employee engagement and retention

Keeping your Contact Center Agents in their Seats: Employee Engagement is the Answer to the Aches and Pains of Attrition

When was the last time someone called into your customer service team just to tell your agents they’re doing a great job? Has it ever happened? Probably not — or at least not often. Your agents are your company’s fixers. They’re cleaning up messes left by someone else, with a customer who’s (rightfully) angry about the mess they’re in. What do you think that does to your agents’ moods?

It doesn’t make your agents happier about representing your company.

New agents can, of course, feel overwhelmed about giving real, valuable help to your customers in their new roles. But, as their competency increases, they tend to get bored and cynical. When employees get bored, their judgment, goal-oriented planning, risk assessment, focus, and emotional control suffer. In fact, psychologists have linked boredom directly with burnout. And burnout leads to attrition. Fundamentally, there’s a twofold problem ushering your agents out the door: lack of engagement at the agent level leads to lower quality and productivity, and there are corresponding costs associated with unnecessary agent attrition.

How do you maintain good service and limit excessive turnover?

Of course, every industry deals with attrition, but the rates of turnover for contact centers are high, resting between 35 to 45 percent. What are some of the effects of this? Aside from the managerial hours spent on offboarding and onboarding new agents every few weeks, attrition causes inefficiencies on all fronts.

Contact Babel’s report found that failure to retain talented employees can erode customer satisfaction and increase operating costs. Each new agent hire is estimated to cost the contact center $10,000 to $20,000 in training, direct recruiting costs, and lost productivity during ramp up. Imagine if you had to hire four or five replacements every month. That would cost you upwards of  $100,000 every month just for the new hires!

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This isn’t sustainable. Not to mention the effect it has on the quality of service you deliver. When a contact center is constantly on the defensive, outwardly looking for new hires, the internal issues and processes get ignored. What’s the answer?

Recent studies have found that when a company is willing to pour resources into existing employees through employee engagement, turnover will decrease up to 60 percent. Have I gotten your attention?

What engaged employees will do for your company.

Let’s take a look at what employee engagement does fundamentally for your company. The idea is simple, really. If you invest in your employees, they’ll be willing to invest in you. It’s like any other relationship — whether with friends, family, or your customers — your employees will care more about their work if they feel their employer values them and what they have to offer.

As the nature of contact center work grows increasingly complex, customers’ expectations of good quality service is increasing. The agent’s job is now rarely just reading something off the screen. They have to be empathetic to the customer and use their initiative to solve the issue and remain focused on answering the next call just as effectively. It takes engaged and empowered employees to meet the needs of your customers. They should strive to go above and beyond for your customers to deliver the best service that benefits the customer and company mutually.

Gallup puts it simply: engaged employees make it a point to show up to work and do more work.

They report that highly engaged teams see a 41 percent reduction in absenteeism and a 17 percent increase in productivity. When your employees care about the company and recognize they are a valuable asset to the organization, they respect your company.

Aside from just showing up to work regularly, engaged employees are looking to grow professionally. They look for ways to grow personally and help your company grow. They think creatively and innovatively to make processes better. And, there are plenty more benefits to engagement for your agents and for your company.

Take a look at some more benefits of engaged employees in our recent post on the topic.

Not only will engagement encourage employees to come to work and work harder, but it encourages your workers to stay with the company longer. In order to combat attrition, it’s important to know what’s motivating turnover.

Know why your employees are leaving you.

Every company and contact center has its quirks. Often, when an employee chooses to leave a job it’s for a myriad of reasons. When you boil it down, though, there are few common reasons employees choose to exit their job. Gallup has found the most common explanations employees give when voluntarily exiting their job are:

  • career growth opportunities
  • pay and benefits
  • manager or management
  • company culture
  • job fit

Contact Babel found in their 2018 report that some of the top reasons contact centers faced high attrition were due to a lack of development opportunities, low pay, and, excessive pressure or stress. Some contact center employees live in frustration over poor resources and lack of training. It’s important to identify the source of pain for your employees before you can solve turnover.

Through exit interviews, 1:1 conversations, and engagement surveys you can begin to gauge the pressure points for your agents. Do they feel underpaid for their work? Are they exhausted by inflexible schedules and strict procedures and scripts? Maybe they feel stuck and unable to grow professionally. Before implementing engagement, find what is making employees leave.

Engagement tactics to fight for retention

So, we know that engagement has a strong influence over retention. But, where do you begin?

Let’s consider a few areas to start to strengthen engagement.

1. Hiring and Onboarding

Hiring the right people is essential to maintain retention. The first step to better retention is making sure you refine your standards for employment. Know what you’re looking for in the ideal employee. What skills will be needed from your agents and what are your hires hoping for in a new job. Be proactive by asking pointed questions during the interview process, you can narrow your search and find new hires who are interested in staying for longer than a few months. We’ve even written on this topic. Check out our blog laying out the skills every agent should have.

After you hire your agents, kick off your retention efforts with onboarding and training. The first few weeks for your new agents can determine their impression on the company as a whole. Gallup finds that only 12 percent of employees strongly agree that their organization does a great job onboarding new employees. This failure can damage the emotional bond between the new hire and the company. It’s a connection that can make or break retention. When you welcome your new hires and prepare them for their first interactions with customers, you set them up for success.

2. Culture

Don’t underestimate the power of community in the workplace. Culture and people can determine whether someone stays at the same job. A strong culture is important to make employees feel cared for. Benefits and perks aren’t everything, but they are simple ways to show your agents that the company cares for their well-being.

Outside of the usual benefits that can come with a job — the occasional free lunch, parties, healthcare, and retirement plans — show you value culture by spending time as a team talking through the aches and pains of the job. Have one-on-one time with each agent to offer feedback on performance. But, also use that time to let them air any grievances.

Maybe they’re frustrated with a clunky process or have a particular customer who’s persistently difficult. Give your agents the time to feel heard. And show them that their feedback can lead to changes. This shows your agents that their voice makes an impact on the team and the organization as a whole.

Culture is hard to pin down and apply to your team. Start by researching different role models to see how you can adopt a contact center culture that supports your company vision.

3. Career Advancement

McKinsey has found that one of the primary reasons an employee will stay in a job is an opportunity for promotion or career advancement. It makes sense. Everyone wants to feel like they’re progressing and growing more successful. Your contact center agents want this just as much as the next person.

Unfortunately, the role of a contact center agent is generally perceived as a temporary job — a stepping stone for the next, better job. How do you keep agents around long enough to reach their fullest potential? Meet them where they are. Acknowledge with them that being a front line agent might not be their dream career, but it can be incredibly valuable for their development. HubSpot reports that 30 percent of customer service professionals said they wanted a more senior role in a service organization, while only 15 percent said they wanted a role outside of a service organization. It’s likely your agents have a planned trajectory for their career within the industry.

It’s important to sit down with each new hire and see what job they’re striving for. Personalize the experience in the contact center for them by showing how aspects of the job can lead them to grow towards their career dreams. And, give them chances to grow. Incentivize hard work by building roles that allow an employee to stay on the team but take on greater responsibility. Delegate some managerial responsibilities to strong employees. When you take into account your employees’ strengths, they’ll be more inclined to stay on the job longer.

Engaging your employees doesn’t have to be a costly investment. Its benefits vastly outweigh any time and energy it takes to pour into your workforce. Engage your agents, and they’ll want to continue working for you.

Employee engagement and retention can start with a few changes in mindset and your willingness to rally your employees around a shared purpose. Check out our recent post about how to build a common vision for your contact center team.