Unless you have an awesome employee experience program in place, your contact center probably experiences high agent turnover – a real issue affecting most contact centers.
[easy-tweet tweet=”In fact, increases in agent turnover have been shown to reduce workforce productivity by 40% and your organization’s financial performance by 26%” usehashtags=”no” template=”light”]
Not only are your productivity levels and financials being damaged, but your recruiting and training costs will only continue to rise.
Why is agent turnover often high?
There are many reasons why agent turnover is probably higher than you like. Believe it or not, most of these reasons are in the control of customer service and operations management.
From talking to some of our customers and learning about various contact center environments, we see these as top reasons why so many customer service reps don’t want to stick around and quit:
- Monotonous, repetitive tasks
- Frustrations with the agent technology and tools
- Stress dealing with customers
- Mismatch of tasks and skills
- Lack of career advancement and training
- Strict work environment
That’s not the whole picture, but enough for employees to be less engaged, enthusiastic, and committed to their job.
Interestingly, I came across a report called “The Worldwide Employee Engagement Crisis” which states that employee engagement levels in the US haven’t improved in the past 17 years. And in fact, only 32% of employees are engaged in their job.
This is about employee engagement across all types of jobs. But it gets so much worse when we discuss the engagement levels of contact center employees.
If your business objectives are to improve customer experiences through better customer engagements and to reduce operation costs, directors and managers of customer service and contact center operations should invest in ways to improve employee experiences:
1. Set job expectations & motivate your agents right from the get-go
During the hiring process, make sure that the job descriptions are comprehensive enough that there are no surprises when your agents arrive for their first day of work.
A day-in-the-life outline of everything that may happen is a helpful way to show agents that their job is so much more than simply responding to customers via phone, email, chat, etc. Now, this might sound fluffy, but explaining to new agents the importance of their job is crucial.
Your agents not only represent your brand, but they are hubs of valuable information about customers that can benefit many business areas, including marketing, customer insights, and sales. The more your employees feel that they can help a customer and the business overall, the more important they will feel within their roles.
- Comprehensive job descriptions
- Day-in-the-life outline
- Customer service employee roles are beneficial to many business units
2. Match the right customer to the right agent
When agents feel like they can be valuable to customers and can handle customer calls, their satisfaction skyrockets.
If your agents are being connected to customers who have questions or issues out of their realm, they can feel stressed and helpless.
Don’t forget that as you update your routing, whether you focus on efficiency or improving customer experiences, you will improve the agent’s experience too.
When customers feel they’ve been sent to the right agent the first time, through intelligent routing, and that person can help them without being handed off to someone else, they will have a more positive experience and are more likely to be pleasant for the agent to deal with.
Generally, customers are willing to wait a little longer to reach the right person, but only a little. Today the expectation is that the person I reach should be able to handle my request. Transferring customer calls can be seen as a strike against a company, although it still happens often.
The general challenge with routing is collecting enough information about the customer and any context/personalization. For example, the customer may have indicated in an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) or online chat that they want to talk about their bill. That’s a broad category, which could include resending a bill, questions about an item on their bill, paying their bill, negotiating a payment plan for their bill, or more. The agent needs to be skilled in all those actions to be successful.
So, the key point is not about the routing rules themselves, but to have broad categories that match a list of actions that agents are trained for. If there are gaps (e.g. agent can’t setup a payment plan), then reaching the “right agent” starts to break down.
- Make sure your customer is routed to an agent who has the right data to solve the problem
- Create broad categories and train the agent to solve all queries in that category
3. Centralize data & reduce the overwhelming number of screens
Having agents waste time searching for customer information over a variety of systems and screens is extremely unproductive.
A maze of legacy systems makes the process of handling customer requests quite painful. To respond to customer inquiries the average agent spends 15% of their time searching for the information across these disparate systems:
- CRM systems
- Billing systems
- Payment systems
- Fulfillment systems
- Dispatch systems
All the frustration from trying to navigate all these systems efficiently leads to agent turnover. This converts to dozens if not hundreds of clicks to handle one customer interaction (Focus On Employees’ Daily Journeys To Improve Employee Experience, Forrester Research, Inc., April 20, 2018).
[easy-tweet tweet=”The Australian Post’s CX team observed employees change a customer’s address and only then discovered that the process took a shocking 160 clicks to complete.” usehashtags=”no” template=”light”]
This is obviously inefficient. Optimizing and fully integrating agent desktop and softphone technology in your contact center is critical.
Giving agents easy-to-use, unified technology helps them be more effective and efficient, which then improves their morale and employee experience. Implementing a unified agent desktop solution brings together all your information and data from every-day multiple systems into one view or screen. This can give agents a complete picture of the customer and makes navigation between different applications unnecessary.
- Consolidate systems to make it easier for agents to find data
- Invest in easy-to-use agent technology
4. Automate mundane, repeatable tasks
High levels of monotony lead to high levels of attrition. It’s as simple as that. That’s why the most powerful driver of loyalty to the organization is empowerment. Therefore, it makes sense that some companies are starting to use automation to free workers to take on more fulfilling work.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machines can handle more and more of the routine business processes, increasing efficiency and speeding up resolution times.
By reducing routine calls, data entry, report preparation, transaction details, system navigation, logs, and documentation, agents can focus on tasks that deliver personalized experiences for customers (AI is Ready for Employees, Not Just Customers, Forrester Research Inc., March 27, 2018).
How many of you say a top priority in your contact center is to digitalize it? Well, the same report states that 55% of technology decision-makers are in the same boat as you. But there seems to be a gap in who wants this change and how many are doing it. The truth is only 32% are doing something about it.
Personally, I’d make this a top priority if you want to free up your agents’ time and make customer experiences better.
- AI can do repetitive tasks faster and with more accuracy than agents
- Automate tasks and processes to give agents the freedom to work on meaningful issues
5. Empower agents to collaborate to get the job done
I think it’s impossible to expect each individual agent to have all the answers to resolve customer issues.
There’s nothing wrong with your agents collaborating with one another to provide the most helpful information to your customer. This can be enabled with technologies such as Skype for Business, Slack, Hipchat from Atlassian, or any number of communication tools.
Invest in platforms that focus on simplifying and integrating the work environment, by bringing together processes, tasks, work management, and social collaboration seamlessly.
- Empower agents with collaboration tools to solve problems
- Help create a sense of camaraderie and fulfillment
6. Provide more work-life balance and flexibility
Let’s be honest here – how many of you give your employees the flexibility to plan and create their own shifts for a better work-life balance?
Just like you, your agents have families, obligations, and lives outside of their headset.
Giving them the freedom to pick and choose their schedules, having small breaks throughout the day, or the ability to work from home will be a game-changer for their productivity and their stress levels. Sometimes, we can forget how stressful this job can be while we’re sitting in the back office.
By giving this freedom to employees, you’re showing that you trust them, which helps drive long-term agent productivity and job satisfaction, both of which reduce agent turnover.
- Trust begets trust; give agents flexibility to live their life
7. Mentor your agents and provide opportunities for growth
If you saw no long-term vision for yourself at a company, would you leave? Of course, you would. The same goes for your customer service agents.
Helping them on the road to a strong career path will increase their job handling abilities, knowledge and overall satisfaction with their job. This, of course, does not come without any effort on your end. Create all-inclusive training guides or programs and spend time with your agents to understand what their goals, motivations, dreams, and ambitions are within their role.
It goes without saying: agents who feel valued and cared for by their employer are less likely to leave than those who feel like they are invisible.
Don’t just give your agents the tools to do their current job; have open conversations with them about where they see themselves going within the company, offer advice on what it takes to move up, and provide opportunities to advance within their role in the contact center.
- Create career pathways so your agents see this as their career, not just a job
- Buddy new agents with successful agents who can act as mentors
8. Value your employees instead of cracking the whip
Worse is when contact center managers are not only lacking in mentorship and helping agents be successful, but also creating a workplace culture of fear. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen and experienced, it’s not uncommon.
If you really want your team to perform effectively, it’s true that it starts from the top. It’s up to management to establish a safe environment with open communication where employees feel valued.
Employees who feel they are valued will, in turn, make decisions that positively impact the company and the customers. If you are attempting to motivate your agents with discipline, it likely has opposite the intended effect, and agents will withdraw from their role.
- Your staff are adults; respect and treat them as such
- Your job is to provide support, not discipline
9. Recognize and reward your high-performing agents
It seems intuitive that your agents would want to be recognized, but it is far less common in contact centers than you would think.
The Cicero Group recently asked people all over the world about how their current employer could help them improve their performance. The common thread across their answers was clear: “recognize me!” (The Employee Experience Imperative, Forrester Research, Inc., December, 15 2017).
There is nothing new here. As part of any employee experience, recognition is a requirement.
The ways that you recognize your agents do not have to be extravagant. For example, “Hey David! Great job last month. Your new Ferrari is waiting out front!”. That would be great, but you can recognize your contact center agents in a much more simplistic (and more affordable) way through:
- Top achiever awards
- Experiences, like tickets to a sporting event or concert
- Lunches outside the office with top-performing individuals or teams
- Simple conversations with employees to say thank you
In general, stay away from numbers-based awards. This sounds strange, but they tend to impact the quality of call resolution because agents rush through calls to hit targets and not effectively resolve inquiries.
Seek feedback from your employees as well about how they would like to be recognized.
Again, listening to your agents is a sure-fire way to increase engagement and job satisfaction, both help reduce agent turnover.
- Recognize good work and reward staff accordingly
- Making agents feel appreciated makes them more likely to stay
10. Ask your agents directly about their work experiences
It’s impossible to guess what agents are struggling with unless you are on the floor with them. Sometimes, the best way to understand how to improve employee experience and help them succeed is simply ask them directly or through an anonymous survey. Your agents are more likely to be honest about their experiences when it is not face-to-face.
Let’s look at this scenario: One of your agents is having a tough time resolving customer calls because their computer equipment is out-of-date, and their software is running slowly and inefficiently. The survey would identify this, and your team can look into systems that are more modern.
Improving the work environment and engaging your workforce is a continuous process, not just a one-time thing. And doing this will increase overall employee satisfaction.
Another example is finding out that sitting for long hours is hard, or the headset the agent is using is not comfortable enough. You can easily fix this by untethering agents from their desks with wireless headsets that are more comfortable. Headsets generally support productivity, so you should always consider comfort when investing in new audio devices, specifically investing in a headset that has been designed for all-day use. For an idea, here is one of the top-scoring headsets for agents.
- Talk to your staff, get feedback, and implement the changes you can to improve their work environment and job experiences
To summarize, here are 10 ways to fix your contact center agent turnover rate and improve their work experience:
- Set job expectations & motivate your agents right from the get-go
- Match the right customer to the right agent
- Centralize data & reduce the overwhelming number of screens
- Automate mundane, repeatable tasks
- Empower agents to collaborate to get the job done
- Provide more work-life balance and flexibility
- Mentor your agents and provide opportunities for growth
- Value your employees instead of cracking the whip
- Recognize and reward your high-performing agents
- Ask your agents directly about their work experiences
I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on the practices that you can begin to implement in your own contact centers to reduce agent turnover. I know these may seem like a lot to take in all at once, but start small and work your way up. Your agents (and your customers!) will thank you for it.
Chris is a senior systems integrator with over 15 years of experience working in workforce optimization contact centre operations. At Aria, he is currently the primary resource with workforce management technologies and the business and operations lead for the AWS practice. With a primary focus on contact centre operations and systems integration, Chris connects works with contact centre operations and workforce management to ensure telephony and WFM systems are designed and configured with an industry best practice approach to meet and exceed operational requirements. He enjoys working with clients to develop and implement an integrated workforce practice using modern technologies and workforce theory to realize contact centre optimization and efficiencies goals.
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