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Techniques for Decreasing Agent Attrition
By Donna Fluss, President, and Deborah Navarra, Senior Analyst, DMG Consulting

Call center agents have a very stressful job, which leads to high attrition rates. DMG Consulting has studied this issue for many years. We’ve spoken with call center managers with high agent turnover rates to identify the leading causes of attrition. And, we’ve interviewed managers with relatively high agent retention rates to gain an appreciationof their methods for keeping their staff satisfied. Based on our analysis, we have identified several proven best practices and techniques for reducing agent attrition.

Agent Attrition Trends

I’m sorry to say that agent attrition rates appear to be increasing all over the world. Since North America continues to be the call center trend setter, it has the dubious honor of being the first to encounter new issues that subsequently become challenges in other countries. Only five years ago, India heralded their deep, educated labor pool and low agent turnover rates. Agent attrition is now a very significant issue in this region, where it is a driver of increasing outsourcing billing rates. The point is not to pick on India, but to point out that as regional clusters of call centers mature, they eventually confront many of the same issues, regardless of their location.

In the US, a low agent attrition rate is one that is below 18% to 20%. Agent turnover rates greater than 50% are considered high, and in some contact centers, the attrition rate can run to over 100% annually. Outsourcers generally have the highest agent attrition rates, a trend that has persisted for many years.

Decreasing Agent Attrition by Reducing Call Monotony

According to our research, the two primary causes of agent attrition are monotony and the stress of dealing with unpleasant customers. While there is little that can be done to make callers less challenging, there is a lot can be done to make sure that agents stay involved and productive. Call centers that keep their agents engaged and challenged have a lower agent attrition rate than operating environments that ignore this issue. It may be impossible to eliminate the repetitive nature of inquires, but there are ways to minimize it and keep agents fresh and motivated. Here are some general techniques that have proven to be effective, although the exact approach will vary based on the specifics of each operating environment.

1. Use Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and Web self-service. These solutions can automate all routine inquiries that do not require the cognitive capabilities of live agents. If your organization supports self-service solutions, use them to automate the handling of frequent and routine inquiries, such as balance questions, order status, store hours/locations, directions, etc. When a large percentage of routine transactions are handled by the self-service system, the composition of calls reaching agents changes – they begin to receive more challenging and, therefore, more interesting calls. This should have a positive impact on agent retention, because when agents are more stimulated, they are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs. Keep in mind that when Web self-service is implemented, agents must be trained to handle technical inquiries about the website along with their traditional customer service responsibilities.

2. Implement an email channel. Email gives customers an alternative way of communicating with your organization. Adding this or any other new channel improves the customer experience by offering new options for interacting with your company. Agents benefit by acquiring and using an additional skill set that can break up the monotony of their day. While some agents may not be comfortable handling email inquiries, others will welcome the change of pace.

3. Use eLearning to expand agent skills and keep them stimulated. Develop a library of online eLearning courses that agents can access to improve their knowledge, expand their skill set, or fulfill their development/career plan requirements.

4. Conduct up-training sessions. Offer weekly or bi-weekly up-training courses to introduce new content or coach the staff. Agents appreciate the opportunity to get off the phones, share and discuss customer feedback, and ask questions. Most call centers find that their agents value the skills learned in up-training sessions and appreciate management support.

5. Involve agents in peer training sessions. Get agents involved in helping each other. Pair up an agent who is having difficulty with someone who consistently does an outstanding job. This gives outstanding performers a new task; the “mentor” agent will feel appreciated and motivated to do a great job while serving as a role model and helping to improve the quality of your department.

6. Involve outstanding agents in developing new training programs. Reward outstanding performers by inviting them to help create and deliver new training sessions. This is a highly visible way to recognize and reward excellence. Agents will appreciate this opportunity to enhance their skill set. This approach also yields the added benefit of creating subject matter experts who remain in the shop and are available to assist other agents on an ongoing basis, once the training is completed.

7. Cross-train agents to handle non-call center functions. Agents should be trained and encouraged to perform non-call center activities, generally referred to as “back-office” work, during periods when call volume is low. This practice expands agents’ skills, provides a change of pace, and increases productivity.

8. Hold team meetings. If call volume is low, use the time to build camaraderie by holding team meetings.

9. Solicit ideas from agents. Agents are amazingly resourceful at coming up with creative, innovative and cost-saving ideas. Take advantage of off-peak hours to conduct brainstorming sessions where agents offer suggestions for effective use of low-volume time, ideas for process improvements, or recommendations for call center initiatives to improve performance and morale.

Final Thoughts

Each of the techniques above will contribute to increasing agent satisfaction and therefore reducing the turnover rate. However, the most effective approach for reducing agent attrition is to set realistic expectations about the job before the candidates are hired.

About the Author
Donna Fluss, President, and Deborah Navarra, Senior Analyst, at DMG Consulting LLC. DMG Consulting (www.dmgconsult.com) helps end users build differentiated contact centers by increasing operational efficiency, providing an outstanding customer experience, enhancing loyalty, and increasing sales and profits. And, we assist vendors in developing high-value solutions. For more information, please contact Deborah Navarra at Deborah.navarra@dmgconsult.com or 516-628-1098.