My guest on a recent episode of "The Curated Experience," a weekly podcast to explore customer experience topics, was Darren Ford.
Darren is the CEO of ProCulture Consulting and author of "The Millennial Challenge," a book designed to help managers connect with younger talent in their business organizations and unleash its potential.
Before you think this is another think-piece about Millennials, I promise there's a reason for it.
That's because when we talk about Millennials, we invariably talk about what differentiates them from other workers, what motivates them, what kind of culture they thrive in.
So when we talk about Millennials, ultimately what we're trying to understand is personality and what that means in the workforce.
More important, we need to know what that means for customer service.
Flexibility is one of the defining characteristics that Darren talks about, and that can be a real challenge in the call center, or for that matter, in other operational spheres, whether they're customer-facing or not. Call center managers know to tell how complicated it can be to afford flexibility to potential hires, and clients who tell me about difficulties with attrition and turnover blame the Millennial problem child.
The thing is, I wonder if that’s true. Apart from the fact that they’re digital natives, younger workers are just like their counterparts in the workforce, even if they have a stronger expression of the same traits.
Millennials are shaped by the connectivity that mobile technology made possible, and they may have led the way with a cultural expectation of immediacy and fluidity in business, but by and large, their elders have adopted the same technologies and navigate them with the same idea of personalized experience.
If the differences based on technology now are diminished, so are some of the differences based on that lack of flexibility. Changes in the call center depend on technology too, and they’ve helped to deliver new models for self-scheduling or remote work shifts.
For example, according to one 2014 study, two-thirds of firms with cloud-based operations had the capacity to have employees work from home, even if almost half (46 percent) of all call centers surveyed didn’t actually have any workers who really do. But those numbers about shifts are already shifting, and fast. As for good or bad, remote work is taking off.
Consider the millions of young people in this election year who, on behalf of their chosen candidates, are logging into that "virtual call center" from wherever they are and phone-banking all over the world! If that’s their experience as volunteers who are passionate about something, their next question is going to be why they can’t do the same thing at work. It’s a good question. Managers need good answers too.
Further, the fact that some employees are Millennials may simply mask the reason for why a client has an attrition problem that's cutting into margins. Let’s look at flexibility and the problems of commuters. IBM Kenexa, which provides talent analytics to help make hiring decisions and tests millions of potential hires each year, finds that commute time is a critical retention factor for call-center and fast-food jobs.
That’s not a "Millennial problem." It’s a problem for single mothers juggling day care schedules, older workers working two jobs and trying to route them efficiently, or teens in their first high-school job. What Millennials may be doing, as a function of their visibility, their demographic heft, and their vocal nature, is making call center managers and other employers see their staffing challenges in a new way.
Related Article: Steps to Success: 9 Important Life Rules Millennials Should Follow
Millennials aren’t the only ones who expect flexibility when they’re on the operations site either. It’s hard to make a case for the fact that a semi-retired grandmother can’t decide when she needs to take a restroom break for herself, or that a proud 40-something father can’t swap shifts to attend his child’s graduation. You may want to roll your eyes about Millennial entitlement, but the reality is that they’re already asking about a better workplace for elder counterparts who want the same in their own lives.
Here’s another thing for call center managers to think about: Flexibility isn’t always measured by what is tangible. It doesn’t end with the new initiative for employee self-scheduling, or the new break-time policy that lets people head to the patio or cafeteria at the same time and develop some camaraderie, although the latter is important for Millennials who care about culture, just as your other workers do.
That flexibility also is measured in the way managers interact with their employees, and in the way, their concerns are heard rather than dismissed. It’s true that call center operations run on a lot of one-size-fits-all scripts and protocols, and there are reasons for why that makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is a culture so rigid that your employees themselves feel like interchangeable, faceless units of production.
If managers are wringing their hands about how to deal with those pesky Millennial expectations about being unique individuals, whose procedure questions are important and whose process observations matter, and who, of all things, want there to be some meaning and purpose in their work experience?
It’s time that the same managers admit the obvious: That’s been true of all of their employees, all this time. What’s different about Millennials, and in this respect, it may be the only thing different about Millennials, no matter how exotic we’ve made the breed, is that this time, you’re paying attention to it.
Related Article: Millennial Mayhem: How They Can Make or Break Your Small Business
No, Millennials are not creating a whole new world, and if we were smarter about it, maybe we’d wish they would. But they are transforming that same old world, and in the call center, that means an opportunity to take a fresh look at the people who deliver the customer experience that ultimately is what you’ve invested in, and why they’re there.
So as call center professionals, maybe the smartest thing to do about your "Millennial problem" is also the first thing you should do: thank them.