5 Steps to Increase Agent Retention Now

As we move from pandemic mode to post-pandemic operations, service leaders have a window of opportunity for experimentation, including the way they recruit and retain agents. If there's a silver lining to the disruptions of the past few years, it's that organizations are ripe for changes in thinking about employee engagement at all levels, and customer service agents are no exception. However, with all the talk about the great resignation and the challenges with attracting and retaining employees, there's often a separation between how companies think about recruiting and retaining customer service staff vs. other employees. Now is the time to understand and act on workplace trends at large and take advantage of this window of opportunity to change your organization's agent retention strategies. Here are some of the key dynamics Valoir has been tracking:

  • Employees got experience with remote and hybrid work, and they're not going back to the old way of working. Valoir's 2022 Employee Experience Survey found nearly two-thirds of employees believe support for remote and hybrid work should continue.
  • Remote work broke down the walls between work and personal life but also the barriers between work location and department. Virtual teams for both work and non-work activities (such as virtual volunteering and activism) created a more open and level playing field for all employees.
  • Focus on work with purpose and a meaningful career path increased. Our survey also found that, other than salary, the top factor potential employees consider in choosing a future employer is the opportunity for career advancement.
  • Support for experimentation increased. Rapid employee-led adoption of new technologies in areas such as low-code automation, collaboration, and training and development allowed those who took the initiative to take more ownership of how they work, interact with colleagues, and learn and train others on the job.

With these factors in mind, here are five ways you can take advantage of the learnings of the past two years to gain an edge in recruiting and retaining agents.

1. Break down the walls between agents and other employees.

Traditionally the call center has been physically separated by floor or even ZIP code from other business operations, making efforts to include agents as real employees a challenge. However, the move to hybrid and remote work presents a unique opportunity to break down the walls between agents and other employees. It's time to talk to HR about including agents in other employee activities, such as virtual volunteering (on the company's clock, of course), online social groups, and broader employee engagement. Giving agents the same access to employee activities and resources in areas like employee resource groups (ERGs) and mentoring and training are two areas where exposing agents to company culture and other employees' experiences can increase a sense of belonging and engagement.

2. Give agents a meaningful career path.

Giving agents the opportunity to participate in activities the broader employee pool already enjoys is one step to showing agents there are opportunities for progression beyond the contact center. Although there's always been talk of providing a career path for agents, the path has traditionally ended in the support organization. However, as HR looks to technology to support coaching and mentoring and more internal mobility for other internal employees as a means to retain them, it's time to give agents the same access. AI-driven tools that measure individuals' aptitudes and abilities and align them with talent gaps within the organization can help create agent success stories that go beyond the walls of the contact center.

At the same time, putting more structure and transparency around advancement opportunities within the customer support organization can be a compelling recruiting and retention tool. Rather than raises and bonuses based on unpredictable hurdles, mapping out and communicating career paths with predictable raises and title advances can give agents more agency and ownership of their career development.

3. Support a sustainable hybrid environment.

The future of work is a hybrid environment, and supporting remote contact center agents is a great way to attract more competitive candidates, reduce commuting-related fatigue and absences, and retain skilled agents who want greater flexibility. However, supporting a hybrid environment doesn't simply mean sending them home with headsets and laptops. A sustainable hybrid contact center environment includes technologies and strategies that are up to the task, including ergonomic evaluations, asynchronous and synchronous digital collaboration tools that support community building and swarming, and online onboarding and upskilling.

4. Increase scheduling flexibility and transparency.

Part of operationalizing a hybrid environment means making scheduling clear, transparent, and inclusive (meaning those with limited face time in the office get the same access to opportunities and perks). However, our survey found that only one in five employees would give their employers an A grade for clear and transparent hybrid work scheduling, and this grade falls even further when isolated for contact center employees. Giving agents more ownership of their schedules with shift bidding and swapping capabilities reduces burnout. Using technology to support data-driven scheduling optimization might take some power out of the hands of support managers, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if the downstream result is greater retention and lower recruiting and training costs.

5. Invest in mental health.

Our research on contact center mental health strategies found that organizations that made even small investments in agent mental health early in the pandemic reaped rewards with not just improved productivity but agent loyalty and retention in the long run. It's not too late to implement policies and practices to support better agent mental health and wellness. Again, this is an area where talking with HR about how company-wide initiatives can be extended to service agents can have both a short-term impact on health outcomes and the longer-term effect of a more inclusive work environment for all.

Service leaders have a unique opportunity right now to reimagine the way they recruit, onboard, and retain agents for more sustainable outcomes. Rethinking the agent career path and breaking down the barriers between customer service and the rest of the company, as well as leveraging technology to support more scalable, transparent, and data-driven management of agents, will drive better hires, greater and more sustainable agent engagement, and, ultimately, better customer experiences.

Rebecca Wettemann is CEO and principal of Valoir.