Employee Retention in Call Centers: Ten Strategies

The benefits of improved call center retention in all types of centers are enormous: Reduced turnover costs, improved customer service productivity, more satisfied customers, better employee morale and higher profits. The individuals performing these roles are critical to increasing average revenue per unit, increasing market penetration, selling additional services, improving ROI on capital upgrades, and reducing customer churn.

Retention is a result of thinking strategically and doing many things well.There is no one tool or technique that alone will get results. Many consultants or vendors selling a particular product such as training would like you to believe that there is one key solution. Don't be fooled. If you do not understand what is happening in your work environment and address your whole talent supply chain, you are at a severe disadvantage in your labor market.

Based on our research and findings with call centers nationwide, here are the top ten strategies critical to successful retention:

1. Be data driven. Many organizations ignore the basics. You have to know where you are before you can figure out a plan to improve. Good data will drive good decisions.
  • Few organizations truly understand the cost of turnover. Costs include recruitment, selection, orientation, training, lost productivity, vacancy costs and customer impact costs. Knowing the costs is an important first step because it creates the resolve to make changes.
  • Determine when your new employee becomes a profitable employee.That is, when do they fully return the investment the organization has made in them? Many organizations will be appalled to find it can take twenty weeks or longer to breakeven on a new hire, especially when many agents leave within 120 days.
  • Know why your employees are leaving your organization. Exit interviews are helpful, but may not give you accurate data. Employees will often cite pay as a reason for leaving because they don't want to hurt feelings or create waves. Better are interviews with former employees who left six months before. Conduct future exit interviews using an on-line survey tool so employees will be more candid.
  • Know the best sources for your new hires. Cultivate relationships with these sources to increase the number of candidates applying for your agent positions. Several of our client call centers were surprised to find employee referrals brought them up to 50% of their candidate pool. They had no formal way of letting employees know they were hiring, and no referral or retention bonus. These organizations may be able to fill future needs by communicating more to their current workforce and encouraging or incenting more referrals

2.  Develop a profile of your ideal candidate.Retention begins with recruitment, but a recruitment effort is flawed from the start if you don't know what you want. Identify the key elements of the kinds of people you want to attract and keep - those that will fit your culture, support your mission and enjoy their work.

3.  Develop a compelling value proposition.You must be able to answer this question: Why should a good candidate come to work for your call center? Make no mistake, this is marketing. Your challenge is to differentiate your offering from all other competitors. What makes your positions appealing to exactly the kinds of people you want? Why are your jobs the best for your ideal candidates? How do your rewards and worklife benefits best fit the needs of the people you most want to hire? Too many organizations focus on pay, almost apologizing for the work they have, when in fact, the work itself is often what can be most attractive to the right candidates.
4.  Increase your pool of candidates. To increase retention, you must hire only the candidates who are most likely to stay and be productive. Yet being selective requires that you have a pool of candidates from which to choose. If you hire whoever you get, you're in trouble. Identify the most productive, best places to recruit, then put together a focused recruitment plan to increase the numbers of viable candidates.
5.  Improve your selection process.Your selection process needs to be fast and valid so that you can identify good candidates and make offers quickly. Map the selection process and work through solutions to improve both cycle time and the quality of hires. Focus on the ideal candidate characteristics and select for the profile traits. Don't rely on interviews alone - research has shown that interviews are one of the least valid tools for selection. Test candidates to see if they will fit with your jobs. Basic skills, of course, are important, but more important is that the person has the aptitude for a service environment.
6.  Invest in employee orientation.You must make sure a person has a positive entry experience in your organization. Half of all people who leave a job in the first ninety days make that decision on day one or two. You'll never have a more eager employee than on the first day. Capitalize on it by giving people reasons why you're pleased to have them and why they should feel great about being selected. Don't just send them into training without a true welcome from the center's top management.
7.  Focus on people development. People want to learn and grow. If employees are not mentally challenged, you will lose them. People will check out mentally long before they check out physically. Develop career path options for high performing call center agents. Mentor programs can be highly effective in boosting retention of great employees. Well designed mentor programs speed development of both the new employee and the mentor. Identify ways to keep people learning and developing even after a few years on the job. For example, a few hours of work per week on a special project can help keep high performers stimulated and challenged.
8.  Develop your managers. A 25-year-long Gallop poll of employees reveals there are several factors that will keep an employee in one company. The most important factor is quality managers. Employees stay where they have a manager who truly manages them. Great managers listen to employee ideas and encourage collaboration. The converse is also true: Many studies cite ineffective managers as the number one reason why good performers leave. The best performers will not stay if they work for a jerk. Make sure that your managers and supervisors demonstrate high quality skills. When employees leave, they often leave managers, not companies.
9.  Run a high-performing organization. People want to work for winners. The best performing organizations have a tremendous advantage in getting and keeping good people. Align your strategy, structure, people and processes. Make sure your employees understand the big picture and can see how they individually support your call center. Establish measures and let everyone know how they're doing on a regular basis.
10.   Provide employee recognition. Employees stay where they feel appreciated. Encourage individual management recognition but also develop organizational recognition vehicles. Simple recognition of jobs well done in the quarterly newsletter, pictures on the bulletin board, dinner gift certificates, and other small rewards provide a high return on investment.

These ten strategies cover a lot of ground. A good place to start is a quick assessment of all areas, resulting in a plan that prioritizes improvement areas and delivers measurable results.