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The secrets to call centre agent retention

3rd Aug 2017
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You’ve tried numerous tactics to improve your agent performance and to put your attrition problem to rest. You’ve conducted surveys, created committees, put in recognition programs, and still you struggle. Perhaps you’re even feeling a little disgusted with yourself and your inability to make a bigger impact. You feel like no matter what you try, it’s not going to work. It’s just the nature of the contact centre industry.  

Is it really? Or is it time to put humanity into your contact centre?

If you were to look at the Contact Centre Challenges and Priorities Report authored by Lori Bocklund of Strategic Contact, you’d see that attrition and agent performance are the top challenges and priorities in contact centres. And it seems like they always are.  

Managing a contact centre is fast paced and furious. It has always been. But now the entire economy has to adapt to rapid change and uncertainty. It’s making your life even more complex and stressful.  

Continuing to do things the popular way in the contact centre industry no longer works. It’s holding you back.

Competition for your problem-solving, caring-natured people is rising. The best contact centre agents also are the best marketing people, sales people, finance people, and trainers.  

In a study by Jobvite, 95% of recruiters say hiring will be as or more competitive in the coming year (2017).

Old-think contact centre practices are pushing good candidates away. Unless changes are made, you and so many others will continue to report that attrition and agent performance are your top challenges and priority.

And your viable candidate pool is going to continue to shrink. According to 65% of recruiters, a lack of skilled candidates in the market remains the largest obstacle to hiring.

Employer reputation

In the past, it was easy for an employer to avoid the negative impact of having a contact centre with an attrition problem.

But now, 59% of job seekers use social media to research the company culture of organizations they are interested in.

Today, job seekers have access to and will read reviews, news, and other resources about companies online before even submitting a resume. They are using the experiences of others to learn about companies for themselves. It’s more important than ever for contact centres to develop a positive online reputation.

Negative reputations, regardless if created by a scandal, bad senior executive behavior, poor business practices, or dissatisfied employees is causing serious problems for contact centres.

An employer’s negative online reputation leads to difficulty recruiting and retaining new employees, higher costs to hire, and failing to attract top talent. And in a market where talent differentiates brands, this is vital to growth and defending off competition.

Today and increasingly into the future, employees value companies with a great reputation, a noble purpose, and a track record of satisfied and engaged employees.

It’s certain that candidates will move away from opportunities with contact centres that are unable to maintain a positive reputation online.

Ownership over accountability

When your focus is on how to hold people accountable, it takes your focus off an important question: “Why do we need to hold people accountable in the first place?”

This question comes from Susan Folwer, author of the book Why Motivating People Doesn't Work . . . and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging.

She states that if you believe people need to be held accountable, what is YOUR underlying belief? Is it that people cannot be trusted to do what you want them to do?

Is it that people fail to follow through on what they commit to doing? Why is that?

You need to look in the mirror when your people are not performing. Too often, holding people accountable is a kneejerk reaction based on the leader’s own fear of failure.

Most leaders don’t understand the undermining and short-term effect of carrots (incentives, bonuses, tangible rewards), so when those bribes don’t work, leaders assume it is the individual’s fault and put accountability measures—the stick—in place.

The insidious thing about accountability is that it promotes the use of pressure to get people to do what they probably already want to do—succeed.

A sense of ownership is a required component to experience engagement. And as many studies have confirmed, engagement is directly correlated with higher levels of individual and organizational performance.  This results in higher profits, lower costs, higher customer retention and referrals.  

An employee’s perception of control is significantly related to psychological ownership. (Pierce, O’Driscoll, Coghlan, 2004)

When control over employee performance is influenced by management implementing carrot and stick practices, employees are stripped of control. When the tactics used to affect performance are more aggressive, the more difficult it is for employees to feel they are in control of their performance and therefore are unable to feel a sense of ownership in the job or their performance.

Expectation setting

Effective setting of employee expectations is a critical part of successfully leading and managing a team. When an employee fails or performs poorly, call centre managers typically do not blame themselves or the system.

A Towers Watson survey, shows that only half of managers set effective employee goals. If individual goals aren't clear and well-defined, how can employees hope to achieve them and managers hope to reach them?

The power of purpose

In the report Crunch Time: Why Purpose is Everything to the Modern Workforce by Calling Brands, Purpose is defined as being an ambition to make a difference in the world by a sincere desire to make a positive impact on society, and to offer a wider benefit to the community.

They share that Purpose is a key driver of recruitment preference, discretionary effort, and employee retention. The truth is, Purpose goes beyond a mission statement. 64% of the workforce feels more loyal towards businesses that claim to do more than simply create shareholder value.

In an interview on the Fast Leader Show, Brian MacNeice co-author of the book Powerhouse: Insider accounts into the world’s top high-performance organizations shares findings from his research of organizations such as the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, Doctors Without Borders, Mayo Clinic, Finnish State School Education System, Kirov Ballet, Tata Group in India, Southwest Airlines, US Marines Corps, New Zealand All Black Rugby, St. Louis Cardinals, The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and others.

Brian shares that Purpose is one of the 12 common attributes of all high-performing organizations. And when people are in alignment and have clarity in the Purpose of the organization, people give more of themselves.

Purpose must be real and cannot be faked for it to be an organizational performance multiplier.   

What do your people feel the purpose is of your contact centre? Do they feel it aligns with what they feel is the purpose of the company?

Do your supervisors and agents know how they make a difference or impact the company purpose? Do your employees know how they are helping others to fulfill the purpose?

Purpose is a cornerstone in your contact centre and organizational foundation. If it’s missing or misunderstood, trust will be hard to foster and all you attempt will be undermined.

Employee development

The largest age group of contact centres agents are millennials. 87% of millennials rate "professional or career growth and development opportunities" as important to them in a job based on Gallup's latest report, How Millennials Want to Work and Live.

Millennials care deeply about their development when looking for jobs and in their current roles.

The reasons behind millennials' desire to enhance their skills and to further their careers is a great opportunity when a constructive process exists.

While millennials are most interested in opportunities to learn and grow, only 39% strongly agree that they learned something new in the past 30 days that they can use to do their jobs better. Slightly less than one in two millennials strongly agree that they have had opportunities to learn and grow in the past year.


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