Building a People-First Culture: Call Center Do’s and Don’ts

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Leaf Home Call Center

The Great Resignation has people quitting their jobs in record numbers. A recent NPR report noted that 4.3 million Americans quit in August, setting a new record after resignations in prior months shattered records all summer. Attrition is up across all industries, so it’s a headache no matter what business you’re in, but if your company has a call center, chances are you already had a turnover problem.

High turnover is typical for call centers, with averages in the 30-45 percent range before the pandemic and some call centers experiencing well over 100 percent turnover now. But the good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. Given the important role call center agents play in establishing and maintaining positive and productive customer relationships, lowering call center attrition is a great investment.

I lead the human resources team at Leaf Home, a company that employs hundreds of people at our call centers. We’ve had our share of turnover challenges in the past. We addressed the issue head on and are proud of our low turnover relative to others in this space, which means employees stay with us long term and have the institutional knowledge and positive attitude that contribute to a great customer experience. There’s no “one special trick,” but we do use proven methods that can work for you, too.

Don’t forget that the call center agent is the face of your company to customers.

Too many company leaders seem to think of their call center people as warm bodies that temporarily occupy chairs to take orders, set up appointments, etc. They see them as interchangeable and ultimately disposable. I’ve seen this happen in businesses that treat other employee groups well, and in that scenario, there is typically little interaction between the call center staff and their coworkers.

Maybe because call center turnover is typically high, these leaders don’t bother investing in call center employees because they think agents will leave anyway. But that creates a vicious circle that hurts the company and agents; the company treats agents as disposable, and they lose call center staff. Keep in mind that call center agents are the face of the company to customers and treat them accordingly—in fact, they’re likely the first person your customers are speaking to.

Do invest in your people to reduce turnover, eliminate distractions and inspire a positive attitude.

As everyone in HR knows, employees who are happy and engaged are more productive on the job. Call center agents who are content because their basic needs are met will deliver a better experience when they’re interacting with customers, which is why it’s a good idea to think about what challenges your call center team faces and look for ways to address them to improve focus.

When we redesigned our call center at Leaf Home, we created an upscale, home-like workplace with full kitchens and relaxation areas with music where employees can unwind. We provide transportation benefits that reduce the hassles of commuting. We offer competitive pay, paid healthcare coverage for full-timers, and perks like free meals. As a result, our call center employees are less distracted, more likely to stay with us and more focused on customers.

Don’t isolate call center employees from the rest of your team.

One common mistake I’ve seen companies make is to treat the call center almost as if it were a separate, less important part of the business. There’s little to no interaction between call center employees and colleagues in other business units. The steps the company takes to create a cohesive culture, i.e., professional development, team-building exercises, social events, etc., don’t apply to the call center.

Integrating the call center into the rest of the business is a better approach. It provides opportunities for cross-pollination that can pay huge dividends in process improvement and product development efforts. So, make sure the call center team shares in the benefits their colleagues in other units enjoy, including competitive compensation and benefits programs and incentive plans to reward great performance.

Do keep it simple.

Another mistake I’ve seen business leaders make is creating an overly complex workflow that confuses call center agents. Technology can make the call center job easier, but if you implement a “one-size-fits-all” platform that has too many bells and whistles, it can be challenging for an employee to be successful. This is particularly true when there is a higher percentage of people new to their career or parents who are rejoining the workforce after years away.

At Leaf Home, we provide our call center team with a tech platform we built in-house that matches our internal workflow. Our mantra in the design of our system is “keep it simple” so that agents can focus on the customer instead of the technology tools. Remember, it’s not a brain surgery center — it’s a call center. So, provide a workflow and tech stack that support call center operations.

Don’t forget to put people first when building your culture.

Lastly, don’t forget that your people are what make your business successful, so recognize the importance of the role everyone plays and create a people-first culture to reward them and support their efforts. When your call center people qualify leads, answer customer questions about products, set up demos, etc., they are also making a first impression of your company with customers.

You need energetic, knowledgeable, focused and satisfied call center people to make that first impression count, so put them at the center of your culture. At Leaf Home, the investments we’ve made in creating a people-first culture have paid off in terms of high growth, low turnover and satisfied customers. Our approach can work at your company, too.

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