Text: Esme Zarouali

Almost every contact centre consists of employees that belong to different age groups. This has both advantages and disadvantages. For a team leader it is often difficult enough to find the right way of coaching an agent. Everyone is different, everyone has his own way of thinking and his own characteristics. Age plays an important role in this. Someone who’s 50 years old looks at life completely different compared to someone who’s 18 years old. In order to motivate both agents, the employer needs to be able to empathize with the environment of both age groups. The creative brains of the team leaders need to be on edge and this goes a lot further than remunerating a young employee with an iPod and an older one with a brunch. In order to keep things simple one could choose to focus on one target group. However, there are a lot of prejudices about all age groups. Older employees work slower, younger employees are unreliable, middle-aged men aren’t ambitious enough and so on. These prejudices lead to an unfair exclusion of certain potential employees. Furthermore the law forbids the employer to make a distinction between age or sex.

Employers often look for certain competences which they think are linked to a certain age. By selecting applicants more critically on the basis of these competences you don’t make a distinction.

Roughly speaking we can distinguish these kinds of contact centre agents:

They are looking for a job to combine with their studies. Important aspects are the salary and the flexibility. The work needs to be adjustable to the study schedule. On one hand, students are ideal; they are often prepared to work a lot (they want to make money) and they easily process information. The disadvantage is that they are not always reliable: being on time and sticking to the schedule for instance. They also miss a certain baggage concerning life and work experience. Students can be used for outbound projects as well as for inbound projects.

Recent graduates
Not everyone feels the need to study. Some students choose to start working right after they finish high school. Working in a contact centre is then a serious option. This group of people is often looking for a full-time job. They have little work experience, but they are enthusiastic. They want to develop themselves and learn by practical experiences.

The group of people that consciously chooses to work in a contact centre. Their motivation is often that they like working with people and solving problems. They can take up different jobs: telesales, client service or technical help desk. They work part-time or full-time. Because they really choose this profession, they have more experience and are versatile.

Returners/Working fathers and mothers
This group has stopped working for a while and wants to get back on the labour market. The availability of this group is generally part-time. The salary is of minor importance to the possibility of flexible working hours. Generally speaking these employees don’t tend to job-hop. They are not looking for a career, but want to spend their time in a useful way and earn some money. People in this group often prefer client service projects. Because they have enough life experience it is easy for them to empathize with the client. Outbound telesales or making appointments does not really appeal to this group.

This group is often forgotten. A lot of freelancers cannot live from the profits of their company when first starting out. They are looking for a steady basic income. This need makes them to be very motivated employees. Because they are busy building their own company, they are only part-time available. Just as with the returners, this groups values flexibility a lot. Outbound projects are often seen as a good training for their own company.

Retired persons and those taking on early retirement
This generation grows the strongest. Retired persons and those taking on early retirement don’t feel old! They still live in the centre of society and want to make themselves useful. This group also looks for part-time employment. Earning money is of secondary importance. Also the social aspect is important for this group. Because of their life and work experience they can do a lot of jobs. Their voices ooze the fact that they are seniors which gives them a natural preponderance. They can take on inbound as well as outbound projects. The downside of this group is that they often need just a little more time to learn how to work with the computer systems.

The ideal complement of a contact centre is a reflection of society’s composition. This means men and women; youngsters and elders, part-timers and full-timers. This kind of complement has some advantages. First of all it creates a stable and fitting complement. Most contact centres have long opening hours; after office hours and during the weekends. The groups mentioned above complement each other perfectly.

On average the technical knowledge and experience of young employees is better. They won’t come across a lot of problems when working with the contact centre systems and they can use different screens simultaneously. Letting them work on new or different projects often goes smoothly, they are able to take in product information fast. The younger generation is also more ductile and they are open to criticism.

The power of older employees is their life experience. It’ll probably take more time and energy to get the agent to the desired level, but once you do they are invaluable to your organization. Because of their life experience they have empathy and are able to adjust themselves to their conversation partner. Clients often see them as more reliable. During the application process you do need to be critical concerning the competences of the applicant. It is more than likely that a woman who has work in social service sector for the past 25 years will experience difficulties with ‘hard’ telesales projects than a retired manager. These people are more suitable for inbound projects. Think about dealing with complaints for instance.

By using the specific qualities and experience of every group it is possible to get the entire call centre to a higher level. Agents learn from each other’s strong points. The calling customer also benefits from this.

Esme Zarouali is columnist at Customer Contact Magazine (CCM Nederland) and senior recruiter at SuperActive