What My 93-Year-Old Grandfather Taught Me About Working with Millennials

A few weeks ago, I went to visit the folks at a customer service center for a major healthcare provider in the United States. Before I left for my meeting, I mentioned the company's name in passing to my father. When he heard where I was headed, his face lit up like a kid discovering Santa got him exactly what he wanted.

Naturally, I said, "What's up Dad? I am going to a healthcare company, not Disneyworld."

"Their customer service is keeping your grandfather alive!" 

My 93-year-old grandfather, you see, is on an intricate cocktail of drugs to maintain his health. While this has meant increased stress for both my grandfather and my father, representatives of that healthcare provider have eased a lot of the burden by managing the medications for them.

Wouldn't the service agent who helped my father and grandfather love to hear that unscripted reaction?

That set me thinking about a TED talk by best-selling author Daniel H. Pink called "The Puzzle of Motivation", with over 18 million views. In the brief lecture, he defines a key element of personal satisfaction at work as "purpose"; i.e., the perception that what you are doing has value and is making a difference. The result is better employee engagement, with empirical and impressive results.

According to a recent Gallup study, for example, companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share. Similarly, in a 2016 study by George LaRocque 54.7% of those surveyed said meaningful work with a purpose is the factor that most impacts their feeling of engagement. This exceeded competitive pay (46.9%), benefits (35.1%), a clear career path (24.8%), and acknowledgment of a job well done (0.9%).

In light of what we have seen regarding the importance of purpose in employee engagement, we can make the employee experience strategy even more effective on a routine basis. The key is providing service center agents personalized, real-world feedback on how they are making an impact in the lives of their customers – and beyond. 

That interplay between employee, workforce management and customer is a key characteristic of adaptive enterprises. An adaptive enterprise is dynamic in its responses to shifting customer preferences and market forces, with very little "canned" reactions. Rather, after setting up processes to identify customer needs early and accurately, it empowers employees to recognize their own best practices and how they impact company results. A truly adaptive organization is equally quickly responsive to changing needs among its workers by creating a relatively open-ended interactive relationship with them. 

Here are just three ideas from adaptive enterprise solutions that can apply to any customer service or contact center workforce:

  1. Find some available real estate on the agent's interactive scheduling or process dashboard screen for a "Make an Impact" message box or banner. Rotate verbatim positive customer feedback, like my father's heartfelt comment, through that on-screen platform on a regular basis. The quotes could be hand-selected to focus on specific time-sensitive reactions (say, during a new service campaign) or pushed automatically from a voice of the customer survey.
  2. ​​A more personalized approach is to use agent-specific messages conveyed via on-screen pop-ups. In addition to notes related to success with specific performance indicators (such as, "Congrats on lowering your average handle time!"), these pop-ups could include customer feedback addressed personally to the agent, like: "Avi West from Maryland says: 'Thanks to you, my father is alive and well!'" While the former speaks to the head, the latter touches the employee's heart – which is a much more powerful kind of engagement. (To generate the most feedback, companies might even adapt their scripts to let customers know they could make an agent's day!)
  3. ​​​Beyond feedback and encouragement, a modern Adaptive Workforce Optimization solution can address the issue of "meaning" and "purpose" by making employees aware, on a regular basis, of opportunities to volunteer with an organization supported by their company. Many companies have an internal website for volunteering and some are working with services like Causecast. The challenge for most employees is finding the time. An AWFO system that automatically identifies 'downtime' for each individual agent could trigger a pop-up notification that says something along the lines of: "Use some of your downtime to make an impact. Click here to schedule some volunteer work and earn points toward your 'Make an Impact' badge at the same time."

There are many ways in which a company can engage its employees, but research seems to consistently show that providing them a sense of greater purpose in their work is the most powerful of all. This agent-centric approach is the best way to improve contact center performance and forms the heart of Adaptive Workforce Optimization. But, to be effective, it requires understanding an agent's personal characteristics and preferences (the agent persona), which can be learned from desktop and speech analytics, KPIs, direct questioning, and other sources. Then, with these insights in hand, training, schedules, guidance, and incentives can be adapted accordingly, directly improving agent engagement and sense of empowerment.

With some innovative thinking, an Adaptive Workforce Optimization solution can provide the kind of immediate, authentic and personalized meaningfulness that motivates customer service. Contact center personnel will appreciate that far more than just another pat on the back for spending less time on a call.


Yohai West is the Chief Evangelist for NICE's Adaptive Workforce Optimization Solution for the Contact Center and Customer Service industry. Yohai has over a decade's experience in technology solution marketing. Throughout his career, he has managed global solution marketing activities while focusing on market needs analysis, solution definition, marketing campaigns and thought leadership. Yohai's thought leadership articles have been featured on leading publications such as Forbes.com. https://il.linkedin.com/in/yohai-west-5191744