For most contact centers, the 2020 crisis started a chain reaction of unplanned changes and unforeseen consequences. We all know that for this particular industry, the agent turnover rate was never great to begin with. Let’s see how the rapid changes in technology and workflow influenced one of the most important metrics and constant struggles for call centers: employee retention – and what can we do about it, based on what we’ve learned so far.
The quick fixes allowing centers to keep delivering during the dreaded social distancing measures proved to be quite effective. After one year of damage control activity, the hybrid and fully remote models showed surprisingly efficient and cost-effective results. So much so, that an important number of players in the contact center industry are considering transitioning from the old brick and mortar model.
Of course, moving some or all of the operations to the cloud, had, at the beginning, one purpose and one purpose only: to have people working from home. In the heat of the moment, the main focus was to find a quick and reliable way to keep the business running. And remote-work played a big part in this.
Call Center turnover rate and remote work
After one year of dealing with this worldwide remote experiment, we can now see that the turnover rate becomes a critical aspect of a functioning contact center. Not that it wasn’t critical before, but because there was not much that could be done about it, people usually swept it under the rug and accepted it as part of the business.
Unfortunately, while displaying obvious other benefits, opting for a remote team of agents seems to only worsen the turnover rate. The already low retention rate is now being influenced by the well-known work-from-home alienation issues, lack of engagement, ineffective management and improper agent training.
Of course, this is just a minor inconvenience when we factor in all the benefits of having a remote team. But ignoring it is not an option either.
Determine what causes a high agent turnover
We all know that the process of hiring and training new agents is extremely costly. Besides the obvious financial efforts, one has to factor in the time spent for the recruitment process. This is why, first and foremost it is crucial to try to do something about it.
The first step is to learn as much as possible the whys behind the agent’s motivation to leave the company. And you can have direct access to this information by having an exit interview and/or an exit survey. Also consider having an anonymous surveying system where people can submit their grievances without the fear of being singled out for it.
Keep in mind that you are trying to find out the more subtle motivations, affecting those areas that you can actually improve. Nothing will stop an agent to leave if he or she believes that working for a call center is a dead end or if they see this as a summer job.
The internet is full of good and not so good advice on how to reduce the agent turnover rate. But when it comes to improving this metric in a remote environment, the information is rather scarce. And rightfully so, since we are only now starting to understand the impact it can have both on small and large centers.
So, is there something you can actually do to get out of the vicious cycle of having to hire and let go agents from one season to another? Well, yes.
• Leverage flexibility. Data from 2020 shows that a staggering 81% of employees would be more loyal to their employer if flexible work would be an option. This is huge, and would be one of the most effective and impactful decisions, if your business model can accommodate flexible working hours.
• Find a balance between compensation and workload. This is another major concern for your average employee. Luckily this is another easy fix, if you use a full featured virtual platform. A proper software solution should be able to offer complex reporting capabilities, making it super-easy to implement a merit-based compensation system.
• Offer proper training and onboarding support. In terms of training, I would suggest going for a virtual classroom (when working with more than one agent) or one-on-one sessions. Pre-recorded video materials can work also, but don’t neglect the personal interaction element. This is crucial for building employee engagement. Also, make sure you are using a software solution with a friendly and easy to use agent interface. Nothing gets the agent down like a confusing and less than intuitive dashboard…
• Bond. In an office environment, this is more of an organic phenomenon. People interacting face to face on a daily basis develop a higher in-group sense. Personal bonds and friendships are some of the most quoted reasons why people think twice before leaving a company. But how do you achieve this in a remote environment? Well, it won’t be easy, but you might try setting up a video platform / video room and try to get people to interact on a regular basis (happy hour, coffee together, virtual yoga sessions etc.)
A word of encouragement
The turnover rate was always one of the biggest challenges facing our industry. And indeed, going remote seems to make it even worse. However, the benefits of having a fully functional remote contact center totally outweigh the downside of a high turnover rate.
I have been in the industry long enough to know that if a problem is serious enough, the community will come together to solve it. As far as the turnover rate is concerned, I believe that the real challenge is not as much the work from home model, but the overall reputation our industry has on the employee market.
I believe that our duty in the long run as leaders, managers and owners is to take call/contact centers off the summer-jobs list and start projecting a different image of our industry. Address the root cause of the problem and everything else will follow…