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Good Help is Harder to Keep: Retaining Top-Performers

Admit it! Working in a contact center isn't always exciting, and when it is... that's not necessarily good. Contact Center Agent also isn't a title near the top of most fourth graders' wish lists: race-car driver, lawyer, astronaut, president, and pop-star have slightly more cachet. As a result, it can be a struggle for even the best contact centers to attract and retain top talent.

Demand for employees is constant, and with relatively low barriers to entry, people from all walks of life might find themselves working in a contact center. It may not be their dream job, but it pays the bills and has air conditioning. It could be an unexpected detour after a career setback, or perhaps it's a pre-requisite to the job they really want. Contact centers are popular with students; it is full-time work that can accommodate unusual schedules and hours. In the IT field, particularly, support roles are often viewed as a necessary rite of passage to doing the technical work that lured most to the industry.

Employee Retention

Many employees love contact center work, and they wouldn't leave if you paid them. However, that's not the norm for most organizations. We can't rely on finding the perfect employee to happily stay with us, doing the same repetitive work, until they retire. Instead, the trick is to maintain a steady flow of top-performers, engage them longer, and maximize their value to the organization during the short time we have them.

Determine What Drives Them

Companies have a huge blind spot when it comes to thinking about jobs. It's ironic because customers have a similar blind spot towards how their needs are met. We tend to think of jobs in terms of a to-do list that needs completing. We probably already know how to do the task, but there's just too much to do ourselves. When hiring, we're often looking for someone to complete our to-do list the way we would do it ourselves. It works, but it's not particularly interesting for the employee, and we could be missing a lot of value.

Bringing outside perspectives into an organization can be a real game-changer. At work, we tend to create our own echo chambers, stifling innovation and progress. Of course, it's important new employees gain an understanding of how we do things and why. Our evolution depends on an understanding of how outsiders perceive our work. Plus, it just makes employees feel good to know we're making an effort to learn from them. Not many bosses bother to learn from fresh-faced, minimum wage subordinates.

As you bring employees onboard, make a point to learn their long-term goals and aspirations, both personal and professional. If they don't have any, help them find some. If their aspirations aren't related to your business, investigate how this job might support them indirectly. Don't stop talking about these things just because you've settled in, keep the dialog going over the entire course of employment.

Employees appreciate managers who are interested in them as a person, not just a means to an end of the to-do list. Helping employees make progress toward their long-term goals can be rewarding for managers, too! Sharing in your employees' ambitions makes work more interesting, and it can help relieve fatigue and burn-out caused by the daily grind.

Focus Development on Common Ground

Once you determine employees' goals, look for ways business objectives and job activities might align with those goals. Even if the link is indirect or tangential, planning for employee development with their personal interests in mind will be much more successful, engaging, and demonstrate concern for their growth. As a result, the business may discover new ideas and solutions that improve operations, but they'll certainly retain a more-skilled employee longer.

My manager is particularly good at this strategy, and I'm confident that it's had a significant impact on how successful our team has been. We've derived several benefits and innovations from developing employees in ways that align with their interests. It won't surprise you that I've been obsessed with our survey since I was an intern, but it's not just a success story for me.

One of my colleagues is studying instructional design, and he put his skills to work developing an online training course to help our student employees find jobs once they graduate. Another, who's passionate about our diversity and inclusion mission, developed multilingual communication aids to help our walk-up staff describe complex computer parts and concepts to international students. Even part-time employees like to make the position their own. For one, her first love is photography. She takes photos of employees for their online profile and ID badges, and she uses her graphic design skills to create artwork for signage and social media. The list goes on, and on.

Learning what motivates your employees and identifying job growth and stretch opportunities that align with their personal aspirations is good for employees, and it's good for business. Not only have we kept these employees interested in the work we hired them for, but we've also been able to in-source projects that otherwise would have cost much more.

Photo © OpturaDesign - stock.adobe.com
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