Three Proven Practices for Tackling Turnover
If I were to list everything that contact center professionals can do to motivate and retain frontline agents, by the time I finished, your staff would have long since been replaced by avatars and social media bots, so what would be the point?
So, in the interest of time and space, in this article I will focus on three of the most impactful practices I have seen contact centers employ to generate and maintain high levels of enthusiasm, performance and commitment among the folks on the phone.
Provide formal, frequent and meaningful rewards and recognition. In the best-run contact centers, agent rewards and recognition go far beyond helium balloons and pizza parties. While such traditional and trite items/activities won’t do any harm, they also won’t drive high performance nor do much to fend against high turnover. Agents, you see, don’t typically go the extra mile for noble gases nor mozzarella.
What agents do go the extra mile for are meaningful incentives that are tied to clear and agreed-upon performance objectives. Your staff wants to help the organization achieve success and win over customers, and they want to be rewarded and recognized well for such valuable achievements. Top contact centers answer that call and perpetuate lasting engagement by providing high-performing and dedicated agents/teams with things like:
- Pay increases and bonuses (pay-for-performance)
- Themed activities that foster camaraderie, high morale and a sense of team
- Agent of the Week, Month and/or Year awards (based on clear, objective criteria and customer-centric/quality-centric metrics
- Company-wide recognition via e-newsletters, corporate intranet and announcements at key meetings/events
- Nominations for external industry awards recognizing outstanding customer service/support
- Spirited celebrations during National Customer Service Week and/or company-sponsored employee-appreciation days/weeks
Offer compelling and empowering off-phone projects and opportunities. Agents possess a wealth of skills and knowledge, assuming your hiring/training programs don’t totally blow. Acknowledging and tapping that skill and knowledge is one of the best ways to better the center while simultaneously making agents feel like they didn’t make a mistake by dropping out of graduate school.
Here are some of the best "side jobs" I have seen created for deserving agents:
Training assistant. Whether serving as a peer mentor, a transition training "supervisor", or a subject matter expert, giving experienced agents the chance to share their knowledge and assist their peer is a huge boon to all involved. Veterans get to spread their wings and expand their role; developing agents receive helpful tips and support from one of their own who has "been there and done that"; supervisors are freed up to focus on coaching and other key tasks; and the center – and customers – benefit from having a highly motivated and continuously improving frontline.
Interdepartmental liaison. There are few better ways to elevate agent engagement than to give them special job title that sounds like they are in the CIA. An increasing number of contact centers have recognized this, and not only create agent liaison opportunities to motivate and retain staff, but also to enhance working relationships with and support from other departments. Agent liaisons take time off the phones (when feasible) to interact with members of areas like Marketing, Sales, Product Development and IT and share key information about what the contact center is up to that impacts those areas. In addition, liaisons find out what’s happening in each of these other areas and shares that information with the contact center.
Activity Committee member. Smart organizations strive to achieve an optimal work-fun balance for staff. Many top contact centers establishing an agent-led activity committee dedicated to planning social events and activities that bring co-workers together to bond and make fun of the IT guys.
Member of technology/workflow improvement task force. In centers that don’t work to continually improve call workflows, knowledge bases and other agent-assistive applications, it’s not uncommon for staff to ram their head through their PC monitors. This can be extremely dangerous, as the money needed to repair the monitors gets taken out of the center’s pizza fund, which can leave supervisors and managers hungry. Realizing this very real risk, the best contact centers empower agents to not only whine and moan incessantly about slow/lacking systems and desktop tools, but to also come up with solutions to such technology problems.
Introduce a home agent initiative.Giving deserving agents the opportunity to work from home and handle customer contacts in their underwear is like giving them a whole new life: No more soul-crushing commutes; better work-life balance; cost-savings associated with not having to buy clothes, shampoo, shaving cream or deodorant; and the highly empowering feeling that the company values and trusts them enough to work so autonomously.
Contact centers benefit, too – big time. Those that take the time to select the right home agents and carefully implement sound telecommuting processes and policies typically experience the following: Higher retention of their best agents; better recruiting results; improved productivity and quality; better attendance; increased staffing flexibility; and decreased facility expenses.
Quite simply, home agents represent the future of customer care – no other trend stands to have as huge a positive impact on contact center performance and employee satisfaction -- except for perhaps agent cloning, which has yet to be perfected and requires expensive lab equipment that can make it cost-prohibitive.