By Chuck Ciarlo
What’s worse than contact center agent? Attrition, attrition that claims your best agents.
Turnover is inevitable, though rates vary widely. Many contact centers get by with 20 percent attrition, though 50 percent is an unfortunate possibility.
No matter which agents leave, managers face additional recruiting and training costs to keep the contact center adequately staffed. But if they are honest, they will admit that some resignations are easier to accept than others.
When the agent who spends an hour a day on Facebook leaves or whose average handle rate consistently lags behind, it’s a departure with a quick recovery time. But when one of your top-performing veteran agents moves on, it becomes a much bigger cause for concern.
Sadly, it often seems like the underperformers are going to be with you a long time, while the superstars always have one eye on the nearest exit. If your contact center experiences this type of situation, here are some of the most likely causes and practical solutions to help keep your most valued employees.
You Are Not the Only Game in Town: Wait, you say your contact center is the only one within fifty miles? Congratulations! You’ll take your pick from the top candidates in the local employment pool. Unfortunately most contact centers are located in cities where there is ample competition for outstanding agents, and the best ones will always have other options.
The agent who can turn angry callers into satisfied ones and up-sell a $10 order into a $50 purchase can get a job anywhere. If you want to keep them, make sure they realize you noticed their achievements, and reward them accordingly. If John is doing a great job, let him know. Don’t wait for his next employee review or training session. A gift certificate to a local restaurant or movie theater can do wonders for morale and create a healthy competitive environment as other agents strive to be recognized.
Better still, put some of your best agents on a management track if they have the qualifications and give them more responsibilities, along with commensurate compensation. You will eventually lose them as an agent that way, but at least you’ll gain another valuable member of your team.
Ditch the Assembly Line Attitude: While it’s necessary to expect every agent to possess the same job skills, it’s not right to treat them all the same. The last conversation a manager has with an agent should not be the one that took place at the job interview six months ago. Get to know them as individuals. Agents have personalities and quirks just like the rest of us. Indulging these qualities – as long as they are not disruptive to the workplace – will engender loyalty.
The Breaking Point: Burnout is every agent’s nemesis. How would you like to listen to angry callers every day, yelling and questioning your competency as if you had personally designed and built the smartphone they can’t figure out how to use?
Since customers rarely call to thank everyone for the fine service and excellent value they received, dealing with a disgruntled public will always be part of the agent’s job. As a manager you can’t change that, but you can change the contact center environment to one that is more supportive and builds stronger relationships between managers and agents.
There is no cure-all for burnout, but sometimes it helps to just listen, even if an agent needs to vent for five minutes. Create an atmosphere where agents feel comfortable discussing the frustrations of the job and won’t be labeled as grumblers for doing so. The more valued an agent feels, the more he or she can absorb the negative aspects of contact center work.
Listening, support, and opportunity for advancement can help keep your best agents in place, and in many cases these options don’t add anything to your budget. You can’t escape attrition, but you can limit your losses to the agent who always shows up late and takes the last donut.
Chuck Ciarlo is the founder and CEO of Monet Software.
[From Connection Magazine – November/December 2015]