Quick, is Gen Z old enough to work yet? No checking Wikipedia…

Answer: Yes. While there is a bit of a gray area between where exactly Millennials stop and Gen Z starts, demographers pretty much agree that the starting birth years for Gen Z are in the late 90s. So, with the oldest of the crew in their early 20s, those 90s babies are already hitting the workforce. For those of us in the contact center industry, we welcome this new cohort into our multi-generational workforce. It’s an employment landscape where the oldest of the Baby Boomers are still holding ground and the Millennials are into their mid-career years, no longer the wild bunch of upstarts we couldn’t stop talking about five years ago.

TL;DR: Gen Z are true “digital natives” (more so than Millennials). They crave constant feedback and recognition in the workplace. Collaboration is key with this generation.

So, what does Gen Z bring to the table and what do we need to do to set this new generation up for success? Coming of age in the years of economic recession, these new kids in town have had technology in their pocket almost from the moment they could walk. They live their lives online, curating their personal brands for the world to see and acclimating to platform changes (what Snapchat iteration are we on now?) without blinking an eye. As a result, managing and engaging them in the workplace looks vastly different than that of Baby Boomers, Gen X, or even Millennials.

Get on Their [Digital] Level

To say Gen Z is tech savvy does not begin to cover how fluent these workers are in front of a screen. “Digital Native” is more accurate. Their digitally-driven lives make Gen Z agents drastically different to train and manage. Face-to-face communication isn’t necessarily valued by these employees. That’s where highly interactive virtual classrooms and online learning programs, both of which can be customized to individual learning styles, can be valuable.

The prevalence of sleek video conference tools and collaborative work platforms (from simple instant messaging apps to more multifaceted programs like Slack) make it easy not just to work efficiently, but to engage Gen Z on their terms. In the contact center world, there is a lot of work that is tailormade to leverage Gen Z’s greatest strengths. Chat and in-app support channels are basically “home” for employees that are so used to screen-based communication.

Finally, the fact that these individuals are connected to the world from the moment they wake gives rise to some important considerations. In particular, constant checking in with friends and family has made them enormously sensitive to the level of recognition and feedback they receive. This generation expects emojis, confetti bursts, likes, hearts, and thumbs up to validate their efforts. Nothing happens in their lives without external validation of some kind. Short, frequent bursts of communication are key to engagement. Ensure those Boomers, Gen X or Millennial managers working with Gen Z agents understand the power of the star button in Slack or the upvote on the company intranet. More than any other, this generation is motivated by instant gratification even in its smallest, simplest form. Their lives have been influenced from toddlerhood by dopamine loops. On top of that, according to Upfront Analytics, the average attention span of Gen Z is eight seconds and 11% have ADHD. So, pro tip for managers: get to the point, quickly.

Get Their Buy-In

In the contact center world, where advancements in technologies like AI and machine learning are transforming the customer experience, Gen Z’s digital know-how is extremely valuable.

Not only are they easy to train from a tech perspective, they are also quick to catch on when changes are rolled out to platforms and processes. Gen Z agents naturally understand how software or platform updates make their jobs more efficient. This hasn’t always been the case – previous generations can become creatures of habit. Changes have historically been disruptive, making it harder to get agent buy-in and support. Gen Z is changing this reality – and is often downright excited about change.

It’s refreshing to collaborate with a group of people who are not only welcoming of change, but also eager to help determine what those changes look like. For most contact center program managers, introducing tools like a new ERP or CRM can present a significant challenge. Gen Z might just be your best ally in this kind of daunting change management scenario. If you’re launching a process change or introducing new tools, sit down with Gen Z agents to say, this is what we want to do – what do you think? Ask them what’s been working well, what’s been challenging, and how they think improvements can be made. Engaging them with this avenue for feedback empowers these agents while providing the opportunity to truly innovate. When changes are ultimately implemented, take a hands-off approach with Gen Z agents, letting them explore and figure it out for themselves – and advocate on your behalf as the early adopters.

Get Them Future-Focused

Gen Z contact center agents represent huge potential for the future of the contact center – but only if we engage their unique skill sets and perspectives today.

It’s starts with making sure they’re the right fit for the contact center culture to start with. Not every member of Gen Z is going to make the perfect agent just because they live on their smartphones. As this generation takes over their rightful share of the labor market, it is on us to learn more about their needs, wants, and interests so we can build an employment offering that improves retention with this unique group.

The customer care industry can provide surprising career path opportunities. There are numerous directions an agent’s career could take them in, and it all depends upon their motivation to expand and leverage their skillsets and knowledge. Fortunately, surveys from Northeastern University reveal that this generation is highly self-directed; they are “determined to take charge of their own futures,” says Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun. He goes on to comment, “Those of us in higher education must listen to this next generation and enable them to chart their own paths, gain valuable experience, and become the leaders of tomorrow.” We would argue that contact centers must do the same, listening to and acting upon the desires and values of these individuals.

Engaging Gen Z in the Contact Center

For this newest generation of workers, engaging them naturally looks different but you can’t expect the adjustment to happen organically – you have to be proactive. Understanding how best to train them, communicate with them, effectively empower them, and prepare them for the future is critical to your – and their – success in the contact center.