Cramped in a cubicle for 9-10 hours a day, leashed to a desktop, answering calls of angry and frustrated customers, and getting paid $10/hour is not exactly a lucrative profile. While not every call center fits the description above, many do. Call center agents and employees have high rates of burnout, poor performance, turnover and many ask why.
What’s disturbing is that in many organizations, high agent turnover, and burnout is in some ways part of the plan, which make companies perceive them as a ‘necessary evil’. This notion is widely accepted in many call centers - call center attrition is inevitable due to the stressful, monotonous and restrictive nature of work. But not everybody is cynical. There are call centers that truly understand the challenging work of agents, and recognize ways to engage and inspire agents to counter the undesirable impacts. So how exactly do the best of call centers achieve high levels of agent engagement and retention?
Focus on Metrics that Drive Positive Agent Experience
Craving and holding on to straight productivity metrics is probably the easiest way to malign employee morale and retention. Organizations talk about being employee and customer focused but end up focusing too much on metrics like Average Handling Time, Average Calls Handled, etc, Focusing too much on straight productivity metrics are part of devising strict performance targets that compel agents to do whatever it takes to achieve their targets. This not only destroys the agent’s soul but also customer satisfaction. Organizations should start emphasizing more on metrics like Contact Quality, Customer Satisfaction, etc that are customer-centric and employee focused. Focusing on these metrics would drive other metrics to fall in the same line.
Maintain a Culture of Agent Ownership
Call center agents are a wealth of skills and knowledge. The kind of knowledge that can truly help organizations who wish to steer their activities more customer-focused. Since they interact with customers the most, they understand what the customers want and need. Allowing agents to take ownership of few campaigns and activities will help both the company in garnering key customer insights and also agents in making them feel important and acknowledged.
Reward and Recognize Best Performing Agents
Recognizing or acknowledging outstanding performance is easily overlooked by the higher-ups. It’s the easiest approach to mending agent-management relationships, build trust and restore energy to the workplace. Recent research state that employees with supportive supervisors are 1.3 times more likely to stay with the company and are 67% more engaged. Most agents put in a lot of effort in delighting customers which typically goes unrewarded. The best call centers provide incentives and recognitions to agents that go the extra mile in delivering superior customer experience. This inspires agents to keep doing the kind of things they are doing or better. Regular rewards boost employee morale and make them feel valued and important in the organization. Investing time in devising an incentive and recognition strategy can help reap enormous dividends for the center.
Empower Agents Beyond Answering Phone Calls
Like I said earlier, call center agents possess a wealth of skills, experience, and knowledge that is waiting to be used. Empowering them to use their experience and knowledge to come up with better strategies and ideas can improve both processes and employee retention. Empowering agents off their phones to help improve processes can show a hugely positive impact on agent turnover. By giving agents opportunities on critical issues create a strong culture of agent engagement and morale.
Perpetuate Cross-Functional Feedback Systems
The biggest issue that call center agents feel is the desperation to be heard. Being treated as a solidarity unit of the organization does not help in Allowing agents to be involved in cross-functional feedback systems provides them the opportunity to be heard and ensure they feel like a part of the team. Providing agents a structured forum for giving feedback allow agents to talk about the ongoing challenges and expectations.
Provide Professional and Career Development Opportunities
Employees that see that they have no future with the organization wouldn’t think twice before they leave. Organizations should build a strong career path that help agents to further develop their knowledge, skills and abilities. Apart from supporting employee development programs, organizations can also identify top performing employees that show high potential and prepare them to play key roles in the organization. Demonstrating commitment and investing in employee development instigates greater engagement and retention.
Foster Transparent and Open Communication
Creating a culture of transparent and open communication between agents and management can help nurture a sense of community and shared purpose. Encouraging agents to speak openly and frankly with managers without the fear of consequences helps agents to feel their inputs are valued. To create such a culture, managers should seem approachable and be visible to agents, rather than being locked in a protected cabin.
Arm Agents with Tools that Gives them Everything they Need
More than a third of companies cite disconnected and complex agent desktops as a key obstacle. Agents are forced to toggle an average of five screens to handle a single customer interaction, and waste more than 25% of their time searching for relevant data across these systems. Training and coaching agents won’t do much if the CRM, desktop tools, and workflows are disparate and uncoordinated. Agents need to have access to relevant customer data and other critical information and tools at their fingertips to ensure every interaction goes smoothly without any hindrance.
Administer Formal Agent Engagement Surveys
Embracing all of the practices above will certainly help in improving agent engagement and retention, but to be sure that there lies a true impact and improvement, you need to administer an agent engagement survey process. However, none of this would mean anything if the organization don't act on the results of the survey. The survey would reveal practical recommendations for jobs and process improvements, and will only be prolific if it is properly implemented. In fact, conducting an employee engagement survey and not acting on it can actually decrease engagement levels.
Formalize an Exit Interview
These practices can certainly elevate agent retention, but cannot absolutely stop employees from leaving. Sometimes turnover is inevitable. There is nothing we can do about it. It is something the organization should be prepared for. But by formalizing a proper exit interview for every agent that leaves, the management can learn why agents are leaving and probably use that information to reduce levels of disengagement. There is no secret to building employee engagement. Want to know what type of things will help agents feel more engaged? Ask them.