By Bob Cowen
If your call center operates as a profit center (sells, renews, retains, upgrades, converts, collects, or solicits), improving retention of newly hired agents will have an immediate impact on your bottom line. Reducing the ongoing cost and effort of hiring and training new agents is one benefit, but the real payoff is that key performance indicators (KPIs) go up and rookie mistakes go down.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of “the power of small wins,” it is discussed in the Harvard Business Review article, “The Power of Small Wins” by Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer. The article contains excellent examples and lessons. It’s fairly easy to grasp the concept. Brooks Mitchell, PhD, describes it as “rewarding the daily homework” in his article, “New Ways To Curb Employee Tardiness, Absenteeism and Turnover by Using Employee Selection and Online Games.” In part of his tutorial, Dr. Mitchell suggests rewarding early tenure to better retain new hires, thus bridging the gap in the new job morale curve. The same principle applies to solving many other challenges. When a call center is a profit center, the consequences of new hire employee turnover multiply. The question is how to apply the power of small wins to reducing new hire employee turnover at call centers that are profit centers.
Step into Your Shoes: Near the end of every year, you receive numerous solicitations from charities for donations. Many arrive by mail and some via phone. Because a presidential election is not too far down the road, I can assure you that the volume of phone calls will significantly increase. These are just two examples of the many opportunities organizations use to sell you a product or service by phone. There are numerous other pitches thrown your way when you call your bank, airline, insurance company, or cable company. If you count all of the “no, thanks” that you give, and if you answered all of the inbound calls (rather than letting them go to voicemail), think of how many “no, thanks” you would actually utter.
Step into My Shoes: Let me suggest that you spend a few hours sitting with and listening to the calls of one of your recently hired agents. It’s important that you see his or her emotional state when doing this. How many “no, thanks” or similar rejections per hour do you hear? Would you remain positive and encouraged? Your new agent most likely started the job with high expectations, only to find that almost all they hear is “no,” sometimes not spoken very courteously.
Where Does This Lead? You know the answer. Many of your agents become discouraged and start down a self-fulfilling, slippery slope that leads out the door. They question their abilities and their decision to join your organization; discouragement sets in because they are steeped in negative rejections numerous times per hour. It’s a shock to their system, their ego. They wonder, “Am I cut out for this?” “Is this what I want to do for the next few years?” “How does someone do this day-in and day-out?” “I feel so unproductive.” The few “yes, thanks” they receive become lost in the overwhelming sea of nos.
Small Wins to the Rescue: Most organizations don’t review their employees frequently enough, especially newly hired agents. Yes, this can be a labor-intensive process, but so is replacing employees. Remember your days in grade school, high school, and college? You received continuous feedback from grades, quizzes, papers, and final exams. Good feedback reinforced your study habits. You always knew where you stood long before you received your final grade. Going into your final exam, you knew exactly what you had to scoe in order to get a specific final grade for the course. You may not have realized it, but you were the recipient of “the power of small wins.”
What to Do: The simple answer is to amplify the incentive reward for every positive event for newly hired agents until they have accepted the fact that the day is usually going to be filled with negatives and frequent rejections. An “event” does not need to be a sale; it could be simply asking for the sale or some precedent activity. Offer constructive and positive guidance when you see that a better job can be done. Encourage and reward employees for “bonding” activities with more tenured agents; rewards should be given to both the new and tenured agents. View examples of the new job morale curve, and create one that reflects your organization. This will be a very educational lesson. If you measure turnover annually, reducing new hire turnover will have a compound effect on your annual rate. However, measuring turnover quarterly or monthly results in greater accountability and responsibility for those who can affect it.
What Not to Do: Don’t just accept high turnover of newly hired agents as the “nature of the business.” Simple, inexpensive, cost-effective solutions are readily available when you understand the principles of “the power of small wins” or, as Brooks Mitchell says, what it means to “reward the daily homework.”
Bob Cowen is with Snowfly, provider of Internet-based employee incentives, recognition, and loyalty programs. For more information, call 877-766-9359 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
[From Connection Magazine – April 2012]