What Retailers Should Know About the 'Great Resignation' and the Demand for Flexible Work
The pandemic has accelerated a shift in the mindset of the workforce. Millions of people are now looking for jobs that offer more flexibility, not just in terms of working from home, but also in scheduling. Today, many people who were formerly in the workforce don’t want to go back to a regular 9–5 schedule, while others are still struggling with childcare and family needs that are preventing them from returning to typical workdays. These are among the factors behind the “great resignation” that has challenged retail and other industries in recent months.
Necessity sparked the change in workforce mentality, as parents, and particularly working moms, were forced to adjust their workdays to accommodate their children’s additional needs when daycares and schools closed at the start of the pandemic. Working regular, full-time hours simply became impossible for many women, and more than 2.3 million of them dropped out of the labor force between February 2020 and January 2021, according to a National Women’s Law Center analysis. Earlier data from the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that nearly 20 percent of working-age adults were unemployed as of July 2020 because COVID-19 had affected their childcare arrangements and that women ages 25–44 were nearly three times as likely as men in the same age group to not be working due to childcare demands.
In the retail industry, which is seeking to quickly find the talent it needs to accommodate the current shopping rebound and nervously looking ahead to the all-important holiday quarter, staffing shortages are forcing executives to reconsider how they manage their customer service needs.
For retail and brand decision makers facing the challenge of attracting, hiring, training and retaining new customer service agents in an already tight labor market, using a distributed workforce to complement an on-site call center can provide the scalability and flexibility needed to successfully serve customers 24/7, even when call volume spikes.
Offering Flexibility to Attract More Experienced and Motivated Staff
Leveraging a distributed/virtual network of customer service agents gives brands the power to offer the flexible schedules that many workers want and need. This can help companies attract a more experienced and motivated staff at a time when the profile of the customer care agent has expanded.
The pandemic prompted consumers to buy more goods online and the shift toward e-commerce means that customer service inquiries and complexity have increased. Brands today need customer care agents who have additional skills, like the ability to provide an empathetic human connection remotely by listening patiently and “smiling” through the phone to build trust with customers. Agents must also serve as an extension of in-store sales teams to help drive additional sales. That means they need to be highly familiar with a retailer's products so they can accurately describe them to customers who can’t try on or test the items themselves.
By offering a flexible schedule to people who now prefer to work from home, brands can also tap into an experienced talent pool of people who previously worked in brick-and-mortar retail, but saw their careers disrupted by the pandemic. These retail veterans bring unique capabilities to brands when they shift from in-store roles to virtual customer care service, such as the ability to turn incoming calls into cross-selling opportunities by providing additional product recommendations that customers find relevant.
Meeting Fluctuating Customer Service Demand With Agility
Another significant benefit of a virtual call center model is that it allows brands to staff appropriately for both expected events, like the annual holiday shopping surge, and unexpected ones, like regional COVID-19 spikes and severe weather events. During the holiday rush, retailers typically have to onboard many new customer service representatives to support the influx of calls. This year, supply chain disruptions are expected to drive a bigger-than-normal increase in customer service calls over the holiday shopping season. A remote network of customer care agents can give brands the flexibility they need to meet demand, even when it changes unexpectedly.
One thing retail and brand leaders should make a top priority when deploying a distributed customer care network is agent wellness. Customer service agents represent the brand and they need support, connection and community, particularly if they're working remotely, which can be isolating. Furthermore, if organizations are low on staff, networks of contracted agents will bear the burden of increased call volumes and hours. Add in challenging calls from customers frustrated by factors such as delivery delays due to ongoing supply chain disruptions, and the case for providing agents with the tools and channels they need to feel a valued part of a community is clear. Providing ways for virtual agents to connect with a supportive network, where they can ask and answer questions and share best practices with one another, allows agents to interact with and learn from a community of their peers.
Happy customer service agents mean happy customers.
Greg Hanover is the CEO of Liveops, a virtual call center company.