While the competition for top talent intensifies across the business landscape, contact centers often feel the impact more than most.
Top-performing contact centers require exceptional agents to lead a memorable and impactful customer experience while upholding their company’s brand and values. Whether through direct, chat or online engagement, the agent role demands specialized skills that are not easily replaceable. This reliance makes the annual American call center turnover rate, which the Quality Assurance & Training Connection estimates to be as high as 45% (more than twice as high of any other field), even more disruptive.
To ensure that agents are not only fully prepared to handle customer needs, but also satisfied in their roles, today’s contact centers must take more creative approaches beyond simply elevating wages. Although not necessarily a typical “budget line item,” an investment in employees can deliver exceptional value by positioning a contact center as a destination workplace. In doing so, centers can reallocate resources currently devoted to recruitment and new employee training to other measures that promote growth.
The following four strategies can help contact centers gain an edge in the talent war, and attract and retain the agents who can best serve their customers.
A panelist at Hire Dynamics’ May 2019 Contact Center Roundtable noted the hypocrisy of modern centers expecting their agents to provide a first-class customer experience when they themselves were not delivering a first-class work environment to their teams. A lack of training, resources and ongoing feedback threatens employees’ confidence and performance scores, and ultimately can lead them to consider a company they feel may be more invested in their success.
Contact center leaders can set their agents up to shine by providing ongoing, constructive feedback. From day one, managers should outline how they prefer agents to conduct conversations and reinforce the messages, questions and protocols that will guide their engagement. Advanced monitoring platforms also enable managers to review transcripts of every call and evaluate each agent’s disposition, tone and use of keywords and phrases. Providing frequent feedback that seeks to improve, rather than criticize, performance will make agents feel more comfortable in their roles and show that their company is invested in their growth and development.
An investment in state-of-the-art technology also will help agents overcome intangible challenges and feel better prepared to address a host of client requests. Voice and tone detection tools can aid contact center managers in redirecting calls to agents with comparable dialects or language experience, eliminating a long-time source of frustration. Additionally, noise-masking applications can produce clearer and smoother conversations free of off-putting distractions.
Employees may opt to pursue alternate career options if they feel that their company does not value their efforts and contributions. While there is a fine line between supporting employees and going over the top, contact centers can make themselves more attractive to current and potential agents by incentivizing and rewarding exceptional performance.
It’s no secret that contact centers forward their most critical conversations to the agents they consider the best of the best. With higher profile calls leading to more chances for conversion, being a top performer creates more opportunity to meet benchmarks that dictate bonuses and other honors. Contact center managers can motivate employees at all levels through transparent reiteration of their company’s performance policy and stating that agents will be given every chance to prove themselves and be rewarded accordingly. Agents who see the merits of their work will be more likely to stay and grow within their companies.
Contact centers also can inspire top-performing agents in other ways that require minimal effort, but which can significantly boost team morale. An action as simple as spotlighting top-flight work at a team meeting or featuring a top agent on a company’s social and internal communication channels can strengthen manager-agent relationships and fuel a sense of accomplishment among team members.
Meet Agents’ Desires
The factors that bear the greatest influence on employees’ retention vary by industry, company and individual. Unfortunately, businesses struggle most when they assume they understand what makes their employees tick, and deliver benefits and programs that fail to appeal to their most valuable resource.
Contact centers can better grasp, and respond to, the issues that matter most to their agents through direct engagement. Whether through methods as informal as one-on-one conversations or as formal as an employee survey, call center leaders can show their agents that their voices matter and are being heard, and translate feedback into offerings more in line with their wants and needs.
For instance, flexibility and work-life balance are two of the most commonly requested employee perks in any modern workplace. Traditionally, such requests would be unheard of in a contact center environment that tends to connect employees to a desk and phone in a single, centralized location. However, to better retain top-performing agents, many contact centers are at least exploring allowing employees to work remotely on occasion. Technological advancements allow managers to verify that their agents are not slacking during work hours and provide the same level of real-time call report feedback that they would in the physical contact center. Beyond the morale boost, flexible scheduling also provides an advantage in that agents can serve more customers in widespread time zones rather than limiting work to a smaller time block.
While not all employee requests may be reasonable or attainable, contact centers can make great strides in recruitment and retention efforts by demonstrating that employees’ feedback is being taken seriously and making efforts to support their requests when possible.
Create a Culture of Success
Even in the shift to more remote operations, contact centers must create and uphold a culture that employees believe in. Prospective agents can quickly sense whether they would be a good fit for a given operation, and centers can create a favorable image by aligning around a consistent mission, vision and brand identity. Although the environment is unique in that agents address customers independently, leaders should still promote an environment of collaboration, open idea exchange and pursuit of larger goals.
While a company’s mission, vision and values can serve as a foundation for success and employee inspiration, they should not be permanently rigid. Managers should include agents in strategic planning and solicit feedback on what they would like to see their company become, and how they can contribute to making that vision a reality. As a result, every agent can feel confident in their ability to create a workplace in which they feel they can best succeed—and one in which they would like to remain.
Contact centers have long felt the burden of employee turnover, and the costs and productivity gaps that come with replacing exceptional agents. Instead of sinking in the frustration, centers should accelerate their efforts to become an employer of choice. By aligning modern technologies with clearer and more frequent employee engagement, contact centers can build and maintain a dedicated team who can serve customers and drive company growth for years to come.