Take Care of Your Agents or They Will Leave You

Agents turn over in contact centers, and managing your turnover rate is a fact of life. Low agent attrition rates are 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 be measuring this metric across various timeframes, like weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly, to see if there are spikes in your turnover rate.

Not all turnover is the same. It is useful to quantify each turnover event as voluntary or involuntary and to understand the causes of turnover so you can address them, especially if your metric far exceeds the benchmark that you have set for your organization. Common causes of turnover include the following:

  • Involuntary turnover as a result of poor hiring and training practices; poor job descriptions; effort required for the job that was miscommunicated during interviewing; poor toolset that causes overly-long training times.
  • Voluntary turnover as a result of job monotony; better pay elsewhere; lack of career advancement; poor management; over- supervision, lack of empowerment to solve customer issues; lack of control of personal schedules; frustration with the toolset; stress of dealing with irate customers (otherwise known as compassion fatigue).

There are tactical ways to lower attrition that also help control costs, improve agent morale, and indirectly, customer satisfaction. I generally bucket these tactics into the following four broad categories:

  • Strategy: Make sure your customer service strategy is aligned to your overall company strategy and you are using the right mix of high-level KPIs and low-level operational metrics to measure your contact center operations. For example, if your company differentiates itself 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 that is aligned with your brand proposition, not on artificial metrics that have no bearing to your company&'s core values.
  • Process: Make sure your calls are routed to the right agents; make sure your agents have the right scripting or process guidance to follow to resolve customer inquiries; make sure your agents are able to collaborate with one another before blindly handing off inquiries to higher-tiered agents.
  • Technology: Understand which inquiries your contact center is getting and see if you can use self-service channels like interactive voice response or web self-service to deflect the highly repetitive inquires. Make sure your agent desktop is usable and contains all the necessary information agents need to solve customer questions.
  • People management: First, take care of the hygiene factors, such as pay, benefits, scheduling, and poor management. Second, invest in your workforce: spend time with each agent to understand what she wants out of her job. Does she want career advancement to supervisor and management levels, better skilling, or is she happy staying a tier-one agent? Put plans in place for each agent that supports her ambitions. Invest in e-learning to expand her skillset and keep her motivated, expose her to other parts of the business, like back-office work, recognize and reward agents, and solicit their input and act on their suggestions.

Kate Leggett is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.