Friday, October 21, 2011

Mitigating Attrition During and After Training

Are you loosing your agents in these places?  

Two common places where attrition occurs are during training or right after training ends and the agents move out to the production floor. 

Attrition During Training:  When attrition occurs during training, you have to look at several factors. 

First, was it voluntary or involuntary. When agents leave from training on their own, it could be for many reason – a very common one is that while they were out looking for work, they had interviewed with several different companies and a position that they wanted more than the call center was offered to them after they started training, and they decided to accept that other position.  In other cases it may be that they become overwhelmed with all the learning, information, and systems, or they have a personal conflict/issue with the trainer or someone else in the class. 
Second - when agents are involuntarily dismissed from training it is usually either because of attendance issues or because they aren’t able to pass the learning tests or quizzes.  Regardless of the reason, if your agents aren’t showing up for training or can’t pass their quizzes, allowing them to continue through training can be a big mistake.  Statistics have proven most agents who have poor attendance or low performance during the first few weeks of a job will be let go within the first 90 days.  Due to the costs associated with training it is best to let people go early on if they are showing an inability or unwillingness to do the job.

Deep end without safety equipment?
Transition to the Floor:  The next place that attrition occurs is during the transition period from training to the production floor.  This can actually be a very scary or overwhelming time for new agents, when they move from learning into doing.  If this transition isn’t managed well, a lot of people will lose heart and quit due to fear, concern about their ability to succeed, and feelings of lack of support.

To mitigate these agent fears and concerns, successful companies take some if not all of the following steps:
  • Require agents sit with and listen to Sr. agents take calls during training
  • Have agents engage in several hours of role-plays during the training period so their first call isn’t the first time they’ve used the company dialogue or responded to customer questions/concerns
  • Require the agents to take a final test in training.  By passing the test, it gives the agents confidence that they will be able to successfully handle customer calls.

  • After training, but before moving the agents onto their permanent teams, have the training class move into a transition area where they can take calls, but have extra help available to assist with questions.

  • Set up an internal helpline for your agents.  This is usually staffed by Sr. agents, who can help new agents either by phone or through chat.  (Chat is preferred as one Sr. agent can assist several agents on the floor at once.)

  • Provide extra quality monitoring and coaching during this time-frame.  New agents want to know if they are doing all right or need to change anything.  And if they can be corrected right at the beginning, it can prevent the agents from developing poor habits.

  • Meet frequently with their team lead – to review their overall stats (call handle time, number of calls taken, quality numbers, first call resolution, etc.) to see performance improvement, and discuss any issues or concerns.
Keeping your agents informed and feeling confident is key in their ability to positively represent the company.  The worst thing you can do is “dump them into the deep end of the pool” without help after training!

What does your company do to mitigate attrition during training and the transition to the floor?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hiring the Right People

Are you organized in your approach? (Does it make a difference?)

You bet it does!

Finding, screening, and offering positions to the best people is the biggest challenge for any organization.
If you have the ability to, it is often very helpful to work with a recruiting company to find potential candidates for you, that you then interview. This cuts down a lot of your work in trying to find people in the first place. However, regardless of if you are working with a recruiting/staffing firm or doing it on your own, to be successful you need to follow the steps below:
  1. Written Job Description: this description gives a full overview of all the tasks a person in the open role will be required to do, the skill sets required, and personality traits that would help a person in this role be successful.
  2. Job Want Ad: this is a written description that gives the title of the job, a few key tasks and personality traits for a successful candidate, and also includes an overview of the company and benefits of working within your group. Remember, the term “Ad” stands for “advertisement” – and the goal is to attract many people so you have a large pool of people to choose from.
  3. Interview Questions List: having a pre-set list of questions does several things for you during an interview – first, it keeps your thoughts organized, also it ensures you ask consistent questions to all candidates so their responses can be compared, but it also helps to prevent you from asking questions in an illegal manner. And while you always want to ask the general questions that enable you to get to know each candidate, you also need to ask very specific questions that enable you to gain an understanding of their motivations around work. What are their priorities? When home conflicts with work, what do they do? How do they prioritize? Deal with conflict? Solve problems? Cope with repetitiveness? Etc.
  4. Rating or Ranking Method: in order to remain objective it is always helpful to have some type of scoring or ranking system to enable you to ensure you are only offering positions to fully qualified candidates or to the candidate that best fits your needs. Sometimes you find that no one who applied fits the need, and that you need to look further.

Refining the Process: In a call center setting you have the opportunity to re-interview your best employees and to use their profiles as a model when interviewing new candidates. And as your business needs change, so will your ideal candidate profile. Don’t stop with where you are today thinking that what worked last year will keep working this year.

Retention: The goal of this process is that you will find people who are not only qualified and willing to do the work, but that you will also find those who want to work within your organization for at least two years or longer.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Call Center Work - Impacts on Attrition

Does the type of call center really impact the attrition levels?

You bet it does!

As with any type of work, (i.e.: manufacturing, construction, retail sales, warehouse/distribution, etc.) there are always variations in the work being done based on the type of company and company needs.

Call center work is no different – the work varies greatly based on the business unit’s focus and the policies, procedures, and performance metrics. There are outbound call center groups focused on sales, surveys, or collections, and inbound groups handling sales, customer service, and technical support.

It is very well known that outbound groups have much higher agent churn than inbound groups. And customer service groups have less attrition than sales teams. And, once a tech support group is fully established, they can be as steady as customer service groups.

Some of this seems very intuitive – in that outbound groups are calling people out of the blue, interrupting their day and then trying to obtain information or money from them, and they usually have sales (or collection) quotas they have to meet. Emotionally, this is a very difficult role – due to customers being upset at being interrupted or feeling harassed for payments.

With inbound groups on the other hand, the customer is calling in for help to resolve a problem or concern. And even if they initially are grumpy about having the issue, if the agents are empowered to, they can usually turn the situation around and the customer leaves the interaction with positive feelings towards the company.

Another factor that makes a difference for agent attrition, is the size of the center. Smaller centers (less than 100 agents) have lower attrition than large centers (over 100 agents). This is most often due to agents in large centers feeling like they are “just a number” and that their work doesn’t really make that much of a difference in the big scheme of things.

Common annual attrition levels:

  • Outbound groups: 100-250%
  • Inbound groups: 60-150%
How does your group compare?

Planning for Attrition

Are You Crazy? Who Would Plan Attrition?

Knowing that it costs thousands of dollars to recruit and train your phone agents, don’t you wish that they would just stay with you forever until they retired? Yeah – as managers we all dream of life as it was in the 1950’s, where people stayed with the company they joined out of high school and worked loyally until they earned their gold watch….but that isn’t our reality any more.

Today, on average, people change jobs 11 times across their career (about every 4 years). Many of us think people would only change jobs because they are moving up – but that isn’t necessarily the case. In today’s fast paced economy, where companies are moving work around the globe, automating, downsizing, merging, and divesting, it is very common for employees to get caught in the flux, meaning they are changing jobs not by choice, but because they’ve been forced to. Due to this Americans have come to expect that they won’t be staying with one company long term. We now live in a world where companies aren’t loyal to their employees and employees aren’t loyal to their companies.

So, what can we expect from employees? How do we plan for the fact that we may only get 4-ish years from each one? You plan for attrition!

Planned attrition is when you know on average you lose xx number of agents per month, so you put it into your financial budget knowing that you will need to replace them. You start by planning for the worst, and then strive to have a positive impact on the things you can influence.

Attrition comes in many forms – with agents who:

  • Don’t succeed through training
  • Aren’t able to perform up to requirements once they are on the floor
  • For whatever reason are unable to fulfill their shift hours
  • Get promoted to another position within the company
  • Leave the company – for whatever reasons (going back to school, pay increase, more responsibility, schedule needs, closer to home, etc.)
  • Agents who are just working for you as seasonal help

Some of these things we can influence and some we can’t. Smart managers look at each type of attrition and dig in to find out why it is happening, and then put action plans around things they can influence in a positive manner. For example, if you have a lot of people leaving and they all have the same supervisor or quality coach, you might want to explore the leadership style of their leaders. Or if you have a group of agents who are all struggling to meet their metrics – was it something to do with their initial training? Do they all need another day in class, or some time nesting with a Sr. agent? OR are they really just a poor fit and it would be better to let them go?

As managers we have to weigh the cost of continuing to work with an agent who is struggling vs. bringing someone brand new up to speed. I know we wish people would just come to work, do their jobs, and go home. But people aren’t that easy – they have thoughts, feelings, opinions, needs, desires, goals, etc. And as their leaders, we have to address all these components in addition to motivating them to get their work done in an efficient and quality manner. And something that does drag on even your best performers is the constant churn of their co-workers.

Let’s see how the type of call center work impacts attrition….

Monday, June 27, 2011

Call Center Attrition

Are you managing a "Revolving Door" shop?
  • Does your center have to run a training class of new hires each month?
  • Are your overall performance numbers lower than expected due to a large number of new agents hitting the floor each month?
  • Do you find that your top performers are leaving within the first year?
  • Are you loosing people out of training or within the first 60 days?
  • In exit interviews, are agents saying that they are leaving for money?

Unplanned or unwanted attrition is one of the most expensive components within the call center operations. Many may look at a call center and think that surely the cost of the building, the desks, the chairs, the computers, the telephone connections, conference rooms, computer systems, etc. must make up the majority of the costs. But in reality, people costs – salary, incentives, and benefits make up 70% or more of total call center costs.

Yes – that’s right. Your people are the most costly resource. Or stated in another way, your agents are your most valuable resource!

Let me explain just how “valuable” your agents are. Just the process of recruiting and training a phone agent – before they ever take their very first call - can cost companies anywhere from $1,000-4,000.00. And if the “lost” agent was part of a sales team or if your center is an outsource provider, you also have to add the lost revenue you experience due to not having that agent available to take calls. Each time you lose an agent, you’ve lost a very large investment.

Across the hundreds of call centers I’ve visited and worked with, I’ve seen annual attrition rates as low as 25% all the way up to 200% +. Can you imagine having a 100+ seat center in essence turning over its entire workforce two times across the year? It’s painful. So financially painful, many call center business units choose this as one of their main cost reduction focuses. But attrition is caused by many dynamics, and it can sometimes be difficult to identify and change the driving factors. Across the next several weeks we’ll be exploring the following areas of the call center and identifying how each can impact attrition:

  • Planned vs. Unplanned Attrition
  • Type of Call Center Work
  • Recruiting the Right People
  • Training and Transitioning to the Production Floor Environment
  • Company Policies – Level of Front Line Authority
  • Feedback, Motivation, Discipline, and Rewards
  • Work-Life Balance
  • Opportunity vs. Steady Employment
  • Change Management – Controlling What and When Things Change and How It Is Communicated
Share your attrition reduction success stories with us!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Office Communication - Bullies and Doormats

The people leaders within an organization are the ones who create the environment and culture that the employees work within. While they may not be the ones who set or create the company rules, they are the ones who help employees navigate within them and strive towards a balance that works for both the company and the employees. How your leaders communicate with their employees can make all the difference between how an employee feels about their work and the company.

This is often the aspect of leadership that new leaders struggle with the most. They aren’t sure how to approach difficult situations, so they go overboard and come across to harshly, or they are worried about being liked, so they come across as not really agreeing with what they are saying.

Unfortunately, most companies don’t have training or discussions about this aspect of their leadership skills, and that’s too bad when simply having discussions with the leaders and helping them to be aware of what they are or aren’t doing can assist new leaders to make changes that will serve them (and the company) well throughout their careers.

There are many different communication styles, but most of them can be broken down into these four basic categories:

  1. Aggressive (Buford the Office Bully)
  2. Passive (Dora the Office Doormat)
  3. Passive-Aggressive (Wishy-Washy Wilma)
  4. Assertive (Derrick Direct)

The first three communication styles can all have negative impacts on your company culture. And if it is bad enough, your leaders will actually be driving attrition within their teams.

  1. Aggressive Communicators: are often seen as bullies, or dictators. It is their way or the highway, they are hard to please, treat people poorly, and their limited effectiveness is due to people are afraid of them, not because they respect them. Situations are often resolved using anger, and intimidation. Employees fear being the next person who will be belittled, picked on, or fired.
  2. Passive Communicators: are often seen as a push-over or as a doormat. They often let stronger members of their team rule the roost, and just seem to go along with what the team decides. These leaders are liked because they are nice to everyone, however, they aren’t respected because they don’t set and enforce boundaries with their team. They have a hard time dealing with any type of conflict, and would rather avoid it than deal with it. (They may let inappropriate behavior go on for a long time.)
  3. Passive – Aggressive Communicators: are the most difficult communicators to understand. They flip back and forth between being passive and then without understanding why, they seem to suddenly flip out and become very angry and upset. Passive-Aggressive communications are mostly passive communicators who aren’t sure how to communicate well when they have to discipline people. So they go along appearing as if everything is fine until something (and it may be small) pushes them to the edge of what they can tolerate, and then they blow up. They are the least honest communicators, as they rarely provide direct and honest feedback due to not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings.
  4. Assertive Communicators: are very honest and direct with their people. They set clear expectations, and expect their people to adhere to the rules and meet their goals. They recognize and praise their people for doing a good job. They also let their team know if they have done something inappropriate and coach or discipline individuals accordingly. Assertive communicators are usually well liked because they continuously let their team members know how they are doing, and they create a safe environment for communicating two directions, and they are fair as possible in their dealings with employees. They look for the win-win solutions as much as possible.
If you were a phone agent, which leader would you want to interact with?