By Donna Fluss
Most of us are tired of hearing companies complain about agent attrition. While it’s a serious issue that has been exacerbated by the Great Resignation, attrition can be corrected if a company wants to fix it. I can say this definitively because I have worked in hundreds of contact centers over my many years as a consultant and have seen “the good, the bad and the ugly” (to borrow the title of a Clint Eastwood film). When a contact center has a high agent attrition rate, the reasons are obvious.
During the last few years, contact center leaders changed the narrative by talking about agent engagement instead of agent attrition. It’s true that engaged employees are more likely to stay, but it did little to improve the agent experience and to fix the underlying issues that drive high rates of attrition.
Saying you care about employees and their future is very different from demonstrating your concern with appropriate actions. In the past, contact centers were able to replace agents when needed, but with the change in employee expectations, this is no longer the case.
Companies must migrate low-value work to artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled conversational self-service solutions, as this will be better for employees, the brand, the bottom line, and customers. However, this will not resolve the primary agent complaints, which are:
- Insufficient opportunity for promotion in the department or company.
- Minimal schedule flexibility, penalties for small infractions (such as immaterial tardiness), and lack of accommodation for unexpected life events.
- Inadequate compensation.
- Reduced company engagement, such as being excluded from company events due to the call center needing constant attention.
As the issues are clear, so is the path to address them. For this to happen, enterprises must change their approach to contact centers and their employees. The fundamental change that will incite a chain reaction of positive developments is to upgrade the agent role from one of the lowest in the company to a mid-level customer experience (CX) function. This will influence agents’ salaries and demonstrate the relative importance of this customer-facing role.
The reason why this has not happened is because companies have wanted to keep expenses as low as possible for a function with a large number of employees.. Agent salaries are benchmarked against other companies with a desire to keep their agent salaries low for comparable functions. However, most companies realize this approach encourages agents to seek alternative employment with higher salaries and more flexibility.
The cost of continually hiring and onboarding new agents has reached such a critical level that it’s finally worth fixing the problem. Further, if the agent role is upgraded to customer brand advocate (or something similar), it will position them to be better prepared for new opportunities.
This is another area where change must be enacted if companies want their agents to stay. Many contact centers require agents to stay in their jobs for 1 to 2 years before transferring to other positions. This policy tells agents that their only way of moving up is to leave the company, which is a waste, as these front-line workers have broad knowledge of the company and its policies from helping customers.
In short, it’s time for real change and recognition for agents.
Executives should be realistic about their contact centers. Being an agent is a challenging job. These employees should be recognized and rewarded, not knocked down and held back. Agents are much more likely to stay on a job, even one as challenging as helping consumers, if they see it as a steppingstone toward their future rather than an impediment to their ultimate success.
Reversing agent attrition won’t happen by talking about agent engagement, but it can be solved by altering the policies that created the problem.
Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary, author, and speaker, Donna drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the services industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community.