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The average contact center suffers from turnover rates in the double digits, with standard rates sitting between 30 and 45%. It’s a plague that costs contact centers millions every year. When you look at the long-term impacts of employees who head for the door, turnover costs can rack up to 3x an employee’s annual salary.  

And, with the Great Resignation predicting more than 50% of people will leave their jobs this year, it’s an issue that leaders can’t ignore. 

But high agent turnover doesn’t have to be another cost of doing business. There are strategies leaders like you can implement to reduce agent turnover. One of those strategies is adopting the stay interview. Richard Finnegan, author of the book The Power of Stay Interviews for Engagement & Retention, has helped contact centers save hundreds of thousands of dollars and reduce their agent turnover by 20% or more after adopting stay interviews. 

>> Download Now: 52 questions to ask your agents over coffee

How Can Stay Interviews Reduce Agent Turnover?

According to Richard Finnegan’s book, a Stay Interview is a structured 1:1 conversation between a leader and a direct report. Leaders ask questions to learn what motivates their team members, so they can keep them engaged and develop career plans to keep them. 

When you bring stay interviews to your contact center, supervisors can put together an action plan to address issues your agents bring to light during the interview. And, they get first-hand knowledge to find ways to improve each agent’s engagement. 

How Stay Interviews Have Helped Reduce Agent Turnover in Real Contact Centers 

1. Hilton Hotels

Several years back, the international hotel chain’s five contact centers averaged 55% annual turnover, and 50% of new agents failed to reach 90 days of employment.

They implemented stay interviews and asked managers to send a 90-day retention report to the CEO. Leaders conducted stay interviews with new hires at 30 days of employment and again at 90 days. With the information they gathered from the interviews, they pinpointed areas where leadership needed to take ownership, and they implemented new programs and training. Making these changes post-interview reduced agent turnover by 50% in only four months.

2. Novo 1

During a period of rapid expansion, Novo 1 struggled to retain agents. To increase employee headcount quickly, they had to first get a grip on their agent turnover. If turnover is through the roof, your hiring teams can’t keep up.

They started holding stay interviews with top agents. Their main goal was to discover what kept these agents anchored to the organization, so they could use the info to improve operations, benefits, and training for everyone. And, they started holding stay interviews with high-risk agents, too. If someone showed intent to leave the company or red flags popped up, they put a stay interview on the books. With these practices, they reduced agent turnover 20% in weeks.

>> Read Next: Learn how another top hotel chain, Marriott, delivers an exceptional experience

How to Implement Stay Interviews in Your Contact Center

Stay interviews are probably one of the easiest agent retention programs to execute. You don’t need extra budget, all you need is a few intentional questions and managers who dedicate time to having important conversations. 

How often you hold stay interviews depends on your business needs and your current turnover rates. If you notice high turnover in the first 90-days of employment, then you’ll want to concentrate on interviews after onboarding and a few months into each agent’s tenure. Or, if you notice agents typically leave after an important date, like their one-year anniversary, then you can hold these interviews a few months ahead of these milestones to prevent churn. 

For your contact center’s stay interviews, direct supervisors or managers need to set-up a 1:1 interview with their agents. Having these conversations face to face (or video to video) is essential to building trust with your agents. They’ll feel more open sharing what’s really on their mind when they can build rapport and stay engaged in the conversation.

The 5 Questions to Ask to Reduce Agent Turnover in Your Contact Center

Create a standard set of questions for your supervisors and any peer managers who might hold the stay interviews with your team. Make sure each question’s open ended, so agents can expand on their thoughts and feelings. Questions should encourage agents to discuss their motivations, goals, and frustrations with their current position and job duties.

Below is a set of five questions Richard Finnegan suggests in his book. We adapted them to fit the modern workplace:

  • What do you look forward to each day when you commute to work or start getting ready for the day?
  • What are you learning here? And what do you want to learn?
  • Why do you stay here?
  • When was the last time you thought about leaving? What prompted that thought?
  • What can I do to make your job better for you?

>> Learn More: Develop your agents with the right tools and training for a better experience

Stay Interview Best Practices

Don’t hold stay interviews and performance reviews at the same time. Stay interviews are a safe space for your agents to share their experience at work. It’s not the right time to share constructive feedback or bring performance data to the table. Turning an agent-focused stay interview into a performance evaluation diminishes trust. 

During the interviews, supervisors should ask probing and clarifying questions and encourage agents to elaborate as much as possible.

Keep in mind that agents may be hesitant to answer honestly – especially when you’re asking them if they’ve ever thought about quitting. Remember, this isn’t an interrogation. Remind them it’s okay to be candid and none of their answers will impact their position negatively.

After The Interview

After the interview, supervisors have tons of valuable info to shape action plans for a better agent experience. Using the details you learned from your team, create individual action plans for each agent and look for common themes in your conversations to see where you can improve the contact center environment as a whole. 

A few items your action plans can include:

  • What the supervisor will do next to improve engagement and career pathing.
  • What the agent will do next to enhance their skills and take some pieces of engagement into their own hands.
  • A timeline to complete the specific action items (for both leadership and the agent).
  • A date to meet for the next stay interview.

Documenting an action plan gets you and your agents on the same page and aligns everyone’s goals. It helps each person take ownership over action items and creates a feeling of connection that you’re working on a plan together. 

Stay Interviews Create Happier Agents

In a fast-paced environment, agents can feel lost in the shuffle or frustrated by policies and rules they don’t understand. Giving them an outlet to express their likes and dislikes lets them build a comfortable, open, and trusting relationship with supervisors and managers. That added connection fuels higher satisfaction.

And while the financial benefits of reducing agent turnover make a case for stay interviews alone, adding in the benefits of happier agents make the case even stronger. Because, then you’re not only reducing turnover, but you’re building a team of agents who are more engaged, happier, and performing at their best for your customers, too.


52 Questions to Ask Your Agents in 1:1s

How to start a 1:1 conversation to foster meaningful relationships with your agents

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We originally published this post on October 31, 2017, and we updated it for new insight on September 2, 2021.