Among the most abiding images of lockdown have been the shuttered-up shops, and deserted airports, hotels, and restaurants. 

Customer services & support workers have been at the sharp end of this upheaval. More than half of the customer services & support workers interviewed for the 2021 Randstad Employer Brand Research kept on working. But one in three worked longer hours, reduced hours or for a reduced salary in 2020 due to COVID-19. Many have also faced safety issues and health concerns, not just from the threat of infection, but also anxiety and stress. 

Even as economies get back up and running, the disruption continues. For example, many shop workers risk losing their jobs as ever more retail commerce shifts online. Similarly, the financial hit taken by many hotels, restaurants and travel operators has created an uncertain future for people working in these businesses. 

priorities for action

Our customer services & support professions report highlights the extent to which allegiance to employers depends on how valued and supported employees have felt during the upheaval of the past year. It also shows the importance of this sentiment in attracting and retaining great talent. From analysis of the research findings and their implications, three priorities for action stand out:

1/ show that you care 

The level of care and support you offer to your employees during this difficult time provides an authentic demonstration of your purpose, values, and culture. This will directly impact on your employer brand. 

Encouragingly, our research shows that most customer services & support employers have got this right. More than three-in-five people working in this area (63%) now feel more loyal to their employers as a result of the support they’ve received during the pandemic. 

However, support and resulting loyalty are much lower in some parts of the world than others, notably the CIS region, where nearly a third of workers now feel less loyal. Our research also reveals that women are much more likely than men to have been working for reduced hours or for reduced pay during the pandemic.

Customer services & support workers should be valued. This is clearly the right thing to do, and people will want to work for you as a result. From waiters to travel attendants, these are also the public faces of your brand – if they’re happy, so will your customers be. While these factors have always been important, the need to look after your people has been heightened by growing staff shortages in areas such as hospitality. Workers have more bargaining power as a result. Our research reveals that nearly one-in-four customer services & support workers plan to change employer in the next six months. 

Sheila Harvey, Randstad’s VP enterprise accounts, stresses the extent to which “the most valued employers build lifelong relationships with employees at all levels. Even in high turnover roles, employees are also key consumers and brand advocates/detractors. Your employer brand can therefore be as important as your product branding and should be considered as part of your overall marketing strategy.”

2/ tackle insecurity 

Job security is one of the three most important factors for choosing an employer among customer services & support workers, alongside pay and work-life balance. Job security always rises up the priority list in times of economic crisis. But for customer services & support workers, such concerns are heightened by the fact that contract terms are often loose and uncertain.

The need to assure employees and boost security is heightened by the fact that the fearful workers are more than twice as likely to plan to change jobs over the next six months than more secure colleagues. The link between job fears and switching intentions is especially marked in North America and the CIS.

Sheila Harvey believes that the pandemic has cast a harsh light on the reality of job insecurity in service sectors. “Fear of redundancy is powerful. Customer services & support workers need to know that they’re valued. They should also be nurtured as valuable assets within your organization. Many companies recognize this and are investing in their frontline workers through skills training, career coaching and other retention programs. These steps help workers to prepare for future requirements,” she says.

3/ strengthen work-life balance 

Work-life balance is a key factor in choosing an employer among all customer services & support workers. But our research reveals that it’s especially important for people who’ve traditionally worked evenings, weekends, and other irregular or unsociable hours. For example, work-life balance is the number one reason for choosing an employer among chefs, ahead of pay. Among waiters and bartenders, it’s number two, just behind a pleasant working atmosphere.

How much work-life balance can you offer given the nature of your business? Much more than you might imagine. Work-life balance is now coming to be seen as much more than just flexible working. Indeed, as ways of working change in the wake of the pandemic, it’s important to look at work-life as blend, as well as a balance. The key is ensuring that personal and professional lives are in harmony. For customer services & support workers, the priorities include ensuring the time at work is as much fun as possible, creating a strong sense of community within the workforce, and enabling people to be their true selves when they’re with colleagues and customers.

Sheila Harvey highlights how work-life balance is increasingly important for all of us, especially employees who have to manage economic pressures, and child and family care in the kind of environment of uncertainty we’ve seen over the past year. “Everyone wins when companies are able to recognize how ‘work’ fits into the co-worker's whole life and focus on sustaining a flexible and inclusive workplace,” she says.

To find out more about what talent in your sector wants from their employers, download the latest Randstad Employer Brand Research customer services & support professions report. The findings and analysis include breakdowns by gender, age, region, and type of work.