How Best to Invest in Agent Retention


How Best to Invest in Agent Retention

In today’s labor market, retaining agents is more difficult than ever. And it’s likely costing your contact center.

Because agents have so many options, contact center leaders need to start understanding what qualities make for a good call center agent job: and learn how to deliver.

So how can you invest in agent retention today?

And by doing so also attract high quality new agents by being a great place to work through word-of-mouth: which has long been the best method of recruitment.

1. Train for the skills agents need

When agents are unprepared for the reality of the call center floor, they can become discouraged easily and quit. To ease the transition, your training process needs to focus on the skills that are most important for agents today.

As artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies evolve, agents require more advanced skills to work with complex software and understand multiple systems. But increasing implementation of AI also has another effect.

With technology taking on administrative tasks and simple customer calls previously handled by agents, they now deal with more complex customer issues. Which means they need better soft skills.

But outdated or inadequate training isn’t giving agents the resources they need to master these types of skills, leaving them overwhelmed and unsure of their capabilities.

Adjust your training process to fit the current customer service landscape, so your agents can strengthen both their technical and soft skills. That way, they’re fully prepared for the various aspects of their role.

2. Allow for flexibility

Work should fit into an employee’s life, not the other way around. And for contact center agents, flexibility is key to retention.

For many agents, the ideal is a hybrid work environment, which helps avoid both the burnout that comes with in-person work and the isolation that stems from remote work. Hybrid models that are designed around human needs, reports Gartner, give call center agents the work-life balance they want, making them more likely to stay in their role: and for longer.

Work should fit into an employee’s life, not the other way around. And for contact center agents, flexibility is key to retention.

Even if your contact center operates completely in-person, you can still provide your agents with flexibility by allowing them to specify the shifts they’d like to work. Although tedious, adjusting shifts to your agents’ preferences (when possible) simplifies their everyday routines, allowing their jobs to support their lives.

3. Invest in your team

Companies that devote resources to the employee experience boast agents who are dedicated to them. To make your contact center a great place for agents to work, you need to invest in your team.

It starts with focusing on the agent. While it’s important to update agents on your contact center’s goals and target metrics to help them maintain performance, it’s equally as necessary to talk to agents about their goals and what kind of environment they would like to work in.

You need to inform agents:

  • How they benefit by being a part of your team, including pay growth and vacation days.
  • What opportunities for career advancement that you offer.
  • What the expectations are for raises and promotions.
  • How you will support agents throughout their time at your company.

Agents want to see that they’re valued. And they want to know that you prioritize their career goals.

If agents see there are barriers between the call center and management, they’ll find another contact center or company that aligns better with their future.

“There’s high turnover because the agent is not prioritized. They’re not invested in. Companies seldom have a road map when a new agent comes onto the organization. They don’t tell the agent, ‘Here’s what you’re hired for, but these are all the other available positions. In three months, you can get trained to qualify for those.’” —Idris Said, Director at Xtendico

4. Recognize a job well done

Job satisfaction is a critical factor that can be overlooked in contact centers. Agent satisfaction depends on agents receiving positive feedback and knowing the impact of their work, especially since they can face excess negativity while interacting with frustrated or disappointed customers.

When agents feel like they’re on a winning team, it motivates them to stay and see what more they can accomplish…

So, share success stories with your team. Highlight specific agents and their impactful contributions. Let agents know when clients praise their work. Celebrate the wins.

Although it doesn’t take much to vocalize your contact center’s successes, it affects how your employees see themselves and their work. When agents feel like they’re on a winning team, it motivates them to stay and see what more they can accomplish instead of seeking out a new role.

5. Prevent agent overwork

With high turnover affecting contact centers, it’s easy for the agents who stay to get bogged down with former agents’ work. But you don’t want agents picking up too much of the slack while you hire more employees because that makes them more likely to quit.

To prevent this snowballing effect, you need to evaluate the workload left behind by former agents and divide it fairly. But this can be a difficult process.

Implementing a system or tool that takes care of labor division is the best solution. This way, agents can clearly understand what needs to be done without feeling confused, overwhelmed, or unsupported.

Amidst turnover, it’s critical that you don’t abandon the agents who have stuck by you. Allocating work appropriately and hearing out your agents’ concerns is the right method to prevent burnout and stop the cycle of turnover.

6. Foster a connected community

When agents feel connected to other agents, managers, and leaders, they’re better supported and more engaged: and less likely to leave.

Typically, call centers expect agents to meet certain metrics to qualify their performance as satisfactory. But this can cultivate a culture of pressure and competition, increasing your agents’ stress levels.

It’s important contact centers build a sense of camaraderie and community to improve the agent experience. And establishing a welcoming culture starts with call center supervisors.

Take the time to talk to your agents. If you check on your agents every month to understand their perspectives and hear about their day-to-day challenges, you’ll bridge the gap between different employee experiences and build trust.

And when employees feel cared for, they translate that care to their role and commitment to your company and customers.

7. Keep your best talent

When you find agents who are knowledgeable, empathetic, and great at their job overall, you want to keep them: and you have a good chance.

According to Gallup, 52% of employees who leave a company say their manager could’ve done something to prevent it.

The focus [of stay interviews] isn’t on performance or metrics; it’s all about employee experience.

And one of the best strategies to use is conducting a stay interview.

The process starts with anticipating when your top performers might be looking for new opportunities. That’s the right time to schedule stay interviews and learn how you can help your best agents stay.

The main goal of a stay interview is to evaluate what’s working for the agent and what’s not. The focus isn’t on performance or metrics; it’s all about employee experience. Are there feasible changes you can make to keep an agent or are they committed to leaving?

Stay interviews offer actionable agent feedback, helping you take an active role in improving retention. And when you keep your best talent, you foster a core group of successful agents who can mentor new employees, boost morale, and keep performance high.

But the key to utilizing a stay interview properly is to follow through and update agents as you make improvements to policies and procedures, work culture, or other factors. Without consistent follow-through, your agents won’t trust you: and they’ll be just as likely to leave as they were before.

Improving retention isn’t a one-step process

It takes more than a couple of changes to see real improvement.

To turn the tide on turnover, you need to be actively involved in making your contact center a better workplace for agents. Focusing on the complete agent experience, from training to community to benefits, is what will attract agents to you and keep them dedicated to your company.

And, along the way, consider agent feedback to ensure you’re creating an environment agents want to be a part of and seek out.

Gregg Antenen

Gregg Antenen is the Co-founder and Executive Director at Vistio. In his 25-plus years in the information technology and services industry, Gregg has founded multiple startups focused on combining automation technology, process innovation, and data analytics to improve customer engagement. He previously worked at Conduent, Xerox, RSA Medical, and TransUnion.