Contact Center Retention: A Supervisor’s Job

Aug 26, 2008 11:30 PM  By

Everyone knows contact centers have high turnover rates. But many managers have little idea of what this churn is doing to their operations. They think they are helpless to do anything about it.

But that’s a dangerous attitude. Most agents don’t stay with a contact center for more than two years, and it takes at least a year to train and develop a new one. Meanwhile, customer service declines.

Not only that, it’s expensive to recruit and train new agents. Some of the costs include:

–Recruiting: Normally, you have to run print or other forms of advertising, go to job fairs, and conduct promotions.
–Hiring: Your human resource department must process applications and screen employees. And contact center staffers must take time to interview candidates.
–Training: It takes money to run training facilities, hire teacher and produce student training materials. And the effort has to be ongoing.
–Supervision: The cost of additional supervisory time to assist new staff in their early learning stages.
–Unproductive paid time: That’s the money you spend on wages during the initial training period when staffers are not yet available to process calls.
–Overtime costs: The expense of paying overtime to existing staff to cover call workload during understaffed periods.

In addition to these hard-dollar costs, there are “hidden” expenses, particularly if the contact center is a revenue-producing operation. You can lose sales during while recruiting, training, and getting the employee up to speed.

So what can you do?

As we discussed in Part 1 of this two-part series, your contact center supervisors are on the frontline of managing attrition. They are the ones who deal with your agents every day—and they are in the best position to address their personal wants and needs. Therefore it is wise to train them in how to reduce attrition rates.

In the book, “Love Em or Lose Em,” authors Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans present an A-to-Z guide to improving staff retention in all types of organizations. The general business strategies presented in the book can be adapted for use in the contact center.

Here is what you should be telling your managers, as spelled out in “A SUPERVISOR’S JOB:”

A – Ask. You should regularly ask your subordinates what things about the contact center make them happy and what things would make them leave. These things will vary with each person, but you may want to file them and refer to them periodically to ensure that each person’s needs are being met on a regular basis.

S – Scheme. Next, have a scheme in place for the employee’s success. This should cover training, performance improvement, and a career path plan. The latter should map out several options based on the person’s aptitudes and desires. Some changes will be vertical moves upward while others may simply be enrichment opportunities.

U – Understand. Take the time to listen to feedback and understand your staff’s concerns. Have trouble listening? Almost everyone can improve skill—there are many exercises that can help you practice it.

P – Passion. There’s more to life than work. Allow your employees to bring their passions to the contact center. Ask them what they love to do, and find a way to facilitate—at work. For example, you can throw an employee-led scrapbook party once a month. Or you can organize a sports team, support children’s class projects or create a flexible schedule so that people can volunteer.

E – Enrich. We’re not talking only about money. Employees also need to grow. Rotate assignments, build teams, combine tasks, and support individual goals.

R – Reward. Positive actions must be rewarded—that is, if you want employees to repeat them. These rewards should come often and be attached to specific behaviors—soon after happen. Some recognition should be private, some public.

V – Values. Practice what you preach. Serve as a role model. Teach your staffers how to support the company’s mission and values. And demonstrate those behaviors yourself.

I – Information. Don’t hold back—share relevant information with your staffers. Keep them up to date on news on the contact center, company and industry. You can do this through a newsletter, bulletin boards, emails, and face-to-face conversation. Let them know how they’re doing on the job, too.

S – Space. This is as important as anything when it comes to retaining people. Personal space must be adequate—and respected.

O – Opportunity. Look for ways for employees to succeed and grow. Stop focusing on what people are doing wrong—and tell them what they’re doing right. Then reward them for it. You should always be on the lookout for growth and career opportunities for your staff.

R – Rules. Every company has values (or should). Make sure you grasp them yourself, and then communicate them to the people who report to you. Some rules will concern performance, others the work environment. People should come away with the belief that your company is fair and consistent.

S – Spur. Okay, encourage employees to learn and grow. Many contact centers have both formal and informal mentoring programs in place where a supervisor or team lead serves as a model for the job to encourage and nurture employees, as well as to teach them organizational realities.

J – Jester. Look for ways to have fun on the job. Most contact centers have a constant flow of games, contests, and activities. These efforts result in a more pleasurable work experience, a sense of teamwork, higher job satisfaction, and lower turnover.

O – Outside Concerns. Do you really know your subordinates? Do you understand their lives outside the job? Try to support them. Go the extra mile to have a family friendly workplace, where family members (and even pets!) are recognized and welcome in the center.

B – Buck Stops Here. Know who’s responsible for employee turnover? That’s you—you’re accountable for staff retention. And we’re going to train you in the supervisory and leadership techniques you need.

A Word on Retention Planning

Every contact center should have a strategic staff retention plan. Many contact centers base supervisory bonuses, in part, on acceptable levels of staff turnover.

You also have to figure out why agents leave the center. Conduct exit interviews, and also ask long-term employees why they stay. Don’t just assume that turnover is inevitable—fix all the elements under your control and you will be rewarded with a loyal and steady staff.

Penny Reynolds is a founding partner of The Contact Center School, a Nashville, TN-based consulting and education company.