How to Lower Call Center Turnover Rates for Good

The key to lowering call center turnover rates is to motivate agents - TechSee explains how.

This article looks at the reasons for high call center attrition rates, and offers effective solutions for lowering your rates.

What is turnover rate?

Turnover rate – or agent attrition – in a contact center is the percentage of workers who leave the organization each year. Bringing down this figure has traditionally been one of the key challenges of contact center managers in all industries.

Call Center Turnover Rate Statistics

While employee turnover is at an all-time high in virtually all professions, the average call center turnover statistics are downright dismal. In fact, according to Contact Babel, agent attrition rates have been on the rise since 2013, when the mean agent attrition rate had been steady for three years at 27%. It then rose to 29% in 2015 and 2016, and was reported at 30% in 2017.

Year-endMean annual agent attrition rateMedian annual agent attrition rate
Call center turnover rates 200842% 
Call center turnover rates 200934%24%
Call center turnover rates 201032%20%
Call center turnover rates 201127%16%
Call center turnover rates 201227%21%
Call center turnover rates 201327%19%
Call center turnover rates mid-201529%18%
Call center turnover rates mid-201629%20%
Call center turnover rates mid-201730%20%

Source: http://www.contactbabel.com/pdfs/july16/US-CC-DMG-2017.pdf

Why is turnover such an issue in call centers?

A high call center attrition rate is understandable: CS agents often face a grinding daily routine with multiple challenges, frustrated customers, limited opportunities for career advancement and generally low pay, which makes it inevitable that some customer service agents will burn out or simply choose to move on.

But humans are blessed with the  capacity to endure and persevere through all kinds of  difficulties. With call center agents, the key is to provide them with the right reasons to soldier on.

Agent Attrition Rate: a solution provider’s  perspective

As visual engagement platform providers, we at TechSee spend a significant amount of time at call centers all over the world, unpacking call center problems first-hand. A big part of our job is understanding how to help agents perform more effectively. We have found that barriers to agent excellence repeat themselves time and again, no matter the industry or size of the enterprise. And there is one core obstacle at the root of those barriers:  agent motivation.

Call centers that manage to motivate their agents have consistently better success across all KPIs, as well as a lower attrition rate and superior customer satisfaction scores. Call centers staffed with agents who are not sufficiently motivated suffer from a snowball effect of growing levels of frustration, high attrition rates, missed KPIs and disappointing customer service scores.

Countless articles have been written about ways to avoid high attrition rates in the call center. From our vantage point,we have seen dozens of call centers transform into higher performing organizations based on adding one “secret ingredient” to the mix: giving agents a greater sense of purpose.

How to Motivate Call Center Agents

Aaron Hurst is a globally recognized entrepreneur and the CEO of Imperative, a career development platform that helps professionals discover, connect and act gain greater purpose in their work. In a recent interview, he explains that purpose is achieved when employees clearly see the impact of their work on the organization, and consider contributing to the success of the company and the people around them as their personal mission. When employees feel they are providing value through  their everyday tasks, and are trusted for their knowledge, expertise and integrity, their workday is transformed from a set of mundane tasks into an opportunity to make meaningful connections.

This idea is expanded upon by Daniel Pink, NY Times Bestselling author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. He believes that the key to motivation, particularly for more complex tasks, lies in providing:

  1. a sense of autonomy, or self-direction
  2. mastery, or the desire to get better at something that matters
  3. purpose, or doing what we do in the service of something larger than oneself.

Call centers that provide agents with a sense of purpose, a degree of autonomy within the constraints of their work, and the tools necessary  to develop mastery in their field, will lower their average agent attrition rate and enhance their overall performance.

Best Ways of Motivating Call Center Agents

Here’s a selection of best practices and specific ideas we’ve collated from customer service organizations that have been successful at motivating their agents by giving them an enhanced sense of purpose.

Build and promote a customer service brand as an integral part of the company

We’ve witnessed companies improve their attrition rate (and their overall customer care quality) through internal campaigns stressing the importance and celebrating the value of customer service and agents. Simply sharing success stories and building corporate pride around quality service goes a long way toward motivating CS agents to play their part in ensuring the company’s success.

Agents who clearly see how their individual and team contributions are important to the overall picture are imbued with a sense of pride that will be evident in every one of their customer interactions.

Give agents as much autonomy as possible in their interactions with customers

While scripts and protocols are unavoidable in a contact center, they can backfire when it comes to agent motivation. An unengaged agent is one who sees his role as merely reciting answers with no regard for personal judgment. High-performing digital call centers aim to ensure their agents care about the customers and use their creativity to help solve problems. This can be achieved through trust – empowering agents to make personal judgment calls in their interactions with customers.

Allowing agents to take ownership of specific activities will make them feel important and acknowledged, reducing employee turnover rates significantly.

We’ve witnessed many examples of this but perhaps the best one relates to refunds. We’ve seen first line call center agent performance change dramatically over a short period of time when management experimented with entrusting first line agents with customer refunds (up to a cap), rather than having them pass these calls to second-tier support. The results were astounding. When agents were allowed to make customer-facing decisions based on their own judgment, they became invested in every customer interaction. All KPIs improved as agents had better tools and were more focused on achieving resolutions. Customer satisfaction rose and agent satisfaction increased dramatically.

Empower agents to gain mastery in their positions

Providing agents with tools and solutions to extend their abilities, enabling them to gain mastery and provide better service, is a powerful way to give them purpose. Call centers and customer service operations have become more complex than ever before. In the past, agents’ work was phone and script-based only. Today, agents must be able to webchat, transition seamlessly between multiple channels and use sophisticated solutions such as visual support to resolve technical matters. Providing agents with first-rate solutions, and encouraging them to perform better using those tools, goes a long way toward raising their sense of self-worth and increasing the pride they feel in their work. This, in turn,reduces the turnover rate in the call center.

Virtual Employee Assistants (VEA) – or digital buddies – have been tapped as an effective solution to help contact centers both support and motivate their agents. These AI-driven solutions help agents with their day-to-day activities such as handling repetitive tasks, answering common questions, gathering basic information, and routing customer service enquiries. Providing agents with virtual help enhances their workflow, improves overall productivity and goes a long way toward reducing attrition.

Ask your agents for feedback and make it count

Engage with your agents and ask for their views on how service can be improved. Show them that their opinions matter. Prove they can create change in their organization and in their customers’ lives by implementing their ideas. At the end of the day, an engaged agent knows your customers better than anyone else in your organization.

We’ve seen motivation grow when agents are asked to share feedback based on their acquired knowledge and to provide valuable insights into the customer experience.

Place quality metrics on a par with productivity metrics

While efficiency metrics like Average Handling Time are critical to a high-performing call center, placing too much emphasis on agent productivity will have a negative impact on their level of interaction with customers, and ultimately affect customer satisfaction. By focusing too much on productivity metrics,  agents get the message that the length of time spent on the phone is more important than the customer. Though it may not be suitable for every organization, call centers that can balance efficiency KPIs with those that measure success (first call resolution) and customer satisfaction (NPS) find the effects on agents are highly positive.

Recognize agents  for good work

Taking the time to create a fair incentivization and recognition strategy can also drive agent loyalty. Rewarding employees for personal excellence clearly makes them feel more valued. Keep in mind that recognition does not necessarily have to be monetary. Verbal and written praise in company forums, monthly team ceremonies, shift preferences, reserved parking or an earned day off, are all simple ways to reduce agent burnout and churn.

Summary – Using Motivation to Lower Call Center Attrition Rates

At its core, customer service is about communication. Ensuring the agent representing the company is in the best possible position to facilitate a successful customer interaction is the key to developing a high-performing support organization. Our experience of implementing Visual Support across call centers worldwide – large and small – has given us invaluable insights into one of the clearest factors affecting call center success – motivated agents who feel a sense of purpose in coming to work every day.

Those agents approach every minute of their day with the will  to succeed, whether it’s learning a new system, interacting with their peers or solving a problem for a customer.

While high turnover rates represent a challenge that must be managed across all call centers, we have found management teams that take specific steps to help their agents find their sense of purpose will be well positioned to maintain a stable – and satisfied – workforce.

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