While turnover is at an all-time high in today’s general workplace, the average call center turnover statistics are downright dismal. In fact, according to the 2016 U.S. Contact Decision Makers’ Guide, the average annual turnover rate for agents in US contact centers is 29%, with an average lifespan of just 3.3 years. In Canada, call centers fare slightly better with an average agent lifespan of 4 years. The UK’s agent turnover rate is approximately 20%, with an average lifespan of 5 years. While these numbers are low, the situation is even more dire elsewhere. In India, an agent’s lifespan is only 2 years, and it’s even worse in the Philippines where the highest agent turnover rates have resulted in an average agent lifespan of just 18 months.
This overall high call center attrition rate is understandable: CS agents face a grinding daily routine with multiple challenges, frustrated customers, limited work environments and often on a low pay scale, which makes it inevitable that some customer service agents will experience burnout.
We know that humans have the capacity to endure and persevere over difficulties. With call center agents, the key is to provide them with the right reasons to persevere.
Agent Attrition: An outside view
As a visual engagement platform, we at TechSee spend a significant amount of time at call centers all over the world. A big part of our job is understanding how to help agents perform more effectively. Interestingly, we have found barriers to agent excellence repeat themselves over and over, no matter the industry or size of the enterprise. And there is one core obstacle at the root of those barriers: Agent motivation.
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Call centers that manage to motivate their agents have consistently better success across KPIs, as well as a lower attrition rate and better customer satisfaction scores. Call centers staffed with agents who are not sufficiently motivated suffer from a snowball effect of growing levels of frustration, high attrition rates, struggling KPIs and problematic customer service scores.
Countless articles have been written about ways to avoid attrition in the call center. From our vantage point – from the outside looking in – we have seen dozens of call centers transform into higher performing organizations based on implementing one “secret’ ingredient” to the mix: giving the agents purpose at work.
Path to Motivation
Aaron Hurst is a globally recognized entrepreneur and CEO of Imperative, a career development platform that helps professionals discover, connect and act on their purpose in their work. In a recent interview, he explains that purpose is achieved when employees clearly see the impact of their work on the organization, and consider the success of the organization and the people around them as their personal mission. When employees feel they are providing value via their everyday tasks, and are trusted for their knowledge, expertise and integrity, their workday is transformed from a set of mundane tasks into an opportunity for purposeful connections.
This idea is expanded upon by Daniel Pink, NY Times Bestselling author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us . He believes that the key to motivation, particularly for more complex tasks, is providing a sense of autonomy or self-direction, mastery or the desire to get better and better at something that matters, and purpose or doing what we do in the service of something larger than oneself.
Call centers that provide agents with a sense of purpose, a degree of autonomy within the constraints of their work, and the tools necessary to develop mastery in their field, will lower their agent attrition rate, and enhance their overall performance.
Here are some good practices and specific ideas we’ve culled from customer service organizations that have been successful at motivating their agents through a sense of purpose.
Build and promote a customer service brand as an integral part of the company
We’ve witnessed companies transform their attrition rate (and their overall customer care quality) through internal campaigns stressing the importance and celebrating the value of customer service and agents. Simply sharing success stories and corporate pride around quality service goes a long way in motivating CS agents to do their part to ensure the company’s success.
Agents who clearly see how their team and individual contributions are important to the overall picture are imbued with a sense of pride that will be evident in every one of their customer interactions.
Give agents as much autonomy as possible in their interaction with customers
While scripts and protocols are unavoidable in a contact center, they can backfire when it comes to agent motivation. An unengaged agent is one who sees his role as merely reciting answers with no regard for personal judgement. High performing call centers aim to ensure their agents care about the customers and use their creativity to help solve problems. This can be achieved through trust – empowering agents to make personal judgment calls in their interactions with customers.
Allowing agents to take ownership of specific activities will make them feel important and acknowledged.
There are many examples we’ve seen but the best one relates to refunds. We’ve seen a first line call center agent performance change dramatically over a short period of time when management experimented with trusting first line agents with customer refunds (up to a cap), rather than having them pass these calls to second-tier support. The results were astounding. When agents were allowed to make customer-facing decisions based on their own judgment, they became invested in every customer interaction. All KPIs improved as agents had better tools and were more focused on achieving resolution. Customer satisfaction rose and agents satisfaction increased dramatically.
Empower agents to gain mastery in their positions
Providing agents with tools and solutions to extend their abilities, enabling them to gain mastery and provide better service, is a powerful way to give them purpose. Call centers and customer service arenas have become more complex than ever before. In the past, agents’ work was phone and script based only. Today, agents must be able to webchat, transition seamlessly between multiple channels and use sophisticated solutions such as visual support to resolve technical matters. Providing agents with top notch solutions and encouraging them to improve and perform better using those tools goes a long way in raising their sense of value and increasing the pride they feel in their work.
Ask your agents for feedback and make it count
Engage with your agents and ask for their view on how service can be improved. Show them that their opinion matters. Prove they can create change in their organization and in their customers lives by implementing their ideas. At the end of the day, an engaged agent knows your customer better than anyone else in your organization.
We’ve seen motivation grow when agents are asked to share feedback based on their acquired knowledge and valuable insights into the customer experience.
Place quality metrics on par with productivity metrics
While efficiency metrics like Average Handling Time are critical to a high-performing call center, placing too much emphasis on agent productivity metrics will have a negative impact on their level of interaction with customers, and ultimately affect customer satisfaction. By focusing too much on productivity metrics, the agents get the message that the length of time spent on the phone is more important than the customer. Though it may not be suitable for every organization, call centers that can balance efficiency KPIs with those that measure success (first call resolution) and customer satisfaction (NPS) find the effects on agents are highly positive.
Agents are recognized for good work
Taking the time to create a fair incentive and recognition strategy can go a long way in driving agent loyalty. Recognizing employees for personal excellence makes them feel valued. Keep in mind that recognition does not necessarily have to be monetary. Verbal and written praise in company forums, monthly team ceremonies, shift preference, reserved parking or an earned day off, are all simple ways to reduce agent burnout and churn.
At its core, customer service is about communication. Ensuring the agent representing the company is in the best possible position to facilitate a successful customer interaction is the key to developing a high performing support organization. Our experience of implementing Visual Support across call centers worldwide – large and small – has given us the thousand-foot-view of one of the clearest factors of call center success – motivated agents who feel a sense of purpose in coming to work every day.
Those agents approach every part of their day ready to succeed, whether it’s learning a new system, interacting with their peers or solving a problem for a customer.
While churn is a challenge that must be managed across all call centers, we have found that Management that takes specific steps to help their agents find their sense of purpose will be well positioned to maintain a steady – and satisfied – workforce.