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Take a fresh look at part-time contact center workers

September 7, 2023

With the CX job market, technology and workplace trends evolving , it may be time for leaders to take a new look at an often overlooked segment of the contact center job market: Part-time workers. TTEC experts Dr. Trent Salvaggio and James Bednar will discuss what makes part-time work an attractive option for businesses and employees, and how to make it happen with a flexible workforce model.

Liz Glagowski: Hi and welcome to the CX pod. I'm Liz Glagowski, and I'm here to tell you that I spent two years as a burger King cashier while I was in college. I learned a lot, and I still prefer whoppers over Big Macs any day.
Now, why am I telling you this? Because today we'll be talking about an often overlooked segment
of the contact center job market: Part time workers.
Now, with the job market, technology and workplace trends evolving. It may be time for leaders to take a look, a new look at part time work potential.
So here to share some why and how of part time work are tech experts Dr. Trent Salvaggio and James Bednar, who are both experts in contact, center innovation and employee engagement.
So welcome to the show, gentlemen.
So before we start, do either of you have fun, part time work that you've done?
James Bednar: I worked in a pizza place part time during college, so I can, I can still throw a mean pizza.
Trent Salvaggio: And I worked at a car wash in the middle of winter in Erie, Pennsylvania.
JB: That sounds terrible.
LG: A lot of lessons learned, I think, in both of those places.
And James, which I'll call you JB, we haven't mentioned that you worked in a New Jersey pizza parlor. So there's there's a lot of good competition and a lot of a lot of stuff to learn about making really good
pizza money in New Jersey.
JB: It's all the water.
LG: So today we're going to talk about part time work within the contact center industry. And just what are some opportunities and some challenges with that with that segment.
So I guess maybe, Trent, maybe we can start with you. Can you talk a little bit about the idea of part time work within a context center and then why it's not necessarily been the first choice for some contacts center leaders?
TS: Sure. Absolutely. And I think you've already touched on a little bit when you start talking about the changing workforce itself. And one thing that we see that people with these increased needs for flexibility who have maybe outside responsibilities that don't really allow for traditional full time role on maybe somebody who's caring for aging parents or they have kids who get at school and then there's
no available daycare.
And so what we see in the past is a call traditionally looking for that steady 8 to 5, you know, 1 to 10 option where they match up with not only critical call volunteer to commit the time, but also for scheduling and civic efficiencies.
And so that's why we've seen probably a lack of optimization in the use of part time workers.
LG: And now, JB, I know you spent  a lot of time in the contact center industry just traditionally, what are what are some roadblocks to working with part timers and just what's the sentiment around part time
work from the leaders that you know?
JB: I think one of the major challenges like Trent talked about was just trying to schedule part time along with full time when you're working in sort of a traditional block scheduled arrangement where everyone is working similar shift patterns. Scheduling is far easier.
So it generally, if you're looking at health at an all full time operation, the scheduling activity is far,
far easier than otherwise.  think one of the other historical challenges has been just training,
onboarding of new associates.
When the training programs were developed, they were developed in mind for full timers training. So you end up with some mix of in-classroom or online training that's set for a full eight hour shift. Generally, it doesn't necessarily align to the time periods of part timer can work, and clients just had a really hard time getting their hands around, “How do you train a part time resource alongside a full time resource when you schedule line?”
LG: So as with everything over the past few years, a lot is changing in the in the workforce, in the technology and just how business gets done. So what are some changes happening that are maybe giving people a reason to rethink the idea of a part time workforce in the contact center?
JB: I think what what's really interesting now is the amount of people within the workforce that are freelancers. You know, you can call them gig, but I think gig is fairly typecast where they may be looking for additional work opportunities. They may be a student looking to earn additional income, they may be a retiree looking to keep busy.
I think what's so different now is the level and the number of these folks within the economy.
And this isn't just a U.S. phenomenon is becoming significant, where you've got a whole new group of the workforce that are willing to work, that are highly skilled, that have affinities to the kinds of brands
that we support.
They represent a really great opportunity to tap into, you know, enormous untapped workforce.
If you can figure out how to make it work within your ecosystem.
And I think what's what else is really interesting is volatility has always been a challenge. Scheduling has always been a challenge when you're trying to eke out optimal productivity, optimal efficiency. Scheduling someone for 8 hours doesn't necessarily equate to running the most optimal operation.
Sometimes clients struggle with volumes late on a Friday, Saturday, weekends, nights, mornings are split volumes where they may have their customers calling, you know, first thing in the morning or sometime
after dinner, but nothing in between those types of operations.
Historically have had no choice but to run really and efficiently.
I think by connecting the two together, we're realizing that it's a realistic it's absolutely a viable solution to gain both access to good talent and real world improvements to efficiencies.
TS: JB and I started talking about the talent and the available skills. And what we're seeing now is in globally a very tight labor market where people are constantly competing for that best talent. And with the changing roles of the typical call center agent becoming a lot more complex.
We're out there now identifying that there are people in other industries who have developed these really unique sets of skills in their full time jobs that work really well, make them a perfect fit for some of our unique client needs.
And so being able to go out there and see the available skills that are there that people have developed in their full time roles and being able to bring those over in a part time capacity to allow them to leverage those skills in a really flexible environment is one of those things that that really set a company like TTEC apart, because before traditionally we wouldn't have access to those skills
in those individuals.
LG: besides the the talent and the scheduling pieces of it, what are what are some ways that we’re able to help facilitate this sort of part time model?
JB: Yeah, so we've spent about the last year and a half really working out a process, a methodology, a set of tools and technologies to be able to leverage this workforce in conjunction with, you know, your traditional contact center population to really reap the benefits of both.
And I think what we're what we're seeing here with Flex, and for those who aren't familiar with what the flex concept is, it's  essentially a set of scheduling and staffing strategies that attempt to fit the best mix of resources to meet our clients’ needs. And by mix of resources, I mean, what what portion of the overall operation as full time, what portion of the overall operation as part time?
And within both of those groups, how we allow for greater levels of scheduling flexibility where we can provide associates with the kinds of flexibility that they're looking for.
And we know that that's a huge driver within the within the employee marketplace today. We can give them the ability to have access to self scheduling, more dynamic scheduling, week to week changes in scheduling.
So we built a platform that allows us to accurately align associate needs and our clients needs to deliver on both the employee value proposition and our client need and desire for optimal efficiency.
LG: And Trent, how does that kind of model impact associates and potential employees?
TS: So we've talked a lot about this from that, from the viewpoint of how it benefits our clients, how
it benefits take us as an organization. But I think the more important part of the Flex model is the expert, the differentiated employee experience. It's really a win win.
So we know that across most labor markets that we've seen with last year, that idea of flexibility is one of the top three most important issues when deciding to go in and take on a new job.
So being able to provide that kind of on demand flexibility has to be a really important driver of not only just our organizational attractiveness, but the stickiness that makes an employee want to stay there
when we're able to respond back to their needs and their schedules are able to help us run the business better and more efficiently.
LG: And going back to what you said earlier about some roadblocks to using part time, it also is involved with training and just the the people's time. You know, not in an 8 to 5 sort of timing. So is that all in like
we're looking at this kind of  from a holistic standpoint of being able to serve these part time workers, not even just in how they work day to day, but in their training sessions and other ways that they're just
interact with the business.
JB: Yeah, that's that's right. And I think both both in the part time and the full time ecosystem teams, the use of the greater use of self-paced training and being able to empower these new associates with the ability to take on some of the training and learning content at on their own schedule, at their own time is hugely beneficial.
I think for too long our industry has been focused on or or primarily driven by the concept of instructor led training where, you know, you've got 15 a dozen associates in a classroom for 8 hours a day running through training content for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks in the at home environment. Very similar, you know, in a zoom in a zoom or other classroom for, you know, an eight hour block of time.
Realistically, it's not the optimal model for learners or for adult learners being able to intermix self-paced training or other activities, things like office hours or offline assessments.
We've got some unique proprietary technology around AI driven role play and simulation
activities. You can weave these things together to get a more optimal mix of instructor-led and self-paced training that both enables the part time worker and yields far better results for the full time
associate as well.
So this is not just a theoretical concept. This is actually happening out in the world.
LG: So can you guys explain some of the work that we've done? What are real world examples of how this has been implemented and some of the results that it's had and some of the just challenges that have come about deploying it?
JB: Yeah, for sure. We're running FlexEX with a number of clients around the world. Like I mentioned earlier, every program has the optimal mix of flex and traditional associates to yield the right levels of efficiency and coverage and reliability that our clients are looking for.
We have some clients that are running 100% flex programs. I think there are some of our most successful examples of FLEX, and these are programs where all of the associates have the flexibility to build their own schedules on a week by week basis.

Now, of course, there are rules, there are constraints, there's governance with how people build those schedules to ensure that we have the right levels of coverage. But we're seeing greater levels of occupancy than what have been possible otherwise.
So our clients are yielding the benefit of that in terms of better coverage, better adherence to schedules, reduced absenteeism, improving their budget numbers. Frankly, the total cost to spend when you know, when you're optimally placing associates, when you need them, it's going to result in, you know, a more optimal bill.
I think we've got some other programs that use some slightly different models. We've got models that are very preference, preference based, meaning we'll understand every individual associate schedule preferences and we can work to optimize for everyone's schedules.
So it's a little bit different of a strategy. And we've got a number of programs leveraging the preference based scheduling model and yielding really good results.
I mean, the best the best feedback I've seen from this have been within our agent focus groups or associate focus groups. And some of the verbatim that we've gotten from the resource is from
the associates that are doing these roles. And the feedback has just been tremendous.
I mean, you've got students that are loving the ability to work around their class schedules. You've got single mothers with families who now have the opportunity to more effectively work around the schedules of their kids and that the household demands while still maintaining full time employment.
So it's not just a part time story with Flex, but it's just amazing, amazing to see coming from an industry
that's had this mindset that full time is the only option. Seeing some of the highest performers
on the program, being part timers within the Flex program is just tremendous.
And I think that has to do with attracting sometimes a very different profile into the role.
And these individuals understand the value that they get, why this is beneficial to them, because this is a hard thing. Not every employer has the ability or the flexibility to be able to kind of provide this option or give them the level of flexibility.
That's, you know, I mean, in some of the case, some of these cases with some of our larger flex programs, it's almost unparalleled as a top performer or top tier performer.
Literally, you can build whatever schedule you like as long as you meet your hours, you know, you've got
you've got carte blanche to build your own schedule for the next week. And that that doesn't exist in a lot of employment options.
LG: And Trent, what's your perspective?
TS: So I have come at this from two different perspectives. So my background in connecting at first
makes me want to take on some of the points that JB brought up about. Traditionally, we looked at the part timer as maybe not getting that same level of quality of training and therefore being at a disadvantage and speed the ramp up in overall proficiency within the role.
But now we're seeing the advancements and this asynchronous training where people are able to go in and to start the learning journey when it's the best time for them. Right? Not after a long day when they're stressed out, they come at it when they're fresh, ready to. They know that they're ready to learn
at that optimal level.
That's going to prepare those people to be able to go out there and to be successful in these roles in ways that we haven't been able to do before.
And so going back again to that, to the employee experience, part of it being able to customize not only when you learn, but the pace at which you learn and be able to go back and go over things that aren't at your own time or spend less time in different areas that that maybe you caught on to quicker being able to create that that customized experience.
And that's something that really sets us apart from most anything else that we've seen in the industry. Yeah, And you know, both of you talked about the beginning. That part time has not been really considered as an option because of the lack of optimization and efficiencies.
LG: What are some outcomes to measure success?
JB: So we've been looking at this from a few different angles from a metrics perspective, when you look at it from the perspective of our client operations. One of the one of the core metrics is really when you look at this from the operational perspective, one of the core metrics is really the occupancy. And that's how much time is being spent as productive, time engaged with customers relative to, you know, time spent, punched in on the clock.
And we've been able to see anywhere from three, five, 7% improvements in occupancy. And while those numbers may not seem significant, keep in mind that we're already in an industry that's got a high level of maturity from a process optimization standpoint.
So being able to push in occupancy from the low eighties into the high eighties is pretty material. Sometimes can result in hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars cost savings, depending on this the size of a client. But it's not it's not all about that. Right.
We know that the scheduling efficiency improvements are important, but the X improvement
benefits are probably even more so. So we've been looking at things like what our retention rate is, what is absenteeism look like? How is schedule adherence within these flex groups relative to the non flex groups? And we're seeing strong numbers across all of those.
Now, this is still early. This is still early in the process. And there's a these are noisy metrics, but we're seeing improvements in schedule adherence. So how well people are aligning to their own schedules.
And the reason for that is people have more accountability to the schedule. They created the schedule themselves. It's not that they were assigned the schedule or they were even worse.
They were assigned a schedule that they didn't like, but they had ownership in the schedule. So there's more, there's more buy in their absenteeism, you know, lower absenteeism because people are able to schedule around life events that they know are coming up.
And, you know, in in the old world, you know, maybe they maybe they were past the point at which they could request some time off or maybe they thought they might have been denied time off.
So instead of requesting the time off, they just took a sick day, for example. So we're seeing we're seeing a lot of really positive indications there. And then lastly, on the attrition, like I mentioned earlier, with the agent roundtables, the kinds of feedback we're seeing where people realize this, this is helping me from a life perspective. This gives me the optimal work life balance that translates into better retention, you know, not it's hard to find an alternative.
And when you find something like that that fits with your with your life schedule or your work schedule
fits with your life schedule, you're apt to stick around a little bit longer than you might have otherwise.
And yeah,  but I think you're also as just as a as a as important measure of success with something like this and is not, like you said, a noisy metric here as a values driven organization, being able to see the diversity of new hires, that we're able to attract the ability to be able to provide gainful employment to somebody who may otherwise not have had access to it.
Those are the important metrics that we also need to look at. Yeah, that's a really great point. It again
expands to this wider group of people who don't necessarily fit into that strict 8 to 5 mindset that traditional contact centers have worked in.
LG: I love the idea of empowerment. I've heard, you know, it's a buzz word employee empowerment. Employee engagement has been kind of a buzzword for a while, but this seems to be representing true empowerment on the point on the part of the employee.
TS: So I think empowerment really is the right word. So we're taking those old traditional management philosophies and theories and turning them on their head. And it's not a top down approach anymore. It's really a collaborative approach where work is more than just something that you come in and do.
We know it has far reaching effects outside of work on folks mental health or overall well-being? So being able to be collaborative in that process and to be able to have that flexibility built, built right in, to be able to articulate adequately and quickly respond to the needs of our frontline associates is something that I think is really important, is going to continue to be a driving factor in overall levels of employee engagement and overall success rate.
LG: So where do each of you see the biggest challenges in in getting this done?
JB: I think a lot of the challenge has to do with some of the thinking around part time being lower quality
or part time, not necessarily yielding the same level of engagement from an associate perspective, right. That this is something lesser than the full time role.
And I think that's been the challenge. And I think clients are starting to see that's not necessarily the case, but especially when what they need to optimize from a productivity perspective isn't the full eight hour, you know, isn't a full eight hour block.
I think the other piece from it from a challenge perspective is getting people to rethink training methodology. It's a challenge. It's a challenge for sure, especially when you've got legacy curriculum that that had been developed intended to be instructor led for large blocks of time.
So it takes some investment on behalf of clients now realize the traditional associate population
benefits as well as the flex associate population in that in that regard.
So it's something worth doing and I think it's something that yields benefits far beyond even just being able to enable flex.
TS: And from a slightly different perspective, I think one thing that we're I know that we're currently working on is that similar sorts of, though, I would say is a roadblock for us.
But a way to even further optimize the offering is to go and to look at what a part time employee is looking to get out of a job versus a full time employee. Maybe that's a different mix of benefits
that we offer. Maybe it's more flexibility and where and when and how they go about doing their job versus, you know, somebody who's in a full time role being able to fully customize our offering to best meet the needs of the part time employee who is a very, very different employee than somebody who would be in a traditional full time role.
JB: Yeah, I think one other one other piece I didn't mention, I think that's a critical part of this is for this
these types of models to work effectively. What we are talking about work from home and remote work
as being the delivery model here.
When you look at the types of schedules our associates are picking across these programs, they are incredibly diverse, you know, from working shifts as short as one or 2 hours split, shifting.
We've got associates that triple shift in a day. These are these are arrangements that simply would not be possible in a in a brick and mortar arrangement. So that that's also a bit of a hazard.
It's also a bit of hesitancy that we see, especially if clients aren't necessarily operating in a work from home model today, that that getting there is often a prerequisite.
While you can do some flex within a traditional brick and mortar, it's signature frequently less than what you could accommodate otherwise. Yeah so the idea of flexible scheduling looking at different needs of a part time employee and actually starting with a remote model, it seems to be answering some questions about meeting the needs of the employee holistically, not just a schedule, you know, not just an eight hour block.
LG: So that real holistic look at the employee and what they need to best serve the organization and therefore customer I think is a more of a unique way or a new way of kind of thinking about associates. What do you think about that?
TS: It's definitely an employee first mindset and with good reason. We know that when you have a happy
employees, you have happy customers. You know, the day that the data is out there to support it and with the changing workforce, with a more diverse workforce right now, it's an imperative.
It's no longer a nice to have. It's table stakes that you're able to go out there and partner with, with the people who are making your business, what it is, where the front line or interacting with your customers every single day and without being able to provide that truly enhanced employee experience, you're not able to even attract the best and the brightest, those that top talent that is in such high demand.
And so, yeah, being able to meet people where they are and to understand them as unique individuals and to respond to those, that's what the employee spirit experience is all about.
JB: Think I think to, to, to follow that trend. One of one of the factors that I think has been really important in driving success with Flex is the fact that and this this may be a little bit of our special sauce
here on how we get this to work.
There is a performance incentive, meaning if as an associate you're a high performer, you're maintaining your high performance, you get access to more flexibility, are sort of a initial slot or a first segment or first pick at your schedule options.
That's a huge motivator for associates, for people that need a significant level of flexibility compared to others. They are absolutely incented to be maintain top performers and we see top performance
from those associates.
So it's just interesting that flexibility as an incentive, not necessarily just, you know, monetary or other benefits, but flexibility itself being an incentive and a motivator here.
LG: And so just to wrap things up, what are some recommendations that each of you might have to
customer experience leaders who might be interested in in this sort of model?
TS: So I think over the last three years with the changes that we've seen in not only what the workforce looks like, but the work itself and how it's changed, it's taught us that there is no going back and the future of work is now trying to resort back to what worked three, four years ago.
It's not going to work today. It's not going to work tomorrow. The future of the work is here. It's an employee centric one. It's one that demands flexibility, accountability and enablement. It's not enough just to provide a decent job for somebody. We have to help them accomplish the goal.
We have to be there to ensure they're enabled to be successful because the organization is only going to be as good as that front line representative.
JB: I'd say for any clients that are interested, we've actually put together a process, a methodology that that we call the Flex segment where we'll say we'll sit down with you will bring our workforce professionals. We can take a look at all of your data, what your staffing is, what your rivals are, and we can actually show you, calculate for you what the benefits would be to your business.
By adopting this model, we can take a look at the staffing and understand what just what the right level of flex is or what the right strategy might be to yield the greatest benefit.
Is it, you know, do you need a true flex scheduling option? Can You achieve your goals with another scheduling strategy? What's the right percentage of part timers or full timers?
It's not an either or.
And we've come up with a really great process backed by data to help clients understand if it will work for them, and if it does, what the benefit would be to their business.