The contact center industry is characterized by high employee turnover and has one of the highest attrition rates in the world. According to ContactBabel, agent attrition is at an all-time high and was reported to be at 30% in 2017. In fact, a report published by Work Institute showed that employee turnover costs businesses around 33% of a worker's annual salary.
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But there’s more to it than the obvious costs like advertising, recruiting, and training. Missed business opportunities, poor service levels, and decreasing operational effectiveness can also occur as a result. Unfortunately, high turnover has slowly become accepted as the norm.
Have you considered why staff are leaving your contact center? The first step is to try and understand the root causes.
Reasons for agent turnover
DMG Consulting found that a common cause of turnover is a lack of coaching and training opportunities. Other factors include low wages, inflexible schedules, and bad supervisor relationships that negatively affect agent morale and decrease loyalty.
In a high-attrition culture, agents often feel disposable or experience little purpose in their work. Consequently, they become disengaged, less attached to their organization, and ultimately leave.
Strategies & tactics to reduce turnover
1. Optimize your recruiting efforts and hiring practices
A major factor in reducing agent turnover in your contact center is tied to recruiting the right people for your organization. When hiring new talent, try to look beyond standard job qualifications and pay attention to soft skills, culture and team fit, personality, and overall attitude. Debt collection requires a different personality to new business sales, for example.
Don’t forget to describe what a good candidate is worth to your business. In addition to listing salary and benefits, try appealing to intrinsic motivators by describing what makes you a great employer and what applicants can expect as a valued employee.
2. Develop training programs
Training should play a central role in your company’s culture to develop and retain talent. Ongoing training ensures your employees - your most valuable asset - can deepen and extend their skills to be more productive and provide a better contribution to business performance.
Try tailoring your programs to individual needs by acknowledging employee differences. Start by designing skill development paths or dedicated growth programs, with a goal to focus on further cultivating strengths and counterbalancing weaknesses. When agents improve their performance it can create a sense of gratification, purpose, and ultimately increased engagement.
3. Practice clear and transparent communication
Communication is key in any business setting, and an open communication culture with clear and accessible communication channels is essential to increase agent engagement. This can help agents feel more included in the business and encourage them to make their voices heard.
When agents have the opportunity to communicate and potentially even to drive change, you can benefit from their insights and customer intelligence to continuously improve your business.
4. Improve performance monitoring and agent valuation
Before recognizing and rewarding achievements, it’s important to establish benchmarks against which you can monitor individual and team performance. Monitoring customer satisfaction can be a good starting point as this is the core of an agent’s job. In fact, the most successful agents are those who focus on the customer and his/her problems while representing your company in the best way.
Focus on qualitative customer-centric metrics such as contact quality and customer satisfaction to understand how your team and its members are performing. In addition to quantitative KPIs (such as first contact resolution and average handling time), this can increase the quality of contact handling and reduce stress in the contact center.
With an effective performance monitoring framework in place, you can start with frequent performance checks and regular feedback sessions. A best practice is to establish recurring 1:1 meetings where you discuss performance goals and identify performance blockers. Additionally, you can set success milestones together with the agent, and then define a reward and incentive scheme tailored to individual achievements.
5. Show appreciation and recognition
Recognizing good performance and giving positive feedback tend to be effective motivators. In a contact center, this may happen less frequently during busy periods or, even worse, not at all.
Here are a few simple, yet effective ways to show appreciation and reinforce positive behavior:
- encourage peer recognition through awards and incentives (e.g. nominate the employee of the month)
- celebrate teamwork and individual achievements (e.g. organize team events)
- establish a ‘thank-you’ culture (e.g. create room for thanking each other in person and in written form
You can also try appealing to employees’ intrinsic motivation, by:
- providing more autonomy
- investing in personal development
- promoting social interaction
- allowing influence over work schedules
And don’t forget the power of a small gesture, either. Leaving a sticky note with a few nice words on a team member’s desk, a free coffee, or scheduling someone on a popular shift can be effective, too.
6. Establish a feedback and coaching culture
A lack of feedback and coaching are among the top reasons why contact center staff leave. To keep turnover low, it’s the responsibility of the management team to ensure sufficient coaching and feedback opportunities.
Agents who receive constructive feedback through personal attention, frequent coaching, and training can improve their skills. It makes them more effective and likely to experience gratification from delivering good performance. Additionally, establishing an honest and respectful feedback culture in your contact center empowers your employees to express their wants and needs without fearing consequences.
But don’t forget, feedback is a two-way street! It should flow in both directions between manager/supervisor and agent. Ask for direct feedback on a regular basis through 1:1 sessions and frequent surveys to give agents an opportunity to express their opinion.
Use these sources of information to detect early warning signals and get to the root cause when satisfaction drops. This is how you can derive, and eventually implement, valuable recommendations to improve schedule flexibility, general working conditions, or entire operational processes to keep agents happy.
7. Offer leadership training to supervisors and managers
Managers may also benefit from training since agent turnover is often caused by mismanagement and bad supervisor relationships. Educate your management teams and supervisors about effective leadership, and offer coaching and training sessions to help them put theory into practice by focusing on how to:
- create a culture of trust, respect, and empathy within their team
- reduce frustration and stress by helping team members to resolve issues through collaboration and communication
- identify individual training needs and skill gaps and enable agents to address them
- become a go-to-person for different matters that may affect employee morale
- establish frequent constructive feedback and coaching sessions tailored to agent needs
Ultimately, competent, empathetic, and successful leaders will have a considerable impact on reducing agent dissatisfaction and increasing engagement and trust throughout the organization.
8. Empower your agents to do a great job
The term “empowerment” is in common use, but what does it mean in the call center context? The job of a contact center agent has its challenges. The agent’s job is mostly solitary (even in a busy office) and it can be boring and repetitive. There are finite promotion prospects, and perhaps most importantly, not all customers behave calmly and rationally. There are few things that agents hate more than not having the means with which to turn angry customers into happy ones.
Everyone who ever used a contact center as a customer has anecdotes about bad customer experience. A recurring theme is that the agent was professional, friendly, and helpful but simply did not have the authority, autonomy, and access to information needed to solve the customer’s problem. This isn’t just bad for customer experience and company reputation, it’s also demotivating for the agent and a major factor in agents deciding to leave. A recent poll revealed that around 50% of contact centers grant insufficient autonomy to agents.
Empowerment can be broken down into two components: access and enablement.
- Access is about providing agents with reliable, up-to-date information, in an easily digestible form, covering all the communication channels available to customers.
- Enablement is about designing business processes that enable agents to succeed. Decision-making should be delegated to the appropriate level, with proper controls in place.
Access and enablement can’t be implemented overnight. First, you need to create a culture of trust and transparency. And agents must receive training and coaching to enable them to use their autonomy appropriately and with confidence.
9. Use technology that engages your workforce and makes their job easier
Contact centers that embrace technology solutions to simplify work, automate processes, and reduce waste are more effective and efficient, and so are the people who use them. By giving your agents the right tools, they can start to feel enabled and supported in their daily work.
We’ve compiled a list of the most impactful software tools that can help you in your quest to reduce agent frustration and tackle the turnover problem:
Help desk and ticketing
Help desk and ticketing solutions (such as Freshdesk and Zendesk) often serve as an agent’s best friend when it comes to organizing and handling service requests. These applications connect with customers across a variety of channels and provide self-service solutions (e.g. Q&A sites, chatbots, and community options) to reduce the number of low-involvement, tedious issues, and recurring requests that agents have to deal with.
Skills-based routing (SBR) is a process where customer service requests are channeled to the agent with the right skills in order to resolve the issue in the best possible way. The use of SBR is a common strategy for larger call centers with a high level of skill diversity in their workforce, and these days SBR is often integrated within automatic call distributor (ACD) systems.
Callback software (such as fonolo or Enghouse Interactive) can provide a way to follow up with customers when there aren’t enough staff to handle all incoming service requests at once. Unanswered calls or long wait times are registered in the system, and as soon as an agent is available again, the customer’s number will be dialed automatically until a successful connection is established.
Workforce management (WFM) is often said to be the heart of every contact center. When WFM is done right, agents become engaged by having a say in the planning process. Good WFM software enables agents to view, bid, and swap shifts among their team, handle appointments and time-off requests, all on a self-service basis and from their smartphones.
E-Learning courses are an easy and cost-effective solution for employees to engage in self-learning and development. The cloud-based platform by The Call Center School offers a wide range of dedicated e-learning courses tailored to diverse call center roles and functions.
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Originally published on May 29, 2020, updated on May 26, 2021.
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