Labor Day Gives Pause to Reflect on Contact Center Workforce Challenges

Labor Day was celebrated in the US and Canada over the past weekend, and the last few days should have given contact center decision-makers time to consider their future domestic workforce needs.  Indeed, as the North American labor market tightens, new delivery alternatives are certain to be top of mind.  Equally, how best to manage existing and prospective onshore front-line team members must be under consideration.  Going into the Q4 2017, finding the right talent management model should be a priority for contact center outsourcers.

To use a boxing analogy, the ‘tale of the tape’ tells quite a story when it comes to the Canadian and American labor markets.  Joblessness in both countries has dropped steadily since the days of the global financial crisis, when the percentage of those seeking work in each lingered around 10%.  Today, the unemployment rate in the US sits at 4.4% while Canada’s is just above 6%.  While this is unquestionably a positive development, a tightening, pricier labor market poses challenges for executives looking to staff onshore customer experience delivery roles.

For some, the fall in unemployment positions contact center service providers to deploy more automated front-end solutions.  In an ideal scenario, this would certainly be the case; after all, the hype-cycle around automated customer experience delivery has been on overdrive for some time, and some solid RPA-driven options are already being used.  But, there is also growing sentiment that this technology may be limited (at least in the near-to-medium term), as enterprise decision-makers overcome perceptions about the quality of service that can be derived using robots.  This was quantified in the most recent Ryan Strategic Advisory 2017 Omnibus Survey, which indicated that only one-quarter of enterprises in major western markets expected demand for automated solutions would increase in their contact centers through the next twelve months.

The appetite for new offshore deployments is also limited.  Clearly, this alternative makes a great deal of sense in regard to leveraging cost-effective, well-educated volumes of agents.  But political pressures and consumer push-back are leading many enterprise contact center executives in the US and Canada to cool on this business model, albeit temporarily.  The above-discussed 2017 Omnibus Survey quantified this trend, showing that less than 10% of enterprises expected to move any workstations offshore in the coming year.

The issue then becomes what can outsourcers do to manage domestic delivery in the tight North American labor market.  Fortunately, there are some alternatives.  For one, moving toward smaller, less traditional contact center delivery destinations can provide some onshore agent talent flexibility.  A great example of this was FCR’s recent deployment of a facility in Great Falls, Montana.  Another route that remains viable is virtual delivery, which gives vendors the opportunity to recruit skilled, stable domestic agents working from their residences.  Historically this business model has predominantly found favor in the US.  But, there appears to be mild interest in other geographies as more enterprise CRM leaders grow their awareness of the business benefits associated with remote delivery.  These are but two possibilities of how providers in the US and Canada can mitigate their tight labor markets.  Creativity will be key in finding the best people and ensuring high levels of customer experience.