How to Retain and Engage Your Best Contact Center Agents


Can you ever have enough high performers? Do you wish you could clone your best agents and make their outstanding performance the norm? Do you worry about losing your best team members once the economy turns around?

Those challenges are about to become greater. An agent’s job will soon require a higher skill level because artificial intelligence and self-service will handle routine inquiries. As a result, a greater percentage of agent interactions include complex or emotionally challenging situations. These situations require more technical knowledge and emotional intelligence. However, there is a limited number of technically savvy, emotionally mature, self-motivated, people-focused multitaskers available.

If you are fortunate to have agents with those skills, you want to retain them and keep them engaged. Remember, every interaction between a customer and an agent is ultimately an interaction between two human beings. Can you tell if an agent is engaged when you hear their call? Does the voice of an engaged agent sound different than one who is demotivated? Of course, it does! Here are six ideas to help you retain and engage high-performing agents.

Do Agents Feel They Are Well-Paid and Working in a Safe Environment?

Does your company offer a competitive compensation package? If you want to keep the best people, you need to properly pay them. While money is not the only reason people stay, LACK of proper compensation causes employees to look for new jobs. The best people are always in demand, even during a recession. So your human resources team needs to benchmark their compensation plan to ensure that it remains competitive.

Being safe at work is another fundamental need. On-site contact centers involve large numbers of people sitting in an enclosed space. That can be viewed as a high-risk environment due to COVID-19.

Create a safe environment for your on-site agents. Follow local safety protocols such as frequent sanitizing, physical spacing, etc., to ensure a safe space for your employees. Other options to help protect your staff include a hybrid (on-site and work-from-home) model or going fully work-from-home. Agents need to feel safe. If they are worried about getting sick at work, they will not be warm, friendly and engaged with your customers. They will also remember if they are treated poorly and will leave when the economy gets better. As a leader, you have a responsibility to take care of your team.

Do Your Employees Have a “Good Boss”?

There is an old saying: “People don’t quit jobs. They quit bad bosses.” Train newly promoted team leaders and quality assurance (QA) coaches so they can support your agents. Training should include how to deliver coaching, facilitate team huddles, and deal with performance management challenges. They also need training on local employment regulations to ensure that they do not say or do something inappropriate or illegal.

Create a supportive culture where leaders build positive relationships with agents by helping them to develop in a positive environment. Implementing a 360-degree feedback program is another tool to help improve engagement. For example, gathering feedback from both a team leader’s agents and manager will uncover any blind spots in that team leader’s skill set. Follow up feedback surveys by coaching team leaders to help them improve agent engagement and performance.

Do Agents Have a Best Friend at Work?

Surveys by the Gallup organization have repeatedly found that “those who [have a best friend at work] are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, [and] have higher well-being.”

When I was an agent, a group of co-workers and I would sometimes go out for meals after work. We would also celebrate each other’s birthdays. That camaraderie made working there special. As a leader, you can help to foster those interactions through team-building events and holiday dinners, once it is safe to do so again. Be sure to invite work-from-home agents to these events. In addition, online “happy hours” and icebreakers during virtual meetings can promote relationship-building for work-from-home agents.

Team-building can even start as early as new-hire training. For example, have new-hires work together in small group exercises. Or assign “study buddies” to work in pairs to solve a customer case study or find answers in your company’s knowledge base. The key is giving agents a chance to build healthy work relationships with their colleagues.

Do Employees Have a Sense of Growth?

The best performers always want to get even better. Train team leaders and managers to help their best agents with career development. Where do agents see themselves in two years? Where do they want to go? What motivates them? What skills do they need to reach the next step in their career? Help them map out a career progression.

That may seem like a relic of the past, given that people change jobs every two years now. However, those job changes can be within your contact center. Most contact center vice presidents started as frontline agents, so moving from agent to QA coach/team leader to manager is certainly possible. Better yet, promoting a great agent to team leader shows that good work will be rewarded, which motivates other agents to try their best.

Your contact center can also act as an employment pipeline for other departments in your company. For example, one of my clients actively promotes their agents to other parts of the organization, such as marketing and community relations. As a result, their entire organization has a customer-focused DNA. It also means the contact center director has allies in every other department.

On the other hand, not everyone wants to be promoted. Some people just want to do a good job in their current role. For example, a manager I worked with decided to switch back to being an agent. They liked being able to do their shift as an agent and go home. They did not miss attending meetings all day. They hated staying late reviewing management budgets and reports. Instead, their growth came from their personal life and family. Being an agent suited their lifestyle. The key is discovering each person’s goals, then support them toward those goals to ensure that they feel engaged.

Do Agents Feel They Are Making a Difference?

People want to make a difference. They want to feel like they matter. When I was an agent, our contact center knew that there was a key phrase on our monthly bills which generated many preventable calls. Even though our department flagged the issue to our marketing team, it was never resolved during my four years in that contact center. As a result, agents became cynical about making a difference. We felt unsupported.

Do your contact center agents feel heard? Or do they feel like nothing they do matters? Show agents they matter! Solicit feedback from them. Ask what is working and what needs to be fixed. Remember, it is not enough just to listen to agents’ suggestions. Your leadership team needs to communicate how those concerns are being addressed. Otherwise, agents can become cynical when nothing appears to change.

A second way to make agents feel that they matter is to share positive customer stories. It could be verbatim comments from customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys. Or it could be trending data about how a suggested change is reducing customer inquiries. Agents hear enough negativity from customers. You need to counterbalance that by showing how their work makes a difference.

In addition, constant communication is critical during major transitions. For example, one of my clients increased their service hours and moved their entire team to work-from-home due to COVID-19. It was a massive transition. However, their CEO gave frequent companywide progress updates, the senior vice president celebrated successes with her team, and employees were recognized for going above and beyond to make this happen. Agents could see they were making a difference because of that constant communication.

Do Agents Feel Proud to Work at Your Company?

One of my clients is Canada’s Royal Canadian Mint. When COVID-19 hit, they quickly modified their facilities to make hand sanitizer and face shields for health care workers. That helped to fill a gap in personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospital staff. Every employee I spoke with about that initiative was proud to work for the Mint. Heck, I felt proud to have them as a client!

What can you do to make agents feel proud to work at your company? Does your firm donate to charitable causes? How about sponsoring local youth sports or supporting environmental issues? Another client of mine supports their local community by providing agents with one paid day per quarter to volunteer for charitable causes. Make your employees proud to work at your company.

Consciously Create Engagement

How you treat your best employees during a downturn will influence whether you retain them when times get better. The more you engage them, the more likely they are to stay and perform well. However, you need to consciously create engagement through your leadership decisions. From compensation and basic safety needs, to fostering career growth and company pride, you can create a great place to work.