Turnover Solutions: Why Do Employees Leave the Nest?

By Dan Campbell

Contact centers have a reputation for notoriously high turnover rates, sometimes upwards of 200 percent depending on the industry. Some of the reason for that can be attributed to leaders focusing on improving the wrong metrics. Findings from the 2014 U.S. Contact Center Decision Maker’s Guide back that up: Contact centers place growing and maintaining staff numbers, employee attrition, and employee morale at the bottom of the list in terms of priority and expenditures while ranking improved customer satisfaction and revenue as top priorities.

But in order to reach their “top priority” goals, attention must be placed on lower priority items. It looks like this: Retaining experienced employees will cut down on expenditures, thus increasing revenues. Retaining trained, knowledgeable team members to interact with clients will improve customer satisfaction.

There is also the high price of employee turnover to consider. Actual turnover costs are multifaceted and include the expense of recruiting, training, and on-boarding new employees, drops in productivity, and negative employee morale. The Quality Assurance and Training Connection, an organization facilitating education and idea sharing for call center professionals, broke down the turnover costs for contact centers in its winter 2015 report. It estimated a price tag of more than $6,000 to replace a person making $12 per hour, which equates to more than $120,000 per year for twenty people. For centers that require a more extensive training program with longer ramp-up periods, the cost of turnover can exceed $12,000 per person.

Faced with the challenges of employee churn, tackling turnover should be a contact center’s top priority when striving for success.

Mastering Metrics: When tackling turnover, it’s important to understand the rate at which employees are leaving. Without an idea of what you’re faced with, it’s impossible to benchmark improvements. A simple calculation to determine turnover rate is to take the number of agents who left during a given time period (for example, sixty agents left in 2014), and divide it by the average number of agents employed during the same time period (say an average of 200 agents on payroll for the year), then multiple the result by 100 to generate a percentage. For this example, our contact center had a turnover rate of 30 percent in 2014.

Another metric to follow is the differentiation between voluntary and involuntary turnover. The reasons a supervisor is forced to terminate an employee are often different from the reasons an employee will cite when deciding to leave a job of his or her own volition. While both sets of issues are important and must be addressed, identifying which has the greater impact on your contact center’s bottom line will help prioritize an appropriate response.

Amassing this quantitative data will allow measurable goals to be set. However, there is a host of qualitative information that is also important to gather. Exit interviews are an excellent resource for understanding why employees are leaving. According to a report by Trostle & Associates titled Managing Hidden Costs of Contact Center Teams in the New Economy, the most valuable or reliable data is captured two to three months after the employee has left. By identifying why employees fly the coop, efforts can be focused on rectifying the root causes, such as poor communication of job expectations during the hiring process or failure to support employees after they’ve been on-boarded.

Tackling Turnover: Once an organization has established its turnover rates and identified some operational areas for improvement, the next step is to formulate a plan of action and execute on it. While increasing retention is a tangible aspiration, there are other factors to consider that are not quite so measurable, such as improving employee morale and engagement.

Recently the conversation at this year’s Contact Center Executive Forum (CCEF) in Atlanta centered on employee retention and engagement through building relationships. “The key to recruiting is retention,” said Mike Marrow, CEO of Qualfon and CCEF panelist. He went on to share that his company is obsessive about retention and starts “showing the love on day one.” Happy employees are more likely to stay, and engaged team members will yield higher productivity, therefore implementing programming to improve these variables is a sound strategy for any contact center.

Qualfon, for example, has started “fun clubs” for employees with similar interests, such as photography or origami, and the company provides some funding for these get-togethers. Companies like Qualfon say a focus on retention saves millions each year, and that’s a bottom line result worth the effort. Offering post-hire support to new recruits is a simple and cost-effective strategy to employ. Here are some ideas:

  • Have a welcome package for each new hire on his or her first day that includes a five-dollar Starbucks card or something tied more closely to the company.
  • Assign an internal coach or mentor who can advise the employee on day-to-day team interactions and provide guidance for working at the company.
  • Conduct periodic check-ins with company leadership to give employees a forum to offer feedback and help set them up to succeed.
  • Plan and budget for ongoing training at all levels of the contact center, and continue to make adjustments to best address the needs of the team.

Additionally, being fully prepared for new arrivals is guaranteed to make each person feel welcome. Having their desk, computer, passwords, phone, and any other equipment or support ready to go will ensure there is less lag or downtime involved while ramping them up to full speed.

Keeping employees engaged is the key to maintaining and improving productivity and reducing turnover. While monetary incentives are tried-and-true methods for encouraging performance, there are other ways of increasing engagement that doesn’t come in the paycheck:

  • Actively encourage and reward new ideas and innovation from all employees.
  • Assess effectiveness of current tools, technology, and procedures, involving employees in the process.
  • Frequently recognize individual employee success and provide different rewards, such as spa or batting cage certificates, gift cards, gaming console, or bonus paid time off.
  • Encourage a collaborative team environment through an employee recognition program that allows agents to recommend their colleagues for awards.
  • Implement a lunch-and-learn program for employees to build on current skills or learn new ones.

Supervisors are the front line to employee retention and should make it a point to know what motivates their charges. Encourage line managers to think of new ways to improve post-hire support and foster employee relationships based on what they know about their team.

There are always opportunities to improve the culture and efficiency of a contact center and retain happy employees. Standout companies are sharing ideas and positive results all the time. Measure the effectiveness of any new initiative and revise as needed to ensure fresh approaches toward meeting company goals. Tackling turnover and improving employee retention will set your contact center up for success thanks to an engaged and motivated workforce.

Dan Campbell is founder and CEO of Hire Dynamics and served as the 2014 Chairman of the American Staffing Association. Putting an average of 4,000 people to work every week, Hire Dynamics is a staffing provider specializing in contact and call centers, manufacturing facilities, logistics and e-commerce operations, and office support.

[From Connection Magazine Sep/Oct 2015]