Contact centers have struggled to retain agents for years. This directly impacts the centers’ ability to provide the high-quality customer service that people expect. It also impacts a contact center manager’s ability to develop agents. According to the Mercer’s 2016 U.S. Contact Center Survey, approximately 25 percent of newly hired agents voluntarily left their positions within the first six months. Contact center agents are usually in the early days of their professional careers. This gives you the chance to provide a unique opportunity to help entry level agents grow professionally and become more committed to your organization. Relatively high turnover can be expected with some entry-level jobs as employees look for ways to progress their careers, but there are still ways you can improve retention, so you can focus on developing your employees rather than continuously searching for new ones.
The Financial Costs
Recruiting, training, and job dissatisfaction are expensive endeavors for your business to undertake. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the average cost-to-hire in 2017 was $4,425. In other words, recruitment alone costs your company an average of $4,425 per agent. Next, you have to consider the cost of on-boarding and training new employees. This can vary by organization and scope of the agent’s role. For instance, think about the cost of training materials, the wage of those being trained and the wages of those doing the training. You do the math, I’ll wait here. I would venture to guess that most companies spend between $10,000-$20,000 per employee when considering all costs. Am I right?
This vicious cycle has become commonplace and, for many contact centers, is considered a “cost of doing business.” I’m here to say, this is only the cost of doing business if you sit around and wait for retention to improve by itself. Accepting that a quarter of your new hires will leave within six months is not business savvy – and in most other areas of business, would be considered reckless.
The Agent Performance Costs
When your contact center has a revolving door of agents, every bit of your business can feel the toll. Take a look at four ways poor hiring impacts your agents.
- Company culture. The people you hire directly impacts the experience your agents have while they’re at work. And when you lack a consistent workforce, you forfeit the ability to develop a culture around your agents’ interests and skills. It’s harder to provide upward mobility and in-depth training to your current workforce when you’re constantly training the next batch of agents — many of whom will only be around a few months.
- Agent engagement. Part of agent engagement is the ability to connect with colleagues and managers in the workplace. When agents are constantly meeting and seeing new faces, it makes them less likely to connect and develop strong working relationships.
- Productivity. It can take up to a year to get a new employee to be fully productive. Agents are busy learning company procedures, understanding the culture, and grasping the technical aspects of the job. When your workforce is not at full capacity, it takes a toll on productivity, including more dropped calls and agent effectiveness.
- Customer satisfaction. If approximately 25 percent of your workforce is new and in training, then you can almost guarantee your KPIs will be lower than they should be. Things like customer satisfaction, service level, first call resolution, and quality, among others, will be affected by your turnover.
Hiring the wrong agent is detrimental to performance costs and has a wide-ranging negative impact on a company’s business strategy, profitability, and the overall view of the company as a place of work. If you focus on hiring right, first, you’ll lift some of the financial burdens from your company’s plate and create a more positive company outlook.
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How You Can Improve
- Benchmark your retention rate. And be honest. Know where you are today and where you want to be.
- Focus on agent engagement. Don’t just measure engagement, actually work on improving it based on feedback from your employees.
- Improve your company culture. Sure, you may not have the capacity to make changes in your marketing department or in sales, but you can lead a shift in the culture by implementing a few changes in your contact center. For instance, celebrate your wins with your team, and create a culture of feedback. Use your technology to coach in-the-moment and empower your agents.
- Streamline your training process. Many companies schedule a two-week, classroom training course to throw a ton of information at new agents. Yes, this is important. However, throw in some call shadowing, icebreaker games, and downtime to chat with current agents in a setting that’s not so formal.
- Coach and develop agents. We all know to complete regular 1:1’s and yearly performance reviews. But, it’s also important to provide in-the-moment coaching and in-line training, so you’re giving your agents feedback that’s actionable and relevant. Don’t just focus on managing, but aim to help develop your agents as professionals.
- Set clear expectations. What does this look like? It means having guidelines and documents for agents to follow and giving agents clarity on metrics and monthly goals.
- It’s important to listen and make sure agents feel heard. That doesn’t necessarily mean every interaction requires a full overhaul of your process, but take to heart your agents’ feedback, ask questions to clarify your understanding, and find a solution or realign expectations that may be off key.
- Conduct exit interviews. This allows you to get feedback on an individual’s experience, and find ways to improve. The agents who leave your contact center can provide insanely valuable feedback on WHY they weren’t happy working at your company. You can find out if there’s not enough opportunity for advancement, if you need to bring pay up to market speed, or if there’s a problem with the work environment. Using the feedback you gather gives you fodder to push for change from the top, so you can focus on retention and eliminate all the extensive costs that come with it.
If you keep your agents at top of mind, you’ll be successful. Think about the long-term effects of retaining a larger pool of agents and all the benefits it will bring.