Your Quality Of Service Will Improve If You Treat Your Customer Service Agents Right

Agents turn over in contact centers, and managing your turnover rate is a fact of life. Attrition rates that fall below 18 percent to 20 percent a year are considered low for the contact center industry. 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, like weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly, to see if there are spikes in your turnover rate.

Not all turnover is the same. You should quantify each turnover event as voluntary or involuntary and understand why turnover is happening, especially if your metric far exceeds the benchmark that you have set for the organization.

Common causes of turnover include the following:

  • Involuntary turnover: mismatched hiring and training practices that don't prepare the agent for the job at hand; job descriptions that don't adequately describe the expectations of the job; interviews that did not dig into the competencies or background of the agent; job requirements that were miscommunicated to the candidate; or complex and old toolsets that cause overly long training times.
  • Voluntary turnover: job monotony; better pay elsewhere; a lack of career advancement; poor management; over-supervision; a lack of empowerment to solve customer issues; a lack of control of personal schedules; frustration with the toolset; the stress of dealing with irate customers.

Luckily, there are tactical ways to lower attrition while helping to control costs and improve agent morale and indirectly, customer satisfaction. I generally bucket these tactics into the following four broad categories:

  • Strategy: Make sure that your customer service strategy is aligned to your overall company strategy and that you are using the right mix of high-level key performance indicators and low-level operational metrics to measure your contact center operations. For example, if you are a company that 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 that your calls are routed to the right agents; make sure that your agents have the right scripting or process guidance to resolve customer inquiries; and make sure your agents are able to collaborate with one another before blindly handing off inquiries to higher-tiered agents.
  • Technology: Understand what inquiries your contact center is getting and see if you can use self-service channels, like interactive voice response (IVR) or Web/mobile self-service, to deflect repetitive inquires. Make sure your agent desktop is usable and contains all the necessary information and systems that agents need to solve customer questions.
  • People management: First, take care of the hygiene factors, such as pay, benefits, scheduling, and management. Second, invest in your workforce: spend time with each agent to understand what they want out of their jobs. Do they want career advancement to supervisor and management levels? Better skills training? Are they happy staying a tier-1 agent? For each agent put in place a plan 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. Then, recognize and reward agents, and solicit their input and act on their suggestions.

With these simple steps, you can keep agents happier, and in turn, probably keep them longer.

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