In every type of business there are unfortunate realities that seem inevitable. With contact centers, one of these pitfalls has always been agent churn, or agent attrition.
For years, the rate of attrition across the industry has remained fairly consistent at approximately 30%. Many call center managers would single out this turnover as one of their top priorities for improvement, but when the numbers don’t drop they just assume there’s nothing to be done, and that about one of every three agents is not going to be there very long.
However, given the significant business costs associated with agent churn, and its impact on customer service, perhaps it is time to take a new look at agent retention.
The Cost of Attrition
If you are a contact center manager, the cost of attrition is already built into your annual operating budget. Funds are allocated for the high costs of recruiting and hiring new agents, training those agents, and any loss of productivity resulting from new hires becoming acclimated to a new company and new procedures.
However, there are additional hidden costs that are not always acknowledged, including the impact that agent churn has on customer churn.
If a customer receives poor service from a new agent, he or she may decide to try another company. According to an inContact study, a 1% increase in churn represents a 1% decrease in revenue. If the attrition rate could be improved by 50%, the result would be a 1.2% increase in company revenues. For a firm with $500 million in annual revenues, improving the attrition rate would represent more than $6 million saved in hidden costs.
Another detriment to churn that is less obvious is how it disrupts the culture of the contact center, particularly in the effect it has on remaining agents. It’s not pleasant to regularly welcome new agents into nearby cubicles, only to watch them leave after a short period of time.
The Cure for Attrition
It will come as no surprise that the key to reducing attrition is keeping agents longer by making sure they are happy and motivated in their work. Companies have different philosophies on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to employee motivation, but here are a few tips that can produce positive results.
Retaining quality agents begins with hiring quality agents. Those who start out with the required experience, personality and skills for call center work are more likely to become the type of agents worth keeping.
An agent who dreads going to work every day will soon rid himself of that habit. A call center that is bright and clean and inviting provides motivation by simply being a more pleasant place in which to work. There are also a number of team-building activities, seminars, outings and other activities that can improve agent morale and build a team spirit outlook.
Agents are on the front lines of customer service, and they will have ideas on how methods or scripts can be altered to better serve customers. Respect these ideas and reward those that are implemented. Agents will feel more motivated if their ideas are taken seriously, and they feel like part of a team. In addition to open communication, managers should also nurture, encourage and support their agents to encourage loyalty and consistent job performance.
It’s the most obvious, but also among the most effective motivation tools – reward good performance with a little something extra besides a weekly paycheck. It doesn’t have to be elaborate – perhaps an “Agent of the Week” designation that comes with a gift card for a local restaurant.
Some agents may view training as a necessary evil, but if these sessions are used to teach new skills, which may be critical as call centers evolve into contact centers, it provides motivation for the agent by adding variety to their daily obligations. Learning new skills benefits both the agent and the call center.
While coaching and training should be a regular part of the agent experience, agents should also be able to use call recording software to review their own performances and make changes as needed. They will also appreciate the trust you show in them by allowing them to correct their own mistakes.
Did an agent mishandle a call? It’s going to happen, especially with newer hires. This is a coaching moment, but not a “verbally dress down the agent on the floor” moment. Nobody’s perfect. Take the necessary steps to minimize such incidents, but insults and threats are not going to result in better performance or motivated employees.
Agents work best when they have the technology that makes their jobs easier. Call recording software and quality assurance solutions not only benefit managers, but agents as well.
Workforce Management (WFM) can play a prominent role in engendering employee satisfaction. When WFM was first introduced, it was perceived as a means to control a call center workforce and keep an electronic eye on them at all times. But in today’s call centers, agents and managers have discovered how WFM improves both communication and schedule flexibility:
• Skill-based Scheduling allows managers to better match agents with the types of calls they are most comfortable and experienced in handling. This boosts both employee confidence and customer service.
• Flexible Schedules are more easily managed with WFM, so agents can balance obligations in their personal lives with work responsibilities.
• Online Collaboration between agents and supervisors makes it easier for agents to bid for shifts, and to handle changes as needed.
• Exception Calendars keep all call center personnel informed and prepared for issues.
• Reporting and Transparency Tools provide more accurate assessments of agent performance, so they can be monitored and reviewed fairly.
All of these capabilities help call centers to engage agents in the planning and management process, and that makes for happier agents.
When asked to specify the greatest obstacles to achieving their key business goals, 53 percent of call center leaders selected attrition, outranking all other choices. By intelligent employment of communication, process and technology, particularly workforce management software, it is possible to reduce attrition rates and create motivated agents.