The call center is no stranger to the Great Resignation. But you can improve agent well-being, optimize operations and satisfy customers all at the same time.
Call centers have long been known for their high staff turnover. According to a 2021 report from Calabrio, 1 in 3 contact center agents are considering leaving within a year — and 50% plan to leave within 2–3 years.
Every new staff member you need to hire and train costs your business money. In fact, a Gallup analysis revealed that finding and training a new worker could cost half to two times an existing employee’s annual salary. As such, reducing turnover is essential to your bottom line.
Improvements to your call center operations can greatly impact agent happiness. So instead of making customer-focused decisions, try making agent-focused ones. If you do, the customer focus will take care of itself.
Defining the Turnover Problem
Your turnover rate is the percentage of staff that leave each year. You can calculate it by dividing the number of staff who leave by the total number of staff, expressed as a percentage.
For example, if you have 100 call center agents and 25 leave over the year, the turnover rate is 25%.
Some of the biggest reasons employees leave the call center, according to the Calabrio report? Unhappiness with their job, lack of growth opportunities and the need for more pay, among others.
Let’s take a deeper look.
Lack of Empowerment
Once call center agents are comfortable answering customer queries, the work can become monotonous. If staff must follow scripts to the letter, they can feel unmotivated.
Similarly, when your personnel doesn’t have the knowledge or flexibility to resolve customer problems, they’re left feeling helpless. As a result, they’re more likely to leave.
Call center agents deal with a lot of people on a daily basis, many of whom are already unhappy because they’re calling in with an issue or question. And if a caller complains about the service received, management immediately investigates the matter.
On the flip side, if a customer compliments an agent, that employee may not hear about it until their next evaluation — or ever. Unfortunately, this type of feedback system leads to low morale and high turnover.
One study from Toister Performance Solutions found that 74% of call center agents are at risk of burnout — a form of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion typically caused by a heavy or unrewarding workload.
Emphasis on key performance indicators (KPIs), high call volumes and inadequate technology and information can all increase the chances that agents will get burnt out.
Coupled with this is the fact that 81% of agents experience customer abuse, and 36% have been threatened with violence. This added stress provides a greater incentive to look for a new position.
In many call centers, agents clock in and start taking calls without a chance to interact with colleagues. In high-volume centers, employees are likely looking at a screen and talking to customers for their entire shift.
This situation makes people feel isolated and alienated while at work, increasing their chances of leaving.
Related Article: A 4-Step Recipe for Improving Your Contact Center Agent Experience
Looking Beyond the Standard Turnover Rate
These issues are some of the most common across all call centers. But it’s important to understand the unique factors leading to high turnover in your company, factors that may differ from those above.
One way to investigate why your call center agents are leaving is to conduct exit interviews. This procedure should be standard for every departing agent, as it gives you insight into issues your staff is experiencing.
However, you can also look at different figures to see if there are patterns in your staff turnover.
Your basic turnover rate “isn’t all that useful by itself,” Penny Reynolds, co-founder of The Call Center School, said in a quarterly publication. She recommended taking an in-depth look at the following metrics regarding your agent attrition.
Internal or External Attrition
Are agents leaving for new companies? Or are they leaving for roles in other areas of your business?
Agents using the call center as a stepping stone to other positions within the company can bring significant benefits. You just need to ensure the call center receives additional budget assistance to hire and train replacement staff.
Voluntary or Involuntary Attrition
If you need to terminate a high number of employees due to poor performance, the problem is likely your call center operations. Look at your hiring and training practices to see where you can make improvements.
When staff leaves voluntarily, exit interviews can determine if there are changes you can undertake that might encourage people to stay.
Team Turnover Rate
If there’s a high number of people leaving a particular team, it points to a problem with management. Your team leader or supervisor would likely benefit from additional training.
Call Type Turnover Rate
If agents in your center take different types of calls, it’s important to see if there’s a correlation between the call type and the attrition rate.
If one type of call has a higher turnover, you can take steps to ease the stress for those agents. Consider adding more personnel to the team, streamlining processes or providing more training. Make sure the agents taking these calls have the experience and skills necessary to resolve customer queries.
Improving Call Center Agent Well-being
You may have addressed specific problems within your call center but still have issues with high turnover. If that’s the case, it’s time to improve operations to promote agent well-being.
The most important step in lowering agent turnover is hiring the right people. Unfortunately, this is often a catch-22 situation.
High turnover means you hire quickly because you need people answering phones. When you need to hire quickly, you’re less rigorous in screening candidates. And often, those hastily hired employees aren’t able to cope with the role and leave, leaving you stuck in the cycle of needing to hire more people quickly.
It’s worth taking the time to break this pattern. Make sure you recruit people who fit your culture and work expectations. Hiring someone who prefers a low call volume environment for your fast-paced center sets the agent up to fail. Similarly, someone looking for high-volume work will become bored in a slower center and start looking for something new.
Sangeeta Bhatnagar, Principal at SB Global Human Capital Solutions, advised in a blog post that you should “be upfront and fully transparent! Highlight the positives but also some of the must-haves (mindset, hours, expectations).”
She added, “How people are treated at every touchpoint will impact the quantity and quality of people you recruit. We know the future of work is human, so putting the human in every part of the recruitment process will be required to attract and retain top talent.”
Call center training starts with onboarding, where agents learn how to answer phones and get the knowledge needed to answer customer questions. A thorough onboarding process can take weeks or longer, depending on your business and the complexity of queries.
Making sure agents thoroughly understand their roles and responsibilities before they start answering the phone is essential to giving staff the confidence to do the job.
However, training shouldn’t end with onboarding. Agents face new challenges all the time, particularly in their interactions with customers. Ongoing training can give agents the tools they need to manage irate customers, as well as the knowledge to answer queries correctly the first time. This type of training leads to happier agents and satisfied customers.
Agents who receive regular training also feel valued by the company. If you’re willing to put time and money into the growth of your staff, agents will feel like there’s a future in the position, making them less likely to seek opportunities for growth elsewhere.
Opportunities for Advancement
Most people want to grow in their jobs and look for opportunities to move beyond entry-level positions.
In call centers, there’s a large number of agents managed by a much smaller number of leads or supervisors. This setup makes it difficult for staff to see the potential for advancement. If there’s no perceived growth, employees will look for another company to grow with.
It’s not possible for every agent to become a team leader, but you can provide other ways for your staff to utilize their experience. You can ask experienced agents to mentor new staff or take on more complex calls. These opportunities not only provide the chance for agents to learn new skills but also help break up the monotony of call center work.
Scheduling is an ongoing problem in call centers. If you have too many agents on the phones, you’re paying people to stare at computer screens. If you have too few agents, everyone is under stress to work quickly while your customers wait in queues.
Use your metrics to help you queue, looking at busy times, agent availability and agent skills. New technologies are emerging that can help you quickly achieve this goal.
When working up a roster, try to have enough people scheduled to give agents a breather between calls. It may seem counterintuitive to schedule so many agents that people aren’t always on calls. However, this is one of those times when agent well-being and customer satisfaction coincide.
Scheduling an extra agent means customers aren’t left waiting for their call to be answered. It also ensures the agent who answers their call has the energy to provide friendly, efficient service.
Evaluating agent performance is essential to ensuring high standards for your team. But it can be a source of contention between management and staff, especially if the evaluation is linked to benefits, such as a pay raises or bonuses.
Supervisors typically perform evaluations by listening in on a random sampling of calls. However, this method can be subjective — you may catch a batch of unhappy callers, an agent who’s having a bad day or a supervisor with a dislike for a certain employee.
To improve this process, perform an evaluation calibration. Gather everyone who conducts call monitoring and develop a standard for scoring. You can listen to recorded or live calls and discuss how each member of the leadership team would evaluate each call.
Coming to a consensus can help eliminate perceived and actual biases. And agents who see a fair scoring system are more likely to stay in their roles.
It’s also important to look at the right metrics when evaluating agents. Understand your goals as a center, and use that to develop your evaluation.
For example, if you aim to provide excellent customer service for people with complex inquiries, a focus on average handle time (AHT) can be unfair to agents. Difficult problems take time to resolve, so a focus on customer satisfaction scores (CSATs) or outcomes may be better.
Your agents are the first point of contact for customers. As such, they have a huge amount of knowledge about your customers’ needs and concerns. This is a valuable resource that you can tap into. It can give you essential insight into areas for business growth, and it’s also an avenue to demonstrate to agents that they bring value to the company.
Try having regular meetings with agents, either as a whole group or in smaller segments, depending on your company size. Ask them how they would improve customer experience and implement suggestions. New scripts, process flexibility and the ability to make decisions can help agents provide excellent customer service, leading to a more satisfying work environment.
A Positive Culture
It can be difficult to create positivity in a call center environment. With agents waiting for phone calls, there aren’t the same opportunities for water cooler conversations and team bonding. In some cases, hot desking means agents don’t have their own space and sit next to someone new every shift.
It’s essential to take steps to overcome these challenges. Although bright colors and a good coffee machine may seem trivial, they do make a difference. Agents who feel valued and are happy are more productive and less likely to seek new employment.
You should consider the areas of your office that aren’t dedicated to taking calls. Yes, a lunchroom is essential, but consider adding a chill-out room as well. The quiet environment can help refresh your agents before they return to their phones.
An employee assistance program (EAP) is also useful and can help agents manage their mental health and avoid burnout. Look to incentives, such as exercise programs, gift vouchers or other rewards for customer compliments or good performance.
Related Article: Customer Service Agents Simply Want a Fair Shake
Utilizing Call Center Technology to Optimize Operations
Don’t overlook how technology can help improve your agents’ lives. Investing in the right technology gives both your agents and customers the best experience possible.
Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
IVR is an automated phone system that allows customers to make choices based on a menu of options. And this system, if implemented well, can lower staff workload and improve customer experience.
Chris Forte, President and CEO of Olmec Systems, said in a blog post that IVR allows “contact centers to harness all available information about customers, even before they are connected to the agents. This enables agents to prepare themselves for the conversation as the customer information is displayed in real time. This helps agents to streamline their calls and simplifies workload.”
You can also use IVR to route calls based on customers’ needs and agents’ skills. This system ensures your agents aren’t receiving calls they’re not equipped to handle and reduces the need to transfer a call to other departments or ask a team leader for help.
New technology allows call center agents to work from home rather than in an office. The move to remote work during COVID-19 has shown that it’s both possible and effective.
Most employees enjoy working from home. A recent study found that employee happiness increased by as much as 20% when people could work remotely.
Despite management fears, an Owl Labs report found that 90% of employees claimed to be as productive or moreso when working from home compared to the office. In that same study, 84% of people who changed jobs or were seeking new employment wanted greater flexibility in where they worked.
If you choose to make a move to a remote workforce, make sure you continue to show employees they’re valued. Provide forums where agents can stay in contact with you and each other. Develop an extensive knowledge base to ensure agents have the tools to resolve calls and ensure your lead agents are available if needed.
Metrics and Analytics
The ability to track and analyze data continues to grow throughout the business world, and the call center industry is no exception. New technology allows you to investigate more data than ever and use new insights to optimize your operations.
However, it’s essential to understand what to track. As mentioned above, focusing on the wrong KPIs can undermine your call center goals.
Author Jeff Toister shared in a blog post this anecdote about a call center he worked with: “One contact center stopped sharing average handle time statistics with agents and focused agents on first contact resolution metrics instead. Repeat calls went down, but so did average handle time.”
New technologies also allow your agents to self-evaluate. There are options to share real-time access to AHT, CSAT, first call resolution (FCR) and other statistics, which can be a good way for agents to continuously improve their performance.
However, there can be a downside to sharing metrics. A poor customer survey response or high AHT figure can lower morale, leading to poor performance and agents searching the want ads when their shifts end.
Modern call centers and customer service aren’t just about talking on the phone. Whenever possible, you should provide omnichannel support to your customers. Frequently asked question (FAQ) pages, social media messages, live chat and email can be options for people needing assistance.
One UK study found that 62% of office workers experience phone anxiety. And telephobia — the fear of making or taking calls — is growing among consumers, too. Many people prefer finding answers to their questions without talking to someone on the phone.
How does this help your agents? First, it lowers call volume, as customers can get help without calling. Secondly, with the right technology, your agents can access previous emails and live chat records to see what options have already been tried to resolve the customer’s concern. This decreases frustration for callers, making agents’ lives easier.
Alok Kulkarni, CEO, Chairman and co-founder of Cyara, said in an article, “Voice calls are typically higher-value interactions. Customers pick up the phone when they truly need to connect — when it’s an urgent issue or a complex one. By making the contact center an integral component of your digital transformation, you can ensure that you’re saving your live-agent calls for where they matter most.”
If your call center employees also provide omnichannel assistance, this gives you opportunities to upskill agents and break daily routines. Answering an email or participating in an online chat offers variety and can help prevent workers from experiencing burnout. Anything that reduces stress for agents also minimizes the likelihood of them looking for a new job.
Whenever possible, streamline the tools your agents need to do their jobs. In many call centers, agents need to click through multiple screens or tabs to find the correct information to resolve customer queries. Sometimes, the same information must be entered on more than one screen. This is frustrating for both agents and customers.
Steve West, head of marketing at Shelf, told the Call Center Journal that accessing the right information is one of the most serious challenges for call center staff.
“By centralizing knowledge management, organizations can manage one source of content, and with the right technology, push controlled information and data across the tech stack,” he said. “A single source of truth for company knowledge also frees up time employees typically spend searching for answers, since it eliminates the need to switch between tools and apps to find answers.”
Put all the information needed in one searchable knowledge base so that agents can quickly access the answers they need. It’s also good practice to have actions, such as upgrading, canceling or changing plans, happen in one system.
Improving Agent Well-Being Will Enhance Your Call Center
It can take a lot of money to replace a single employee — up to two years’ worth of salary, as mentioned above. And that doesn’t account for the time it takes to train that new worker.
While new employees are getting up to speed, customers are more likely to be dissatisfied with poor service or extended wait times. Additionally, existing agents have to take on more work, leading to increased stress, burnout and a higher intention of leaving.
A high attrition rate could also lead to a delay in implementing new technology. It can be difficult for new agents to grasp current systems, and asking them to learn something new (again) can lead to mistakes and poor performance. As such, you might find yourself pushing tech implementations further and further out.
Improving your call center operations to address agent well-being will save you money in the long run. But an agent-focused call center also makes employees happier, leading to better customer service and, in turn, higher customer satisfaction. As such, every step you take to optimize your workplace results in better outcomes for your customers.