Contact Center Agent Turnover Is A Fact Of Life That Must Be Tracked And Managed

Kate Leggett
Vice President, Principal Analyst
May 7, 2013

Agents turn over in contact centers, and managing your turnover rate is a fact of life. Low agent turnover rates are those that are below 20% a year, and some contact centers have turnover rates as low as 5%. Turnover rates higher than 50% are considered high, and some contact centers have attrition rates of more than 100% a year. Turnover impacts organizations because of recruiting and training costs, and ongoing agent morale issues which can impact customer satisfaction. As turnover costs must be built into overall contact center plans, its important to have an attrition benchmark and manage your operations to that number.

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

  • Involuntary turnover: This is attributable to a mismatch between the contact center agent and the expectations of the position for which the agent is hired. Examples include poor hiring and training practices; poor job descriptions; effort required for the job that were miscommunicated during interviewing; poor toolset that causes overly-long training times.
  • Voluntary turnover: This is attributable to the contact center organization not meeting long term job expectations of the contact center agent. Examples include 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.

There are tactical ways to lower turnover which I generally bucket into four broad categories:

  • 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 KPIs and low level operational metrics to measure your contact center operations. For example, if you are a company that is differentiating 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  which is aligned with your brand proposition –not on artificial metrics that have no bearing to your company’s core values.
  • Process: Make sure that you have clear job descriptions for all contact center roles that are aligned with expectations. Make sure that your hiring processes are comprehensive and include a "day in the life" of a contact center agent to help set expectations. Make sure agents are comprehensively trained, then nested with senior agents who can act as mentors. Also, 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 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 IVR, of web self service to deflect the monotonous inquires. Make sure your agent desktop is usable and contains all the necessary information that agents need to solve customer questions. Make sure that your agents have access to the right data and content to resolve customer inquires.
  • People management: First, take care of the hygiene factors such as pay, benefits, scheduling, and management practices. Second, invest in your workforce: spend time with each agent to understand what they want out of their job – do they want career advancement to supervisor and management levels, better skilling, or are they happy staying a tier 1 agent for example. Put plans in place for each agent that supports their ambitions. Invest in eLearning to expand their skillset and keep them motivated, recognize and reward agents, and solicit their input and act on their suggestions.
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