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?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Call Center Leaders - Myths and Facts About the Role

Top 5 - Myths and Facts about Being a Leader in a Call Center

Many new leaders are very excited about their new role as a call center leader, because for the first time, it allows them to flex those “leadership” muscles and gives them the opportunity to prove how great they are to their peers, co-workers, and managers. Below are the Top 5 Myths and Facts about being a leader within a call center.

Myth #5: “Now I’m a leader, I don’t have to take customer calls any more.”

Fact: Call Center leaders handle the most difficult of calls – those that have been escalated due to the customer being very upset. In addition to this, if the center sees a spike in calls, or if there are too many absences, the leaders have to jump on the phones to assist the agents in handling the volumes.

Myth #4: “Now I’m a leader, I don’t have to worry about my stats or attendance any more.”

Fact: Leaders are now measured by their team’s performance, so instead of just worrying about themselves, they have to worry about their entire team. It is also critical for leaders to know that their people are watching them all the time and will follow their lead. If leaders cut corners or aren’t following the rules, the team will lose respect for them and it will decrease their credibility during coaching and disciplinary sessions.

Myth #3: “My primary job is to take care of my agents.”

Fact: Half of a leader’s job is to manage, motivate, discipline, reward, and recognize their agents. But the other half is to take care of the business.

A leader wears a dual hat – leading their teams and managing a successful business unit. This may include creating ad-hoc reports, tracking performance, providing insight to clients about their customers and continuously looking for ways to improve performance.

Leaders aren’t successful unless they can do both successfully.

Myth #2: “I can set my own standards and expectations with my team, and make exceptions as I see fit.”

Fact: Call Center rules are set up to ensure the entire group is following client required protocol and so they can meet their Service Level Agreements, by changing these or allowing exceptions a leader may be promoting or reinforcing poor performance.

When making exceptions leaders need to be sure they aren’t “playing favorites” (that they would make the exception for anyone in that situation). Leaders need to be careful that they exceptions they are making don’t potentially causing HR and/or legal issues.

Myth #1: “I’ll now be working a normal M-F, 8-5:00, 40 hour week”

Fact: Leaders are expected to work until they get all their work done, even if this takes them well over their 8 hours in a day. Leaders also have to have very flexible schedules so they can work with their entire team – which may mean working across midnight hours or coming in on the weekends.

Introduction - Becky

When I was young, I never thought to myself, "when I grow up I want to work in a call center", as a matter of fact when I was young, call centers didn't exist in the way we think of them today. But while I was working full time and putting myself through college to be a high school history teacher, my company introduced me to the role of corporate trainer. I found I loved working with adults, and helping them succeed in their jobs was very rewarding to me.

After I graduated, I moved back closer to home, and that's when I found my first niche in the world - as a call center trainer. Little did I know at the time, but being a call center trainer was just my first step in the call center arena. Across the last 15 years I've worked as a training manager, quality monitoring manager, operations manager, site director, client services manager, and call center consultant.

Throughout this time I've worked with small companies just getting started and very large fortune 100 groups spanning several sites and multiple countries.

I've found I greatly enjoy the call center dynamics, the fast paced and ever changing environment. I love the process of seeing where things are today, and the challenge of making things better tomorrow!

My goal through this blog to share some of my career insights and to gain some additional knowledge from my readers.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Should a call center agent's compensation be based on performance?

I’d like to introduce a topic in this blog that I hope to revisit often: performance-based compensation.

Should we compensate agents based on their performance?  Well… I would guess that about half of you will not only say yes, but say that you are already doing it.  I’ve heard stories of success and just as many stories of failure in this endeavor.  I’ve experienced success and failure in my own call centers.  So, let us surmise that incentives are a tricky business.

Thomas Jefferson once commented (regarding the Boston Tea Party), “So inscrutable is the arrangement of causes & consequences in this world that a two-penny duty on tea, unjustly imposed in a sequestered part of it, changes the condition of all its inhabitants.”

In one of my favorite books on economics (Freakanomics) the authors proclaim, “An incentive is a bullet, a lever, a key: an often tiny object with astonishing power to change a situation.”  They go on to share many impressive examples of how an incentive, even a small one, can change the dynamics of any situation.  The subtitle of the book is the “hidden side of everything.”

What about in the call center? Will agent performance change based on incentives?  Yes, my experience is that incentives can motivate agents to do more of a good thing or less of a bad thing.  But again, it is a tricky business.  Where do we start?  What do we measure, and how often?  What about service level?  No.  Average handle time?  Uh… maybe.  Think about ways we measure quality (e.g. customer feedback or first-contact resolution) and ways to measure effectiveness (e.g. unit of accomplishment per hour of work). We can drill into this in future entries on this blog.  For now, start thinking - how do you measure an agent’s contribution?  What has worked or has not worked for you in motivating agents with incentives?  Can you tie key indicators of the agent’s performance all the way back to the goals of the company?  

To be continued...

Drew - Introduction

I started over 20-years ago as an agent working in a 300-seat call center. The company was big on customer service and my job was to make sure customers were happy. I LOVED that job and have been involved in the call center business ever since. 

I have designed and built contact center software- for example, as the founder and CEO of MyACD which is an ACD/IVR offering in the cloud (known today as inContact).   And I have owned and operated a successful call center outsource business. I graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in Computer Science and Business.