- Agent engagement strategies must be inclusive, taking into account the various backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs of contact center agents.
- Inclusion and diversity aren’t buzzwords, nor are they about checking boxes.
- To ensure inclusive agent engagement, clear communication and training is essential, and using technology tools that enable clear communication can help.
2020 demonstrated the need for deep, lasting social change. A host of events highlighted systemic inequalities that still haven’t been dismantled. Organizations can no longer pay lip service to diversity and inclusion initiatives; they must ensure their workforce reflects the fabric of our society.
How can you engage your contact center agents in a way that’s respectful and inclusive?
Inclusion and diversity at contact centers
Contact centers today are, like many organizations, working toward becoming more diverse and inclusive.
Over two-thirds of employees are female, with only 28 percent of employees identifying as male. Approximately 62 percent are white, and almost 19 percent are Hispanic. Just over 12 percent are African American. The average age is 39 years old. Twelve percent of agents identify as LGBTQ.
In terms of languages spoken, English predominates. However, Spanish comes in second, with almost 69 percent of agents speaking the language.
Regarding educational status, 35 percent of agents have a high school diploma, 26 percent have a bachelor’s degree, and 21 percent have an associate’s degree.
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The impact of diversity and inclusion on organizations
Diversity and inclusion have a direct, positive impact on organizations. Inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be leaders in their field, and they’re 35 percent more likely to outperform their competitors.
Yet, what do those statistics mean for your contact center? If you hire a diverse workforce, will that translate into greater efficiency and effectiveness? What does diversity and inclusion mean when hiring for your contact center?
There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for creating a more diverse, inclusive team of agents. The strategy must fit your culture, workforce, brand, and customer base.
Inclusive agent engagement strategies
Agent engagement refers to how passionate contact center agents feel about their jobs, how committed they are to their company, and how much discretionary effort they put into their work. What can contact centers do to ensure their agent engagement strategies are inclusive of the whole workforce?
Here are several strategies for success:
- Understand where your gaps are
- Talk with employees one-on-one
- Train your team on how to remove biases
- Manage conflict carefully
- Be a “safe” person for your employees to turn to
Understand where your gaps are
The first step toward creating a more inclusive contact center environment and boosting agent engagement is to understand where your diversity and inclusion efforts fall short.
Inclusion and diversity aren’t just about checking off boxes that you’ve hired a certain number of minorities, or that you recognize the contributions of certain groups during their heritage months. It’s about creating an environment in which everyone feels comfortable being themselves; they don’t have to hide certain aspects of their identity so they’ll fit in.
As a contact center supervisor, it can be challenging to discover whether employees feel comfortable and confident in their identities to bring them to work. That’s why the next strategy – holding one-on-ones with agents – is crucial.
Talk with employees one-on-one
Contact center agents might not always feel comfortable sharing how they feel in a group, especially if their coworkers are creating a discriminatory, unpleasant work environment. Talking to employees one-on-one gives them the privacy and space to share their feelings.
In an age when many contact center agents work remotely, it’s actually far simpler to hold one-on-one meetings with agents. Market-leading contact center software features video conference, chat, and telephony, so you have a variety of channels from which to choose. Video conferencing allows you to meet face-to-face, giving virtual meetings the human touch.
Train your team on how to remove biases
Inclusivity isn’t something that happens overnight. And again, it’s not about checking a bunch of boxes. It’s something that’s consciously fostered; you have to work at creating an environment in which your agents feel at home.
To that end, you need to train your employees to remove their biases to the greatest extent possible. Humans tend to stereotype anyone who isn’t like them; while we might not talk about these biases openly, they can affect our actions and speech. Anti-bias training can create a more inclusive work environment as well as improve customer service, because it teaches agents to be more sensitive to the needs of others, a key feature that goes a long way in creating excellent customer support experiences.
Remote contact center operations aren’t a barrier to holding training.The right contact center software has video conferencing capabilities, so your entire contact center staff can join in virtual training even if they’re not in the same physical location.
Manage conflict carefully
Suppose your agents have gone through anti-bias training and are learning how to be more sensitive toward their coworkers and customers. What happens when an agent makes a mistake and inadvertently reverts to an old, harmful habit?
As a supervisor, you face a challenge. If you reprimand the agent (especially in front of coworkers), that agent may feel that it’s not acceptable to make mistakes. That creates a sense that work isn’t psychologically safe anymore. Yet, you can’t let the mistake stand, because you don’t want to create an unpleasant work environment for other agents.
This is where one-on-one conversations can help. For agents working remotely, talking to them privately is crucial. It gives you the chance to explain the issue and come up with solutions together about how the agent can change their behavior. You don’t want to punish people for making mistakes (we’re human, we all err), but you do want to ensure that going forward, you’re building a better contact center environment in which respect reigns.
Be a “safe” person for employees to turn to
Psychological safety means that people feel safe speaking up and that they won’t be humiliated or reprimanded for sharing their thoughts and opinions.
Being a “safe” person means listening without judgement. Agents should feel they can approach you with their problems. Market-leading contact center software features an internal directory with a presence indicator, so agents know when you’re available to talk.
RingCentral’s contact center technology enables agent engagement
RingCentral’s contact center technology helps you boost agent engagement by making it easier to connect with agents, even if they’re working remotely. To learn more, get a demo.
Originally published Dec 06, 2021, updated Jan 07, 2022