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Managing Attrition in a Strong Economy

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Managing Attrition in a Strong Economy

/ People, Turnover
Managing Attrition in a Strong Economy

Six questions to ask and actions to take to retain your top talent today and in the future.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current unemployment rate is the lowest in 48 years.

When the economy is strong and contact center jobs are plentiful, retaining your top talent can become a daunting task. Although paying your agents a competitive rate is essential to retaining your top talent, many other factors play a part. Being aware of these factors and responding quickly can help you keep your best talent even when the labor market is as competitive as it is now.

In this article, you’ll learn to ask six crucial questions as well as what actions you can take to improve your retention today and in the future.

Are You Hiring the Right People?

I often speak about and consult for companies on hiring the right people. Why? Because if you’re not hiring the right people for your center, nothing else matters.

When consulting for a company that is suffering rampant attrition, the first thing I do is review their current applicant intake process for new-hires. I frequently find that they are hampered by processes that are too basic and even irrelevant to the contact center’s unique goals and strategies.

The next step is to take a close look at the personalities and behaviors of your best agents. By identifying the qualities that top-performing agents possess, call centers can build a profile for success that meets their unique needs. There’s more than one way to approach this, and many companies offer profile-building tools and services. After years in this business, I’ve narrowed it down to a short list. I encourage you to reach out to me anytime to learn more.

Once you have a strong profile for success, you can create an applicant intake process that puts you in the best position for hiring. You’ll be able to assess the personalities and behaviors that succeed in your center and only hire candidates who fit the profile and move your organization in the right direction. Once your center starts running with the right people, improvement is often quick and even dramatic. You will find yourself meeting more goals and hitting more critical metrics, in addition to increasing retention.

What Does Your Training Say to New-Hires?

Once you’ve hired the best and brightest, they begin training. The goal of new-hire training should be to prepare agents for success in the center.

When I help a company to assess its training program, the process is similar to reviewing the hiring process. I evaluate the metrics, goals and culture of the center to determine whether the training is relevant to the goals and objectives. If your center’s success is based on customer service, does the training include modules on effective customer service, de-escalation techniques, voice coaching, listening skills and how these can affect the metrics of the center? If you are a sales center, do you focus on overcoming objectives, vocal energy, communicating features and benefits, and how to maximize the sales skills of your talent?

In call centers that are struggling, I often find training programs that consist of a company overview, a system overview and instructions on how to look things up. Successful businesses will train new-hires on these nuts and bolts, but they also spend focused time on training for desired behaviors and connecting them to the goals of the center. Think of the training period as your best window of opportunity to instill and reinforce the qualities you expect on the job. Employees who don’t receive adequate training and enculturation (introduction to your culture and its dynamics) in an organization will not only find it harder to get up to speed, they will be slower to succeed. Employees are acutely aware of the investment that you make in their training and onboarding, and they will respond in kind when it comes to making their own commitments to the work and your center.

Proper training is closely tied to retention not just for performance enhancement, but because new-hires are able to visualize a path to success.

Do You Have a Culture of Retention?

Ask yourself—would you want to work as an agent in your center? Creating a culture of retention requires:

  • Understanding the personalities and demographics of your agent population.
  • Creating a custom culture that embraces those characteristics.
  • Using those attributes to improve the success of your center.

Many contact centers have diverse demographics. Keep in mind the different backgrounds, generations and motivations of your team members; their personal goals and ambitions will vary widely. Remember, there is more than one way to be successful. If we, as leaders, adapt our processes and management styles to accommodate all kinds of agents, the good ones will want to perform at a high level and stay.

I recommend first understanding the personalities and behaviors of your top talent, and then creating policies, programs and management techniques that promote those behaviors and encourage those agents to be happier and more successful.

Frontline Leadership—Are They Trained to Retain?

I’m sure you’ve heard that the No. 1 reason for attrition is a poor manager or supervisor. As leaders we want to believe that we are the best leader and everyone respects us and the way we treat people, but often this is not the case. Only 17% of contact centers have a formal training process for supervisors. When you realize that frontline supervisors have the greatest impact on the retention of your top talent, this is a frightening statistic.

There are numerous training programs available for frontline leaders, including BenchmarkPortal’s certification program. But there are also great nonprofit associations that provide amazing content and training events, often in your area. Google “contact center association” and you will likely find groups of like-minded people who are excited to share their successes and learn more about yours.

A network of leaders sharing best practices and what works can be one of the strongest tools in your belt. Please consider connecting with me on LinkedIn. I am always happy to facilitate introductions to other centers with similar issues or provide a contact center association in your area.

Are Your Agents Happy?

Ultimately, happy employees stay. To be an effective leader, you should care what your agents are saying about their employment to their friends, families and co-workers. Create a culture where employees post on their social media about great things happening at work, rather than complaints.

What have you done lately that would cause your agents to post about the amazing place they work? I have seen happy employees post about:

  • Winning a contest at work (electronics, gift cards, cash, trips).
  • Participating in an employee event (especially outside of Customer Service Appreciation Week).
  • Meeting a work goal and getting a fun reward (for example, the director goes into a dunk tank if we meet our metrics).

Programs like these also let employees see senior leadership as more approachable and likeable. If your best employees are willing to approach you and talk to you about their happiness or complaints, isn’t that worth it?

Do You Work to Improve Retention?

Attrition is not a problem that goes away if you ignore it. If it’s your employees who are going away, you must act on this teachable moment.

I recommend establishing an exit interview process. You may also want to start a pre-exit interview process for good employees who are at risk of attrition. You can often see this coming in the form of increasing absenteeism or falling performance. Open your eyes; they are on their way out.

Exit interviews and pre-exit interviews almost always provide valuable and actionable information. The advantage of pre-exit interviews is the chance to proactively understand what is causing someone to be unhappy and do something about it before it’s too late. It may be an easy fix, or a deeper, recurring pattern in a team, but at least you know the cause and can work to improve it.

One of my first recommendations to every center I consult with is to create a Voice of the Agent Committee. This should be a safe committee, free from leadership. Encourage agents to meet once a month to discuss the issues of the center.

Is there a supervisor who has too many bad days, or treats people poorly? Is fairness and consistency an issue? Is the new vending machine company failing? Should we have a different dress code? You will be surprised by the information you can gather from your agents when you give them a chance to communicate in a safe place. Make time to actively listen to and acknowledge even unreasonable feedback, and act on reasonable, well-supported feedback. Communicate the changes you make. Doing nothing, or worse, retaliating against agents who are on the committee is a recipe for disaster.

Act Now

It’s not too late. You can make immediate improvements to hiring, onboarding, training, culture and leadership that will positively affect your retention rate. Let’s review these key takeaways:

  • Understand the personalities and behaviors required for success.
  • Hire people with the personalities and behaviors needed for success.
  • Ensure that training is relevant and adequate to meet the goals and culture of the center.
  • Understand what motivates your top talent then work to create programs that facilitate success.
  • Create a culture of retention by focusing on change and improvement.
Eric Berg

Eric Berg

Eric Berg is a 25-year veteran of the contact center industry, running multiple brick-and-mortar as well as virtual agent centers across the U.S. Eric is founder of the Midwest Contact Center Association and currently provides consulting in the areas of outsourcing selection, recruitment, applicant intake process, employee retention, creating at-home agent programs and creating a culture of success. 

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