purchasing equipment.
- Long-term commitment to staffing costs, such as healthcare benefits.
- It is challenging to scale operations up or down with fluctuating demand due to space limitations.
Here are the options.
Remote Staffing. Hiring remote employees to handle customer service tasks from their homes allows you to quickly scale up or down your customer service operations, depending on your needs.
Benefits of remote staffing:
- Cost savings on overhead expenses such as office space (including break and training rooms), furniture, utilities, and providing parking and onsite security.
- Increased scalability in customer service operations. If you have to downsize, there is less negative community impact than shuttering an office-based call center.
- Ability to hire employees from anywhere, widening quality talent pools and reducing travel needs.
- More flexibility in customer service operations, such as hiring agents in different time zones.
- Business continuity, like the COVID-19 pandemic, but also through other disasters, like extreme weather.
Drawbacks of remote staffing:
- Potential security risks associated with remote access to customer data.
- The potential for lower customer service quality due to the lack of direct supervision.
- Risk of communication issues due to language barriers. When agents and customers do not share a common language or accent, it can lead to misunderstandings. In such cases, customers and agents may struggle to communicate effectively, resulting in frustration, miscommunication, and potentially dissatisfied customers, or technical difficulties.
- Difficulty managing remote staff if they are located in different time zones.
- There is a need to invest in additional technology to support the remote customer service system, such as a virtual private network (VPN). IT staff have to be trained on these tools.
While many of these positives were demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of these negatives had to be handled and were ironed out by necessity, there are still issues that contact centers continue to struggle with.
There still are a few challenges. Such as adjusting to the hybrid work style, data security, hiring and retaining agents, and efficiently implementing new technology. Also, maintaining consistent service quality, navigating legal issues, promoting equity and inclusivity, and meeting changing customer expectations.
Outsourcing. Hiring a separate company, e.g., a business process outsourcer (BPO), to manage your customer service operations off-site. By doing so, you can benefit from their expertise, specialized knowledge, and access to the latest technologies.
Benefits of outsourcing:
- Frees up in-house resources and expertise, allowing them to focus on other tasks.
- Lowers costs by not worrying about the overhead associated with in-house staffing.
- Access to specialized expertise, such as language or technical skills, which may be cost-prohibitive to hire in-house.
- Increased efficiency and cost savings by scaling up or down quickly depending on demand.
[With outsourcing] you can benefit from their expertise…and access to the latest technologies.
Drawbacks of outsourcing:
- Loss of control if you have a challenging partner.
- Loss of connection with your customers due to the lack of direct communication.
- The risk of poorer quality service due to a lack of direct supervision.
- Lack of transparency regarding pricing and fees associated with outsourcing.
I recently spoke to an old college classmate who used to work in a call center that supported an online website. He often received complaints from callers who struggled to understand his Indian accent.
However, his team addressed this issue by taking accent classes to improve their communication skills. Thanks to the classes, his Indian accent was no longer a barrier, and the callers could understand him clearly.
Agency Staffing. This traditional method of obtaining workers entails engaging with contracted staffing agencies to provide them on an insourced and on-site in-office basis.
Benefits of agency staffing:
- Access to a talented and well-trained agent pool.
- Simplified staffing and Human Resources (HR) procedures.
- Bring expertise and flexibility, allowing rapid adaptation to specific staffing needs.
- Alleviate the administrative pressure on internal teams.
Drawbacks of agency staffing:
- Possible increase in expenses due to agency fees.
- A challenge is maintaining a consistent company culture and policies or adding additional formalities that are part of the insourced onsite company.
- While expertise is offered, there could be a lack of direct oversight and control over the workforce, such as the agent being coached or placed on disciplinary action, but the agency is unaware of their client’s policies or business needs.
I remember speaking with an agent who was not on my team about her attendance issues. She explained that while she knew it was a concern, her family was approaching their redetermination period for Medicaid coverage.
She wanted her paychecks to meet the Medicaid guidelines. Under Medicaid, a family’s income, size, and other factors are considered to determine eligibility for coverage. If not, the coverage is terminated.
She mentioned that her contracting agency pays her a higher hourly wage than other call center employees.
However, if she were to request health insurance, her hourly wage would drop by $2. She would no longer be eligible for pay increases. She would need the additional money to care for herself and her family. Understandably, she felt stuck between needing health insurance and extra income.
I suggested she speak with her supervisor and agency about the matter, aware of the potential risk to her employment. Fortunately, she later reported that while her agency did not respond to her request, her supervisor could help her.
On-Demand Staffing. This method provides businesses with the necessary flexibility and allows them to bring on additional staff or reduce staff when needed quickly. With on-demand staffing, you can ensure that you have the right personnel, who are your employees, for the job.
Benefits of on-demand staffing:
- Flexibility regarding staffing needs.
- Quickly bring in additional staff or reduce staff when needed.
- Fills gaps due to seasonal fluctuations or peak call volumes.
- Allows businesses to have the right personnel for the job.
Drawbacks of on-demand staffing:
- Finding the right staff at short notice can be challenging.
- It can lead to a lack of job security for workers.
- There is a potential decrease in the quality of service as staff may not be fully trained (short orientation training due to an increase in call volume) or motivated to perform their role.
[On-demand staffing] can lead to a lack of job security for workers.
In a previous project, we only took calls for another state during certain days and hours. However, our ability to assist was limited by our call volume.
When our call volume was low, we could assign up to four or five agents to the other project. It helped the other center significantly since our agents had Medicaid backgrounds and were trained on their systems and procedures. It seemed like a match made in heaven.
However, when our call volume was high, we could not spare any agents, significantly dropping the other project’s service level agreements (SLAs).
Gig Working. Freelancers, contractors, or independent businesses who provide services on a short-term, project-by-project basis, usually but not always working remotely.
Benefits of gig working:
- With access to a broader range of talent and expertise, businesses can create a more effective, high-quality call center experience for their customers, including faster turnarounds.
- Cost-effectiveness, as companies can avoid the costs associated with hiring full-time staff.
- Flexibility to respond quickly to customer demands.
- Opportunity to find highly-skilled professionals quickly.
- Business continuity in other unaffected areas if remote employees are no longer available.
Drawbacks of gig working:
- There is a lack of continuity, as the same people may not be available for each project.
- Potential for inconsistency in performance as contractors may not be as engaged as permanent employees. They may not be familiar with the company’s policies and procedures.
- Risk of a customer data breach due to lack of background checks and vetting.
- Potential to increase overall business costs due to an increase in administrative processes.
- Compliance, including regulations and tax matters. Properly classifying gig workers as independent contractors in the U.S. is critical to avoid legal and financial repercussions for companies.
The gig economy has been booming recently. The number of gig workers in call and contact centers appears to have grown exponentially, touting the increased flexibility, chances of higher pay, and convenience that gig work offers. As the gig economy continues to grow and evolve, call and contact centers are becoming attractive for those seeking flexible, on-demand work.
At the same time, the saying “all that glitters is not gold” could not be more accurate in the current situation for gig workers. Despite the seeming advantages of being a gig worker and rocking the title of “independent contractor,” which may seem appealing, the reality is much less glamorous.
The lack of stability, security, and benefits makes gig work risky for those who choose this path.
I remember talking to an independent contractor agent who had a great experience overall. She enjoyed the work and the learning opportunities that came with it.
However, she did have a few complaints about two projects that terminated her contract the same day: one in the middle of the day and the other at the end—the sudden change in her situation left her feeling powerless.
Call and contact centers may use the above mix to staff their centers, and that’s okay. Further, centers may use a combination of staffing options to increase benefits and reduce the drawbacks of a particular option.
…engaged, satisfied contact center agents are the key to your organization’s success…
Providing agents with the proper orientation training, ongoing training and coaching, and good quality assurance (QA) is crucial. If outsourcing, ironing out the details in a contract is your best bet to ensure that your customers receive top-notch customer service.
Still, it’s crucial to ensure that all agents offering services within the same center are offered equal pay and benefits for the same experience and work performed. It’s frustrating to have one agent receive more pay or different benefits than another for the same job. Doing so creates an unfair and unequal system and can create a toxic environment within the center.
Everyone deserves to be treated fairly and respected, which should be reflected in their pay and benefits, creating a positive environment that promotes productivity and loyalty.
Ultimately, engaged, satisfied contact center agents are the key to your organization’s success regardless of how or where they work.