Posted by: Mike Clarke
As all contact centre managers know, finding and retaining good staff is the most important factor in making your business a success. While all businesses experience a degree of staff attrition over time, call and contact centre environments have consistently above-average levels of staff turnover. In this article we’ll first take a look at how to calculate the attrition level within your business, the impact that high attrition levels can have, and what you can do to reduce it to a minimum.
Calculating Your Agent Attrition Rate
Before looking at the causes of attrition and how to reduce it, it’s a good idea to first determine the level of attrition in your business and how it compares to the average. Depending on where you look, contact centres in the UK reportedly have an attrition rate somewhere between 20% and 45%. For comparison, other industries typically have attrition rates around 10%.
To calculate the attrition rate within your company or even within your department or team, you use the following ratio:
|Attrition Rate (%) =||No. of Employees That Left During Period||x 100|
|Average Number of Employees For The Period|
So, if your business employs an average of 40 agents over the course of a year, and during that year 15 staff left, you calculate your attrition rate as 15 ÷ 40 x 100 = 37.5%.
By examining the details of each individual leaver and looking for patterns you can discover indications of where work can be done to reduce your attrition rate. For example, if you are losing staff early in their tenure, it is likely to be an issue with your recruitment process, with your staff training, or related to the inclusiveness of the business. If staff tend to be with you longer before leaving, this is more likely due to a lack of advancement opportunities or perceived problems with the compensation offered to your top performers.
While there may be obvious areas that can be addressed first, it’s worth reviewing all areas that could contribute to attrition as this will in turn help create an environment that both attracts and retains the best staff to your team.
The Impact of High Attrition Levels
Before we look at ways you can reduce your attrition levels, it’s worth considering the impact that high attrition levels can have on your business.
High Recruitment and Training Costs
While it’s not unusual for contact centres to have almost constant recruitment taking place, high attrition rates mean the processes and costs associated with finding and training new staff are greatly increased. As well as management time being diverted from developing your existing team to carrying out interviews, you have extra onboarding and training sessions to run as well as more time required coaching your new starts. New team members will inevitably have a “run in period” where they’re not operating at their full potential and are working to reduced targets. This means that an increased proportion of your agent seats are either less profitable than they could be or aren’t delivering the KPIs agreed with your clients.
An environment where most team members are experienced in what they’re doing also has a positive effect on any new hires. Because they’re absorbing best practices from the team around them, they’ll rapidly learn best practices and become effective more quickly. The opposite is also true. If new hires are surrounded by other recent additions to your team, it becomes impossible for them to learn by example and the time it takes for your team to mature is greatly increased.
If you have dedicated recruitment and training departments, you may consider this process to be a fixed cost and it simply appears you’re getting value from the department. Unfortunately, if you spend all your training resources continually doing introductory training, it will severely limit your ability to deliver a more advanced training program. This will cause your agents’ development to stall early and may well lead to them seeking further development elsewhere.
Reduced Customer Service
The quality of the service you offer your customers is directly linked to the average experience of the members of your team. It’s common for new staff members to follow their script to the letter and for them to struggle when they receive questions they didn’t anticipate or outright objections. This results in less successful conversations and targets being missed.
As your team members develop a greater understanding of the product or service they’re discussing they can speak more freely and have more naturally flowing and confident conversations with the customer. Every time you lose a staff member, especially an experienced one, you’ll need to replace them with someone who’s starting from scratch again.
Low Staff Morale
In recent years we have seen company culture become a priority for people seeking new opportunities. They look to align their values with the company and its staff before committing to working with them. If your workforce is continually changing, your team members will not be able to form strong relationships at work. If staff cannot develop these relationships, it can lead to them feeling isolated and unsupported.
What can be even worse, but more subtle, is where your long-term staff start to view new hires as temporary colleagues who are likely to leave within a few weeks or months of starting. This causes them to avoid forming friendships with new starts as they suspect they’ll not be there for long. Of course, this then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as new starts feel unvalued and unwelcome in your business and will soon start to look for work elsewhere.
How to Increase Staff Retention in a Contact Centre Environment
Now that we've reviewed the main impacts of a high attrition rate, what can you do about it? Fortunately there are some key areas that you can review to ensure that you're doing everything you can to keep your staff retention as high as possible, starting right at the recruitment stage.
1. Select the Right Candidates for the Role
When selecting new staff, you send a strong message to the rest of your team. If existing staff are constantly being introduced to new hires who are obviously unsuitable for the role, they’ll quickly begin to question how much you value them. Even if you have a lot of seats to fill it’s essential to avoid the temptation to recruit less qualified or unsuitable candidates to quickly fill the vacancies. This can also happen if you fall into a mentality of offering jobs to the best candidates available, even if none of them are of the calibre you’re looking for. The justification “they were the best of a bad bunch” should be a stark warning sign that something’s gone wrong with your recruitment process.
While you might think that there’s a benefit to taking a chance on seemingly unsuitable candidates and then seeing if they “sink or swim”, this will quickly have a profoundly negative impact on your existing staff. It’s also stressful and unfair to the unsuitable applicants you’re putting in that position which could result in further problems for your business. Recruiting staff that are probably unsuitable for the role and who will more-than-likely fail to achieve targets is just setting them up to fail. This is a waste of everyone’s time and money.
Depending on the nature of your business, existing staff may also feel they are being made to cover for the shortfall of poorly chosen new staff members, further reducing morale.
Building a good team takes time and patience. By carefully vetting CVs / resumés and by developing sound interviewing and selection processes, you’ll find more new starts thrive and your retention rates start to rise. If you have clear criteria that you’re looking for applicants to meet or exceed then you’ll avoid the trap of hiring unsuitable candidates just because “they were the best that applied”. In addition, your teams will appreciate having competent, well-screened new recruits sitting next to them who they can form relationships with, raising their morale and motivating them to invest in helping new hires learn the ropes and start producing results more quickly.
2. Make Ongoing Training Part of Your Culture
Investing resources in staff development is always a win-win situation and you can always find ways to help even your most experienced colleagues improve their skillsets. By transitioning from classroom training to “masterclasses” for your experienced team members, you’re both recognising their abilities and giving them a chance to sharpen their skills. Done regularly, ongoing training will translate into higher performance levels, better staff retention, and a better experience for your customers.
Providing regular one-to-one feedback is also key to the development of your staff. This provides an opportunity to review recent performance, discuss any challenges and implement any support measures required. Staff will feel more valued and you’ll be able to identify and resolve any new issues that start to develop early on.
3. Provide Opportunities
It is also essential to give your best team members opportunities to advance within the business. It may not always be possible to create new management roles, but you can usually acknowledge their dedication to your business by moving them into senior positions with enhanced perks or salary. For those who have expressed an interest in management, you can always provide them with exposure to more senior tasks and have them support the growth of their less experienced colleagues until a role becomes available.
Opportunities are not limited to upward mobility. Spending time in other departments and working on different projects is a fantastic way to give people a chance to experience other business areas, allowing them the opportunity to determine if it is a direction they want to go in their career.
Sometimes, in order to support your staff's personal growth, you may need to support them going elsewhere to obtain it. When experienced team members do eventually move on, be sure to celebrate their new opportunity and give them a good send off, while making it clear the door is always open to return. You will be sending a powerful message that your company is where people are valued and seen as individuals and your former colleagues may well want to return at a later date with even more experience under their belts.
4. Encourage Staff to Take Ownership
Within a contact centre environment, it is common to have set processes that address most of the day-to-day queries that your team will encounter. However, not all customer situations are the same, and some may require new solutions. If your staff feel they always need to seek guidance before taking any additional actions to solve a problem, it is usually a sign they don’t feel trusted or that they lack confidence. It also creates an additional burden on your management team, reducing the time they have available for other responsibilities.
Conveying that you understand that mistakes are human and that staff will not be penalised for trying to solve a problem for a customer, you show trust in your team and give them the opportunity to solve problems for themselves. Encouraging your more experienced staff to take ownership of such situations in this way will reduce this management burden and empower your team.
5. Ensure Fair Compensation for Everyone
For teams where their compensation includes a target-based salary, getting the commission structure right is essential to retaining your best staff. Offer a transparent and fair pay structure that is competitive within the market and ensure that targets are attainable and clearly tied to desirable outcomes.
It’s also essential that your commission structure rewards your top achievers and doesn’t penalise them for excelling. Introducing caps to commission might feel like a reasonable way to avoid staff being paid “too much” but it’s unlikely your best performers will see it that way. If a few staff are outperforming the rest of the team by a significant margin, then there’s probably a greater problem underlying the disparity such as problems with training or staff finding ways to exploit your systems. Trying to fix the issue by simply limiting commission is a sure way of losing your best staff to competition who don’t.
6. Create a Positive Work Environment
Workplace culture is critical to reducing staff attrition. If you want people to stay within the company, they need to feel valued and they need to at least not hate coming to work.
Encouraging healthy competition within the workplace can help both drive results and build relationships. More importantly it can make an otherwise repetitive job fun and enjoyable. Creating regular games or competitions between teams can be a great way to build relationships and help your teams pull together at the same time as making coming in to work more fun and making your teams more motivated.
It is also important to consider other options such as whether remote working or flexible scheduling may be viable for your business. While these options come with a cost, the technical barriers have mostly been removed and they can help promote a positive work-life balance and reduce childcare and commuting costs for your staff.
Creating an environment where all levels of staff are encouraged to contribute their opinions and feel safe to share ideas is a great way to make your team members feel more valued. It is also an excellent opportunity to identify other skills within the team that will help you identify your next generation of management or other roles they may be suited for.
Lastly, you need to look out for staff that are having a negative effect on the working environment. Any evidence of bullying or harassment within the workplace must be dealt with immediately and following strict guidelines. Even if the individual concerned is your best performer, allowing this type of behaviour to continue unaddressed can send you attrition rate through the roof.
How Do You Know it's Working?
As your staff retention improves, you will see significant improvements in both staff happiness and feedback from your customers. By reducing attrition, you will be overseeing a staff that raves about the great qualities of your company. They promote its unique culture and the positive impact you have on their lives.
This type of word-of-mouth marketing is worth a dozen recruitment firms. You will be attracting a wider range of quality staff looking to be part of this environment. This will translate to more targets achieved as people want to promote and succeed in a business that represents the values they support.
It is important to remember that a high attrition rate is not something that can be solved by a quick fix. However, by continually engaging with the people, processes and the technology used throughout your business you can beat the industry trend and retain more of the amazing staff you have invested in.