Staff retention and low employee attrition result from proactive employee communication & WFM (workforce management) at contact centers.

By Peg Ayers

Record low unemployment has created new emphasis on staff retention in contact center operations throughout Canada and the United States.  With payroll as their biggest expense, contact center operators are searching for ways to retain their good employees and save the thousands of dollars it costs them for each one they have to replace.  In addition to their own wages and the cost of recruiting and training, a new hire increases costs through longer handle time and a lower resolution rate, lowers revenue during the learning curve, degrades customer/client goodwill through “rookie errors,” and hurts employee morale because of overwork and mandatory overtime.   Depending on the complexity of the work, a new hire may take six months or a year to be a fully contributing member of the team.

We are often asked by clients to create action plans to increase staff retention in these challenging times.  We help clients optimize their contact center operations through focus on four pillars:  people, process, technology and methodology.

A large Business Process Outsourcer (BPO) recently engaged us to help address these challenges in new and creative ways.  Our analysis included benchmarking the BPO’s processes against best practice centers; in-person site visits and focus groups with all levels, front-line to executive; review of exit interviews, communication, data management, reporting and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs); and a survey of former employees who terminated their employment voluntarily.

Recommendations regarding staff retention were made in several areas, including Recruiting, Training, Pay and Facilities, with one of the most significant revolving around the Management Culture in the centers.  Like many large companies, this BPO’s senior leadership expected to hear that pay was the major problem.  This was a factor, and they later addressed the issue of being the lowest paying center in several of their markets.  But money alone would not solve their staff retention challenges.

Center Management favoritism and unprofessionalism was one of the largest complaints from former employees surveyed by us.  The atmosphere was described as: hostile, biased and unprofessional.  Managers were called: rude, never available, horrible, terrible and disrespectful.  Focus groups with front-line employees and supervisors included similar feedback.  Agents felt supervisors didn’t have time for them, and supervisors felt overworked and badly underpaid.  Center management and Human Resources were seen as disengaged and uninterested.

In another recent engagement, for an in-house Business to Consumer (B2C) operation, we uncovered different issues that also surprised senior management.  After extensive observation and focus groups at all levels, we uncovered a dysfunctional progressive discipline process, a huge disconnect between training (first two weeks) and nesting (additional four weeks), and an imbalance of power between Workforce Management, which had total control of employee time, and Center Management, which had none.

How would your center fare in a similar analysis?  What do you know about how your current and former employees view your organization?  Perhaps you feel your exit interviews give you sufficient insight.  The BPO conducted extensive exit interviews which identified pay, growth opportunities and schedules as the biggest factors in decisions to leave.  While our survey also found pay and schedule in the top four reasons for leaving, it identified two others:  management and training, which did not appear in the company’s exit interviews.  Reasons offered for leaving were so specific in the BPO’s exit interviews that significant issues were missed.  Look at your exit interviews—are they flexible enough to identify the real issues?  Are they easy enough to complete that people will take the time?

Do you know what your current employees think?  Are you available to hear from them?  A recent Gallup poll says only 17% of workers strongly agree the lines of communication are open in their organizations.  And only 27% strongly agree they’re getting feedback that helps them do their jobs better.

Front-line employees need to see fairness and respect from all levels, clear to the top, before they will trust enough to share honest feedback with leaders. A senior leader with responsibility for several centers should make regular site visits and spend time with front-line employees along with the local leadership team.  Suggestions should be acknowledged and follow-up should be timely.  If a suggestion is implemented, credit should be given, with appropriate fanfare, to the person who originated it.  When it’s not practical to implement an idea, the reasons why should be explained specifically to the suggester.

Leaders are made, not born.  They need training and mentoring to be their best.  This starts even before promotions, with pre-supervisor training for those who are interested and career pathing discussions as part of regular one-on-one sessions.  New supervisors and managers need “Management 101” as soon as they’re promoted.  They need immediate understanding that they’re no longer part of the crowd—they have new responsibilities and accountabilities.

Benchmarking can provide insights into areas where your organization can improve.  A contact center health-check or strategic assessment can show your areas of opportunity and recommendations for improvement.

Please Contact ApexCX for all your customer experience needs.

(Nov 21, 2019)