How to reduce agent turnover by improving agent experience

For most contact centers, agent attrition is the biggest ongoing drain on budgets. Contact centers have an average turnover rate of 30%, with employee resignation attributing to  60% of the cause of turnover. Recruiting, hiring and training the agents needed to replace outgoing agents represents a huge ongoing cost that is non-optional if contact centers want to keep the lights on. More than two-thirds of a typical contact center’s budget are costs related to staffing. 

Unfortunately, high attrition caused by poor agent morale is an industry-wide epidemic. According to a 2017 study by Meditation at Work: 

  • 43% of contact center agents are unhappy in their jobs
  • 35% are thinking about quitting in the next 12 months
  • 52% of contact center agents think their company isn’t doing enough to prevent employee burnout

Working to reduce agent turnover benefits everyone:

  • Management will be happy spending less on the associated costs of attracting and training new agents.
  • Customers will be happy to get better service; contact centers with lower attrition rates are also able to provide better customer service because they will have more agents that are highly experienced.
  • Your agents will be happy because addressing the causes of agent attrition will necessarily improve agent experience and agent morale.

What are the best ways for you to reduce agent turnover through improved agent experience?

Use proper hiring.

In a contact center with high attrition, it can be tempting to approach hiring as a problem of simply getting people in seats. But it’s important to hire agents with the skills and experience to provide excellent customer service. An agent with customer service skills will need less training to get up to speed and will be less stressed during that critical initial post-hiring period.

Set expectations during the hiring process.

Many new agents resign very quickly after hiring, either because they were unprepared for the workload or because there was a serious mismatch between tasks they anticipated doing and tasks they ended up performing. Setting expectations from the beginning of the process can help to reduce resignations caused by work-shock. One easy way to do this is to provide applicants with clearly-defined job descriptions, spelling out common tasks and the workload they can expect.

Use more carrot and less stick.

One of the biggest reasons for high contact center attrition is poor agent morale.Being a contact center agent can be a demanding and stressful job; relying on negative reinforcement to motivate employees will only aggravate an already bad situation. Instead of punishing agents for failing to meet targets, reward agents who do meet targets. Make those rewards clear and consistently available, so agents have a positive standard to aim for.

Don’t focus on the wrong metrics. 

It’s something we like to point out: it’s important to focus on First Call Resolution or customer satisfaction rather than AHT as a measure of agent performance. Pressuring agents to get through as many interactions as they can is stressful because agents know they’re not able to provide their best service. It also makes for unhappy customers calling back because their problem wasn’t addressed – customers who will take their frustrations out on your agents.

When you make FCR and CSAT scores your focus, everyone wins. Your customers will love the customer experience, and your agents will love not worrying about their performance being measured against metrics that are counterproductive to providing good service.

Give your agents the tools they need to do their job well. 

In many contact centers, poorly integrated systems result in gaps that require agents to use workarounds to perform necessary job functions:

  • 60% of contact center agents think their company doesn’t provide the technology they need to help customers
  • 44% say they lack the proper tools to do their jobs effectively

The problem is in how we think about workarounds. Initially intended as temporary, they have a habit of becoming permanent. As Aptean observed in their 2018 State of Software Workarounds report, “workarounds are meant to be temporary fixes, but in the large majority of cases they end up becoming the new standard operating procedure”.

This is a problem. Workarounds take extra time, energy and increase worker stress. According to Aptean’s report, “More than half of survey respondents stated that workarounds affect their happiness in the workplace. A fifth of respondents even went so far as to state that they may leave their job if those workarounds remain unaddressed.”

Investing in tools that are purpose-built for the tasks your agents need to perform will go a long way toward reducing agent stress and agent turnover.

Stop requiring your agents to multi-task. 

Call center agents are using an average of two monitors and seven different programs to help customers during calls. That kind of multi-tasking is very cognitively draining – and can reduce worker productivity by up to 40%. Agents experiencing this cognitive drain are more prone to stress and what we like to call “desktop overwhelm”.

To solve this problem, contact centers need to provide agents with a consolidated interface that ties all customer service channels into one platform with built-in CRM integration – so that every aspect of customer service can be handled through a single interface – eliminating task-switching delays and leading to increased productivity. By making their work less cognitively draining, you will also greatly improve agent morale.

Don’t short change your agents on the training they need. 

Training represents a significant expense, and training budgets can often be a target for cuts by budget-sensitive call center managers. However, when agents are expected to meet high standards without sufficient training, agent stress skyrockets. This stress decreases agent performance, increases the likelihood of burnout and mental illness, and ultimately causes employees to leave in search of less stressful employment.

Instead of seeing training as an unfortunate expense, look at agent training as an investment that will yield positive dividends. After all, if we are willing to invest in technology to improve contact center performance, why not invest in the people delivering your customer service? 

Related: personalize agent training to ensure agents feel supported. 

Different employees have different skillsets, and a one-size-fits-all approach to training will ensure employees with different needs will feel like they have fallen through the cracks. It’s important for managers to monitor agent performance with an eye to where additional training could improve their skills and their performance.

And don’t forget, it’s not only your agents that need training, but your management as well. Contact center management is complex, and adequate training is needed to ensure that managers have the skills to provide constructive feedback, identify which agents need further training, and ways of supporting agents that will improve agent confidence and performance. Having managers that make agents feel valued and supported will go a long way toward improving agent morale and reducing turnover.

Ask agents what would make their experience better, and act on the results.

It should go without saying that to improve agent experience, you should talk with your agents and ask them what would improve their experience. And yet, many organizations attempt to tackle high rates of agent attrition without ever asking for employee feedback. Even when employee feedback is solicited, all too often agent requests are deemed unfeasible – which only exacerbates the problem of poor agent morale. The only thing worse than not being asked what you want, is being asked and then ignored. 

To make meaningful changes in agent morale, it’s important to solicit direct and honest feedback from your agents about their wants and needs, and to commit to addressing those when possible. But more than that, you need to commit to making requested changes where you can and being transparent about the reasons for decisions when you can’t.

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About the Author: Anna Kreider