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Managing Agent Turnover ... Before, During and After

Agent turnover isn't just a fire that needs to be fought back when it gets out of control. In fact, it’s something that call center management can actively manage.

Agent turnover, or attrition, is costly to the organization whether the cost of hiring and training or the harder-to-pinpoint cost of diminished customer satisfaction.

There are many reasons call center agents leave the organization, including job repetitiveness, boredom, family issues, fatigue from dealing with frustrated callers all day, scheduling conflicts, cultural differences with the callers being serviced, transportation issues, management issues, and a myriad of others.

Winning call centers know that agent attrition isn’t a battle that’s fought only on the call center floor: It begins before agents reach the floor and continues after they leave.

Hiring: The Right Fit Up Front

Interviews and reference checks are obviously at the top of the list for hiring success, but getting good candidates from the start is important. Start by performing a comprehensive job analysis to make sure that job descriptions are accurate and clear so that candidates and hiring personnel know when they’ve likely found a match.

It is possible for companies to combine interviews and reference checks with the powerful tool of objective data to support hiring decisions. Pre-hire assessment tools enable this approach.

One of the key benefits of using assessments is that they offer a solid platform from which you can improve your company’s recruiting efforts. With an objective assessment, you will begin to gather hard data that you can analyze and use to refine your process, thereby continually improving accuracy in determining quality candidates.

Know When Trouble’s Brewing

Whether your call center employs 10 agents or 10,000, identifying and addressing individual agent issues without knowing exactly what those issues are and which agents are being impacted might seem like an impossible task for call center operators.

One way to keep an eye on the health of your agent pool is to conduct employee satisfaction surveys and monitor and improve agent engagement (and act on the data!).

Additionally, performance management can help identify agent attrition triggers such as declining or fluctuating productivity, increased absenteeism or tardiness, drops in call quality, drops in voice tone on calls, increased off-phone time and poor performance against other agent-level key performance indicators.

People on the ground – that's right, your call center supervisors – are also part of the equation. They’re the once who’ll know first if your agents are showing visible signs of frustration or are simply drifting away.

Every instance of slippage doesn’t mean an agent’s on his or her way out the door, of course: In many cases, agents can be coached to the top of their game.

Lessons Learned: Exit Interviews

Of course, all agent attrition can’t be prevented, but your call center can learn from each agent that leaves. Exit interviews are the way to glean valuable information from the ashes. The important thing is to complete them consistently and for all departing agents and to use the information you gather from them to improve the hiring, training and coaching processes.

Exit interviews can certainly help determine why an employee has decided to leave an organization, but more importantly, they can help identify consistent trends, patterns and themes -- and, ultimately, to reduce future turnover.

The interview process and questions need to be consistent so that they can be complete and accurate. Your contact center really needs to know if agents are being pulled away – by more pay or better opportunity – or pushed away by poor management practices or dissatisfying culture.

Most contact centers find that the best way to do that is to use an independent third party to conduct exit interviews (with employee anonymity guaranteed) by phone, in person, and/or via secure Web sites. And third-party specialists are more likely than a company representative to possess the critical skills and understand the processes required for successful exit interviews. If third-party phone or in-person interviews are cost-prohibitive for your call center, you might try inviting all departing staff to complete a Web-based survey, and have a third party conduct actual interviews with only those employees the company truly regretted losing.

It’s recommended that all agents leaving voluntarily be interviewed, but don’t forget agents that leave involuntarily. There may be insights that can shed light on problem areas that led to their dismissal.

Finally, share the results. Top contact centers realize that many of the reasons agents leave are beyond management's control – lack of support/opportunities, micro-management, a blame-based culture, etc. – reasons that the center must share with senior managers and C-level executives if it hopes to raise awareness and receive support to make critical improvements.

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Michele Murdock — 12:07PM on Nov 10, 2011

Many of our call center customers confirm that agent attrition continues to be a significant issue, impacting productivity, cost and customer satisfaction. In fact "Top Ways to Reduce Attrition" was the topic of OpenSpan's luncheon discussion at the recent ICMI Executive Summit in Dallas. In addition to all your valid points Layne, there is no doubt that a challenging work environment contributes to agent dissatisfaction and turnover. It is often a stressful and demanding environment, requiring mastery of numerous software systems, extensive product/service knowledge, soft skills including sales and customer service abilities, etc. And then on top of that, we measure and analyze every aspect of their performance. That is why we feel that improving agent processes with automation - providing them faster access to the tools and information they need to do their jobs - can not only make their days less stressful, but can minimize the time they need to spend in training and allow the entire center to more rapidly adapt to changing business requirements. And at OpenSpan we believe "Happier Agents = Happier Customers."

Rose Polchin — 12:27PM on Nov 13, 2011

Thank you Layne for the great article and thank you Michele - I completely agree and second that "engaged employees" = "customer satisfaction/loyalty." Thank you for providing an example of an organization that follows and proves this is the "formula" for success!

Jen Freund — 9:23AM on Nov 15, 2011

Thank you Layne for the great article, and Michele I would have to agree that system processes can help an employee to be sucessful at their job- and sucessful employees are happier employees.

Jeremy Ellis — 3:25PM on Nov 30, 2011

I think it's important to note that several of these suggestions are reactive versus pro-active. Surveys, exit interviews and performance management processes most frequently highlight a trend that's already occurring - by the time these tools alert you to the issue, it may be too late (especially exit interviews).

One of the keys to reducing attrition is by involving your staff as owners of the business. When a QA form requires updating, do you involve agents in this process? When incentive programs are created, are agents or floor supervisors involved in their creation?

Fostering a culture where everyone is a business owner will go a long way at reducing turnover and increasing engagement (don't confuse engagement with satisfaction!).