Ten Ways to Fix Contact Center Turnover

Attrition is the biggest contact center challenge in 2016.

That's according to this research from Strategic Contact that outlined the top contact center challenges for 2016 . You could probably change the year and the result would be the same. High turnover is always a problem in contact centers.

This post outlines ten proven ways to improve contact center attrition rates. But first, check here to run your turnover numbers and see if you really have a problem. 

You should know the answer to three questions:

  • How much does turnover cost?
  • What's your annual bad turnover rate?
  • What's a reasonable target rate for bad turnover?

These numbers will tell you how much your contact center can gain from improving turnover. They're probably the first thing your CEO or CFO will look at if you want to invest in fixing this problem.

1. Conduct Stay Interviews

Don't wait until your best agents give notice. 

Schedule stay interviews with your top employees. Consider conducting stay interviews with a cross-section of other employees too. These are interviews designed to find out what keeps your employees from leaving. (Here's a great overview from Inc. Magazine.)

The goal is to learn exactly what factors prompt these agents to stick around so you can keep doing those things. You also want to learn what might cause them to leave.


2. Raise Wages

A client of mine was notoriously tight fisted when it came to employee wages. He quickly changed his mind when I showed him this chart:

It showed the $12 per hour average wage he was paying his contact center agents was at the bottom end of the pay scale compared to the range for similar jobs in the area. Paying at the bottom of the pay scale created two problems:

  • His company couldn't attract talented employees at that wage.
  • Any talented employees he developed quickly left for an easy raise.

In my client's case, raising wages to $14 per hour quickly paid for itself in three ways:

  • He recruited better employees who needed less training.
  • He recruited better employees who were more productive.
  • Employees stayed longer because they were more satisfied with their pay.


3. Hire For Culture Fit

Let's face it - not every person will love working for your contact center.

The trick is finding, and hiring, the people who will. This might be a problem if you tend to lose a lot of agents within their first six months. 

One tool that can help you do this is called an Ideal Candidate Profile. This describes both the skills and cultural attributes that an employee must have to fit in with your contact center.

You can use this worksheet to create your own Ideal Candidate Profile.


4. Improve Training

Great hiring won't help you keep employees if they don't get sufficient training. Poor training programs can create turnover in a number of ways:

  • Agents never get the confidence to do their jobs correctly.
  • Agents never get the skills to do their jobs correctly.
  • The training is so bad that agents quit before finishing.

Many contact centers can reduce their new hire training time by 20 - 50 percent while getting better results if they simply adopted more modern techniques.

Toister Performance Solutions helps clients design new hire training programs, but you can also make many improvements on your own. The starting point is setting good learning objectives.

You can also read my article, 5 Ways to Train Contact Center Agents Faster.


5. Create Career Ladders

Many contact center agents don't view their job as a career.

It's often seen as a stepping stone to something else, or perhaps a good way to earn some money for a short period of time.

A career ladder is a defined path that spells out ways for employees to grow within your organization. For example, many contact centers have different agent tiers. A new agent can earn progressive responsibility and pay by getting promoted into higher tiers.

In other companies, agents are actively recruited into other departments. 

Whatever the case may be in your organization, creating opportunities for your agents may entice your most talented people to stay longer.


6. Identify Toxic Leaders

Take a close look at your turnover rate by leader. Are agents quitting certain leaders or teams at a much faster rate than others?

An abnormally high turnover rate could signal a toxic leadership style. That individual leader may benefit from additional coaching or training. Or, they might not be cut out to lead people in your company.

The flip side is also helpful. Take time to study leaders whose agents rarely leave or frequently get promoted and see if you can identify what they do differently.


7. Focus on Short Commutes

The length of your employees' commutes might have an impact on how long they stay.

This fascinating post suggests that 30 minutes is the maximum time contact center employees are willing to commute. The post also cited research showing that employees with a commute of 10 minutes or less are 20 percent more likely to stay with your contact center six months or longer.

There seems to be a little more tolerance for longer commutes if employees are taking public transportation.

This data suggests that contact centers should employ a hyper-local recruiting strategy, embrace more work at home options, or both. 


8. Empower Your Agents

ICMI released a study last year revealing that 86 percent of contact centers don't fully empower their agents.

Empowerment is closely connected to attrition. One of the things agents consistently say they dislike about their jobs is the inability to do what's necessary to help their customers.

Employee empowerment isn't easy, but you can use this guide to get started.


9. Stop Demotivating Agents

Contact center leaders have focused on motivating their agents for as long as I can remember. 

They try incentives, slogans, and snazzy banners. Gamification is the latest agent motivation fad. None of it seems to really work.

That's because agents don't have a motivation problem. The issue is demotivation. Agents become steadily demotivated the longer they're on the job.

Take a look at this data from Benchmark Portal:

Good agents fundamentally want to help people. Make it easy for them to do that, and they're more likely to stay. Make it hard for them to help customers, and they'll probably quit.

Here's some more compelling data about why agents don't need to be motivated.


10. Do A Real Engagement Assessment

Many contact centers do an annual employee engagement survey. 

Contact centers do these surveys because they understand the link between employee engagement and retention. Unfortunately, most of those surveys are a waste of time

The way these surveys are designed, they rarely lead to actionable changes that can take a meaningful bite out of agent attrition.

I've had success with a counter-intuitive approach that doesn't rely on employee opinion. It instead takes a hard look at the underlying processes that drive engagement.

One client used this assessment to cut their turnover by 50 percent and save $150,000.

You can do the conversation starter assessment yourself. Or, let's talk about a more comprehensive version.


What About Culture?

You might be wondering why I didn't suggest improving your contact center's culture.

The trick with culture is it's a pretty squishy concept. However, if you look carefully at my recommendations, you'll see that they all contribute to a strong culture.

In other words, follow these suggestions and you'll be on your way towards building the type of culture that attracts and retains talented agents.

Does Your Customer Service Team Have a Turnover Problem?

Employee turnover is a constant worry for customer service managers.

This was a huge topic for ICMI's conference advisory board, a group that gives input on programming for ICMI's contact center conferences. I serve on the board and we recently had a planning call for the 2016 Contact Center Demo and Conference. A significant portion of the meeting focused on contact center attrition.

Individual customer service leaders have been sharing this concern with me too. It's also a hot topic on the Inside Customer Service LinkedIn group.

The challenge here is separating facts from feelings. Turnover feels bad, but the customer service profession generally experiences higher turnover than other industries. 

Do you have the facts that tell you whether or not it's really a problem? And, if it is a problem, how big a problem is it?

I've put together this guide to help you find the answers to these questions.

Source:  Chris Griffith

How to Calculate Employee Turnover

You can start by calculating your overall turnover rate using this formula for a particular time period (one year, one month, etc.):

Employee Separations / Active Employee Count = Turnover Rate

For example, let's say you had 40 employees leave and you have 100 active employees (on average) over the course of one year. Your turnover calculation would be:

40/100 = 40%

It's also helpful to calculate your bad turnover rate. Bad turnover is when an employee is either fired or quits the company entirely. Good turnover is when an employee leaves the job for another opportunity within the company, usually a promotion.

So, your bad turnover rate formula is this:

(Employee Terminations + Employee Quits) / Active Employee Count = Bad Turnover Rate

Let's say you had 40 employees leave, but 10 of them were promoted into other positions within the company, 5 were fired and 25 resigned voluntarily. 

Your bad turnover rate calculation would be:

(5 + 25)/100 = 30%


Is Turnover a Problem?

Once you've calculated the turnover rate, it's time to find out if turnover is really a problem. 

Keep in mind that nearly every customer service team will experience some employee turnover. What you really want to know is whether your team's turnover rate is normal. There's two ways you can look at this:

One option is to compare your current turnover rate to historical trends. For example, you might be concerned if this graph represented your team:

But wait! That graph just shows overall turnover. Let's see what happens when we separate good and bad turnover trends.

Here, it looks like bad turnover is relatively steady, but we're doing a better job of feeding talent into the company.

Another option is to compare your turnover rate to market averages. The tough part about this approach is good data can be hard to come by. 

Industry associations sometimes publish this data based on member surveys, but it may or may not be region-specific. Your local chamber of commerce might publish this data, but it may or may not be industry-specific.

The other problem with these external benchmarks is they typically don't separate good turnover from bad turnover, so it's all lumped together.

Whatever benchmark you choose, it's fair to make some assumptions. The goal is to find a reasonable normal turnover rate that you can compare to your own turnover percentage.

You probably don't have much to worry about if your turnover rate is normal or below normal. If it's above normal, I recommend setting a goal for improvement based on the difference.

Like this:

  • Current bad turnover rate: 30%
  • Normal bad turnover rate: 20%
  • Goal: Reduce bad turnover by 33% (down to 20%).


Is Turnover a Costly Problem?

High turnover seems bad, but it's important to determine how much it's really costing you. Putting real dollars and cents on the issue will help you make the business case for any necessary improvements.

You can use this turnover cost spreadsheet to calculate the true cost. The spreadsheet looks at many expenses associated with turnover:

  • Training costs
  • Hiring costs
  • OT costs due to short-staffing

There's a section there for both hard and soft costs, but I recommend focusing on hard costs. Using real dollars has much more credibility with executives.

My suggestion is to run two calculations:

  1. Calculate your current bad turnover cost
  2. Calculate what your turnover cost would be if your bad turnover rate was normal

The difference between the two calculations is your potential savings from improving turnover to a normal rate.

Here's an example:

Let's say your turnover cost is $4,200 per employee. Here are the two calculations at 30 percent (present rate) and 20 percent (normal rate):

$4,200 x 30 = $126,000/yr

$4,200 x 20 = $84,000/yr

So, $126,000 - $84,000 = $42,000

This means you could save $42,000 per year just by lowering your bad turnover rate to a normal level. That's probably a figure that would get your boss's attention.

So, how do you reduce turnover? 

I'll cover some ideas in a post next week. If you aren't already, you can subscribe via email so you won't miss a post.