Happy Agents Make Happy Customers, So Treat Your Agents Right

Managing agent turnover is a fact of life for contact center operations. Low agent attrition rates fall below 18 percent to 20 percent a year. Attrition rates of more that 50 percent are considered high, and some contact centers have attrition rates of more than 100 percent a year, with outsourcers typically having the highest rates in the industry.

Whatever your turnover rate is, it's important to have a metric and manage your operations to that number. And, you want to measure this metric across various timeframes (weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly) to see if there are spikes in your turnover rate.

Not all turnover is the same, and your turnover rate will change as you adopt broader self-service technologies that pick away at the easy work that agents do, making you retrain or invest in higher-skilled agents. Start by understanding whether your turnover is voluntary or involuntary and why it's happening.

Common causes of turnover include the following:

  • Involuntary turnover: mismatched hiring, training, and ongoing coaching practices that don't prepare the agent for the job; or complex and outdated customer service technologies that take a long time to learn, are hard to use, and require repetitive data input and actions that could be automated.
  • Voluntary turnover: job monotony; poor compensation; lack of career advancement; poor management, such as over-supervision or lack of empowerment to solve customer issues; lack of control of personal schedules; stress of dealing with irate customers.

There are tactical ways to lower attrition while at the same time helping to control costs, improve agent morale, and indirectly, increase customer satisfaction. I generally bucket these tactics into four broad categories:

  1. Strategy: Make sure that your customer service strategy is aligned to your overall company strategy and you are using the right mix of high-level metrics and low-level operational metrics to measure your contact center operations. For example, if you differentiate on customer experience, your focus should be on first call resolution and satisfaction metrics, not on handle times or average speed of answer. This will help agents better understand your expectations of them and focus on only measuring their behavior in line with your brand proposition, not on artificial metrics that have no bearing to your company's core values.
  2. Process: Make sure that your calls are routed to the right agents; make sure that your agents have the right scripting or process guidance to follow to resolve customer inquiries; make sure your agents are supported with knowledge base content to help resolve customer issues; make sure your agents are able to collaborate with one another and are empowered to do the right thing for the customer.
  3. Technology: Understand the types and volumes of customer inquiries and adopt AI-fueled self-service technologies like self-service knowledge and chatbots to address the repetitive and straight-forward inquiries. Make sure your agent desktop processes are highly automated and that customer data and related content is proactively surfaced to the agent at the right time in a customer service process to make agents effective and efficient. Use speech analytics to detect customer intent and emotion and surface these insights to the agent to help better understand and engage with the customer
  4. People: First, take care of the hygiene factors, such as pay, benefits, scheduling, and management. Second, invest in your workforce. Spend time with all of your agents to understand what they want out of their jobs: Do they want career advancement or better skilling. Put plans in place for all agents that supports their ambitions. Invest in automated quality scorecarding to understand the areas of opportunity for all agents, and use targeted coaching to make them successful and expand their skillsets. Keep them motivated by exposing them to other parts of the business, like back-office work or social customer service. Recognize and reward agents. Solicit their input and act on suggestions.

Kate Leggett is a vice president and principal analyst for CRM and customer service at Forrester Research, serving application development and delivery professionals.