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Expert's Angle: Using "The Power of Small Wins" to Reduce New-Hire Agent Turnover

If your call center operates as a profit center (sells, renews, retains, upgrades, converts, collects or solicits), improving retention of newly hired agents will have an immediate impact on your bottom line. Reducing the ongoing cost and effort of hiring and training new agents is one benefit but the real payoff is that KPI’s go up and rookie mistakes go down.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of "the power of small wins," it is discussed in the Harvard Business Review article The Power of Small Wins by Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer (see www.HBR.org to purchase and download a copy). The article contains excellent examples and lessons. It’s fairly easy to grasp the concept of the power of small wins; Snowfly Incentives founder Brooks Mitchell, Ph.D. describes it as "rewarding the daily homework" in his article "New Ways To Curb Employee Tardiness, Absenteeism and Turnover by Using Employee Selection and Online Games." In part of his very educational tutorial, Dr. Mitchell discusses rewarding early tenure to retain new-hires thus bridging the gap in the new job morale curve. The same principle applies to solving many other challenges. When a call center is a profit center, the consequences of new hire employee turnover multiply. The question is: how to apply the power of small wins to reducing new hire employee turnover at call centers that are profit centers?

Step into your shoes:
Near the end of every year, you receive numerous solicitations from charities for donations. Many arrive by mail and some via phone. Because a presidential election is not too far down the road, I can assure you that the volume of phone calls will significantly increase. These are just two examples of the many opportunities to sell you a product or service when they call you. There are numerous other pitches thrown your way when you call your bank, airline, insurance company, cable company, etc. If you count all of the "no, thanks" that you give and if you answered all of the inbound calls (rather than letting them go to voice mail), think of the total of all of the "no, thanks" you would utter.

Step into my shoes:
Let me suggest that you spend a few hours sitting with and listening to the calls of one of your recently hired agents. It’s important that you see his/her emotional state when doing this. How many "no, thanks" or similar rejections per hour do you hear? Could you remain positive and encouraged? Remember that the recently hired agent started the job with high expectations and then they find that almost all they hear is "no" (sometimes not spoken very courteously).

Where does this lead:
You know the answer; many of your agents become discouraged and start down a self-fulfilling slippery slope that leads out the door. They question their abilities and decision to join your organization; discouragement sets-in because they are steeped in negative rejections numerous times per hour. It’s a shock to their system (ego): am I cut out for this; is this what I want to do for the next few years; how do the others do this day-in and day-out; I feel so unproductive. Within the big picture, the few "yes, thanks" that are received become lost in the overwhelming sea of "no, thanks."

Small wins to the rescue:
Most organizations don’t review their employees frequently enough, especially newly hired agents. Yes, it can be a labor intensive process but so is replacing employees. Remember your days in grade school, high school and college? You received continuous feedback from grades, quizzes, papers and final exams. Good feedback reinforced your study habits. You always knew where you stood long before you received your final grade. Going into your final exam, you knew exactly what you must score to get a specific final grade for the course. You may not have realized it but you were the recipient of "the power of small wins."

What to do:
The simple answer is to amplify the incentive reward for every positive event for newly hired agents until they have accepted the fact that the day is usually going to be filled with negatives and frequent rejections. An "event" does not need to be a sale; it could be simply asking for the sale or some precedent activity. Offer constructive and positive guidance when you see that a better job can be done. Encourage and reward employees for "bonding" activities with more tenured agents; rewards should be given to both the new and the tenured agents. View examples of the new job morale curve and create one that reflects your organization. This will be a very educational lesson. If you measure turnover annually, reducing new hire turnover will have a compound affect on your annual rate. However, measuring turnover quarterly or monthly results in greater accountability and responsibility for those who can affect it.

What not to do:
Don't accept high turnover of newly hired agents as just the nature of the business. Simple, inexpensive, cost effective solutions are readily available when you understand the principles of "the power of small wins" or as Snowfly likes to say "reward the daily homework."

Bob Cowan is an advisor for the Internet-based employee incentives, recognition and loyalty programs provider Snowfly.