Employee Engagement

Call center attrition: why do staff leave - or stay?

Chris Dealy 6 min read Download as PDF
Call center attrition: why do staff leave - or stay?

Staff turnover is higher in the contact center than in almost any other industry. A common assumption is that call center attrition is simply a fact of life - it can't be controlled or 'fixed'. I'd like to challenge that assumption. One of the responsibilities of call center managers and team leaders is to constantly assess the reasons why people leave the center. Perhaps more importantly, it’s also critical to talk to happy staff and find out what keeps them there and constantly strive to reduce unwanted turnover.

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Our sister company The Call Center School recently conducted a study to find out exactly why contact staff leave or stay. A summary of the results can be seen below.

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It’s interesting to note that job fit is the most common reason why people leave as well as why they stay. The lesson is clear: Getting people matched to the right job in the first place is one of the top things you can do to improve long-term retention. While compensation is clearly a driver of call center attrition, it is generally not mentioned as the top reason why people stay. If people truly enjoy what they are doing and find other advantages in the job, compensation is less of a factor.

Let's examine the reasons in more detail, starting with who is responsible for measuring performance and making improvements.

Factors under management control

Some of the reasons for call center attrition may not be under the direct control of team leaders but are surely under the control of contact center management. These reasons are compensation, job fit, stressful work environment, and limited job/career opportunities.

Compensation. Inadequate compensation is a reason often cited in agents’ exit interviews. This is especially true for call centers located in highly saturated call center labor markets such as Phoenix or Dallas in the US or in the northwest of the UK. In these locations, competition for qualified call center staff is fierce. Your call center should do periodic compensation benchmarking studies to ensure the salaries you offer are competitive with the salaries offered by neighboring centers, particularly in areas with a high density of contact centers.

Job fit is the top reason listed both in terms of why people leave as well as why they stay.

Job fit. Many times the reason an individual leaves the center is simply a mismatch between that person's expectations of the job and the reality. This type of turnover can be significantly reduced by better describing the job, widening the advertising process to attract a bigger field of candidates, and working harder at screening and hiring to ensure a proper fit. More effort during the selection phase will pay for itself many times over by improving retention. The key element for change here is taking time to assess motivational fit and ensure that the candidate will be happy with the working conditions found in most call centers: solo work, confined space, repetitive tasks, constant monitoring, and focus on adherence to schedules.

Stressful work environment. The job of a contact center agent can be stressful at times. It’s a fact of life that some calls will be neither friendly nor straightforward. And there will always be significant queues at peak times. It is, however, shortsighted to dismiss this as simply 'part of the job'. There are many things that you can do to reduce stress levels for agents.

A relatively easy initiative is to prepare agents for difficult conversations with customers. The Call Center School has an excellent e-learning course for that.

Another way to reduce stress levels for your agents is to manage their workload better. Good planning practice and powerful WFM applications can help reduce stress and burnout by accurately forecasting workload, then scheduling agents in such a way that supply matches demand as often as possible. This minimizes the occurrence of severe understaffing that causes agents to feel overwhelmed. WFM also adds a higher degree of predictability to the work experience, which is known to improve agent satisfaction. And deliberately applying reasonable occupancy rates when calculating staffing requirements will help minimize the overwork conditions that lead to burnout.

Agents love having a say in the scheduling process. Giving them the opportunity to bid for shifts, specify their availability, book time off or swap shifts on a self-service basis are extremely effective in reducing stress and boosting engagement. Full-featured WFM applications make this a breeze. And the better WFM applications let agents engage with planning using their smartphones or mobile devices.

Limited job/career opportunities. Limited opportunities for career progression, promotion, or personal growth are a known cause of call center attrition. Some organizations put in place a grading structure for agents, where high performance or long tenure result in promotion. I've also seen organizations that create defined career paths for promising call center agents, both within and outside the contact center. Clearly, creating a complicated, artificial hierarchy introduces unnecessary complexity and risks being perceived as fake by agents. On the other hand, if you don't invest the time and effort in creating career paths, you will certainly see high turnover as a result. After 22 years in the industry, I’ve seen my fair share of people hop from one call center job to another in pursuit of opportunities to progress in their careers. Time spent on creating and developing career paths will pay dividends in improved agent engagement and retention.

All these challenges contribute to staff turnover and should be grasped by the call center management team. Real improvement can only come about by creating a strategy and implementing a change program. And that typically needs sponsorship from senior leadership.

Factors under team leader control

Even when issues with compensation, job fit, work stress, and career paths have been addressed, it's possible for turnover to remain stubbornly high. Most of the other reasons that employees leave a call center are related to supervisors or team leaders.

People don't leave companies, they leave leaders.

The adage people don’t leave companies, they leave leaders is certainly true in the call center environment. In the majority of cases, the supervisor can be either the greatest contributor to staff retention or the primary cause of turnover. Specifically, team leaders can lead to agents perceptions such as:

  • Not being recognized for their work
  • Being bored and unchallenged by the job
  • Not receiving appropriate training
  • Not being valued
  • Not treated fairly

High-performing team leaders strive to ensure that their teams do not have these perceptions.

Conclusion

It's not possible to dramatically reduce call center attrition overnight. The reasons for turnover are not always obvious and the solutions are rarely simple. But turnover is bad for customer experience because fully-trained, experienced agents tend to deliver better first-call resolution. Turnover is bad for the business because of the high cost of recruiting and onboarding replacement agents. Time spent by team leaders, call center managers, and senior leadership on reducing turnover is time very well spent. 

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The Call Center School
Empowered employees. Happy customers.

Our effective e-learning courses empower and motivate your team, offer career growth and boost retention. Oh, and happy employees mean happy customers.

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