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How to Tackle Attrition in the Contact Center

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How to Tackle Attrition in the Contact Center

/ People, Turnover, People management
How to Tackle Attrition in the Contact Center

Investing in your team members goes a long way toward building long-term loyalty.

A recent survey of contact center leaders cited attrition as the single greatest challenge among large contact centers today (“Contact Center Challenges and Priorities,” Strategic Contact & Contact Center Pipeline, January 2016). The demand on dependable, quality workers is greater than ever—handling multiple channels, juggling work/life balance and delivering quality service all in the name of the customer.

You certainly need to start with understanding your attrition, what’s driving it and how to calculate your reality. To calculate a company’s attrition rate, you would simply divide the number of employees who left the company during the year by the average number of employees employed by the company during the year. For example, if you had 500 employees and you lost 50, you would arrive at 10%. That number in some organizations might be stellar for a contact center or an enterprise.

How do you tackle attrition if higher compensation is not an option? It sounds pretty daunting, especially for contact center leaders who are trying to deliver on quantitative and qualitative metrics while keeping their key internal customers happy. So how do you maintain all of this—keeping your teams happy while providing high-quality service? The following are a few key deliverables you owe your agents and the business in 2016.

Offer Flexible Scheduling and Seasonal Positions

These days, more than ever, people are juggling home, school and sometimes two jobs to make ends meet. It’s the reality of the economy. You may not be able to wave the magic wand and increase pay, but you can offer flex scheduling.

In my days managing contact centers, we offered agents part-time and full-time positions, as well as flex schedules (changing quarter to quarter) and seasonal positions. Not only were our teams able to keep attrition low, but we opened ourselves to other workforce demographics. We attracted college students, as well as homemakers, state senators, religious leaders and people with disabilities. Year after year, people returned for peak season and required just three weeks of up-training.

The results were outstanding—not only did we supplement current staff, it opened opportunities for team members who were struggling with maintaining set schedules to opt for other schedules versus heading for the door.

Test the Remote Agent Model

I know, this might a bit scary if you haven’t tried it yourself. You are thinking, “How do I manage these folks? How do I hold them accountable, recognize and reward them and keep them trained to meet customers’ needs?”

I always suggest talking to your peers in other contact centers outside your vertical to see what worked for them. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Speaking from my own experience, it was really about making sure that you had your checks and balances in place, and making the opportunity to be a remote worker a perk and a privilege—earned, not handed out without expectations.

Here are a few steps to consider:

  • Does your technology support network connectivity, QoS, remote access and quality monitoring? If the answer is yes, it is a matter of putting together the technical requirements needed to make the work-from-home customer experience seamless to your end customer and your operations management.
  • Establish a remote-agent pilot program for your top agents who have earned the privilege through excellent performance. Identify attendance, schedule adherence, quality and customer satisfaction scores as critical drivers to determine the top 10 agents from the pool of interested team members. Outline a pilot program to run for 90 days and share the performance expectations with agents. Measure their performance, quality and customer satisfaction throughout the pilot. If it is deemed a success, expand the program.
  • Establish either onsite seasonal training or virtual training (as needed). This keeps everyone up to speed regardless of where they hang their hats. Online self-paced training is a great approach for supporting a remote workforce.

Recognize, Recognize and Reward

Really, you might say, that sounds too obvious! It might sound so, but recognition is usually the first thing to slip when the walls are closing in and you’re struggling to fight fires.

If you don’t keep up with it and be consistent, you are likely to lose people because they don’t feel appreciated. Sometimes we try to make recognition too complicated and that’s when we falter.

Here are some simple ways to keep the recognition train on track:

  • Select a few frontline agents and leaders to be part of a recognition committee. Establish some boundaries—budget, frequency, timing, perhaps—but otherwise, put them in a room with a pizza for a half-day and let them brainstorm. I have seen great ideas emerge from these sessions that were simple yet effective, like employee of the month (winner got a preferred parking spot) with bagels for all nominated team members, a quarterly lunch for all team members assuming we hit our quality metrics, and an end-of-the-year recognition dinner for all.
  • Come up with low-cost prizes that everyone appreciates, such as a half-day off, food and prime parking spots. They won’t break the bank, and I have yet to come across a team that didn’t appreciate these types of perks.
  • Don’t drop the ball—keep the timing, communication and delivery of recognition consistent with what you promise in the program.
  • Rotate recognition committee members once a year. Make it a perk!
  • Survey your agent population to get their input. The best ideas usually come from the folks with the toughest jobs. Change the perks to keep it fresh and keep people striving toward the goal.

Build a Strong Career Development Program

Sometimes attrition is OK—if agents move laterally or are promoted. Organizations with strong agent development programs are always talking to their team members and asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” OK, you might not ask it quite that tongue-and-cheek, but it’s better to know what your team members’ aspirations are and try to give them development opportunities versus the employee handing you his or her notice.

How do you tackle this one? Well, you need management, human resources and interdepartmental support, but here are a few quick hitters:

  • Develop a career development plan for your agents in concert with HR. Ask agents if they like what they are doing, if they’re interested in management, working in other parts of the contact center or in different parts of the business.
  • Make time for team members to shadow areas of the business that they are interested in. Each quarter, provide them with a few hours to sit with someone from a different function so they can understand what a typical workday is like for that employee.
  • Establish check-ins with the agent after shadowing other areas. Did they like it? Is it something they would like to pursue? Are there other areas they might be interested in the next quarter?
  • If they have an interest in another area, work with that department’s leadership to understand the expectations, training, skills required, and potential timing around future openings.

This might sound aggressive, but investing your team members goes a long way toward establishing loyalty, tenure and a long-term commitment. You might even reduce your attrition along the way!

Todd Marthaler

Todd Marthaler is a Contact Center Consultant at Interactive Intelligence, with 20 years’ experience in contact center management and consulting.

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