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‘Call centers’ are dead; long-live the multi-channel ‘contact center’. Today, customer service is just as likely to happen via email, online chat or social media as it is to happen over the phone.

In today’s digital world, providing multiple communication channels has become a necessity for many customer service organizations. Voice traffic in contact centers is steadily dropping, while digital (non-voice) traffic is mushrooming, driven by the habits of young adults. Over three quarters of customers between the ages of 18 to 24 now use smartphones to contact customer support, and just under half use live online chat.

For contact center operators, that means finding workers who are adept at using online media channels and leveraging insights from cutting-edge data analytics to guide conversations with customers.

From ‘calls’ to ‘contacts’

In this new era of customer contact, the term “call center” has become a misnomer. Customer service facilities have evolved—and continue to evolve—from “cubicle farms” for endless telephone calls to diversified office spaces where representatives aim to provide customers with swift, stress-free, multi-channel brand experiences. Many now use contact analytics software to track the customer’s journey through the experience, enabling contact center managers to constantly improve the process.

“Only a few years ago, the main qualification for a call center employee was the ability to talk on the phone while following a script,” says Tadd Wisinski, Managing Director and contact center practice group co-lead, JLL. “Recruiting and retaining digitally proficient, social-media savvy employees can be a tall order for contact center operators, and it is driving change in how companies locate and design their contact centers.”

The right talent at the right price—and the right cost of living

Integral to the new systems are customer service professionals with skills that didn’t exist even a few years ago. Contact center operators increasingly are looking for ‘digital natives’, aka social media-savvy workers who are completely at home online. However, these workers—who are often Millennials—tend to concentrate around urban markets that are too costly for the typical contact center.

Finding the right talent at the right price requires a skillful balancing of priorities. Some contact center operators are using high-tech tools not just to serve customers, but also to find a location for serving them.

“We are seeing companies use sophisticated location analysis technology and dynamic screening tools to dig deeper into labor pool data, to reveal markets that offer the right kind of talent and a reasonable cost of living that allows employees to work, play and live comfortably, since there are limits to contact center pay and profit margins,” says Wisinski. “Today’s data and insights tools can incorporate a wide range of filters with a greater degree of accuracy to pinpoint locations with these characteristics.”

Data-driven analysis can also reveal locations with tax incentives for contact centers that can counterbalance labor costs, Wisinski continues. “Even if labor costs are higher than in some other locations, incentives can make a site very cost-effective.”

You hired the talent, but how do you keep it?

It’s one thing to recruit the right talent for a contact center, but quite another to keep that talent on the job. Contact center operators are taking a page from the corporate office playbook with workplace layouts that appeal to the Millennial generation, with “neighborhoods” for solo work, lounges, recreation and collaboration spaces.

“We are seeing contact centers becoming more creative in the workplaces—saying good-bye to wall-to-wall cubicles,” says Wisinski. “They’re offering a mix of workspaces in flexible layouts to give employees the freedom they want while the business retains the flexibility to pivot quickly as the work flow changes.”

Some contact centers are also adding wellness policies and features into their facilities to appeal to health-focused Millennials, allowing regular activity breaks, creating outdoor or indoor walking paths—so workers can avoid simply sitting for hours on end—and providing relaxation spaces.

“Wellness might also include facility design that allows more productivity-boosting natural light into the workspace, and using environmentally sustainable building materials to minimize indoor air pollution,” says Wisinski. “That’s new for contact centers.”

JLL workplace research has shown that the option to move about from time to time is important for achieving a productive, engaging work environment. Mobile contact services could provide—literally—a huge step forward by enabling workers to move while they’re working and foster collaboration.

Choice of workspaces? Check. Wellness? Check. Data-driven location strategy? Check. Today’s contact centers are making all the right moves to find the digitally savvy workers they need.

About JLL Real Views

Real Views is a news site from JLL that features stories exploring the world of real estate and its impact on the wider business world. Our authors and contributors, from within and outside of JLL, provide expert insights that create stimulating conversations to help you make informed decisions.

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