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….