Written by Chris De Souza, Director Business Consulting, CGI in the UK
Chris is the Director of Business Consulting responsible for leading CGI’s Contact Centre Advisory team in the UK. He advises both government and commercial clients on their customer service and contact centre strategies, operations and transformation plans.
With around 6200 contact centres in the UK alone, agent retention has always been a challenge in contact centres, especially given the competition for good staff. And it is an even bigger challenge in the hybrid working world. The expectations that staff have for an employer are now much different to 10 years ago, and they are no longer tied to their locality for job opportunities. Add to this more complex queries and challenging customers, some people are voting with their feet, causing a critical problem for contact centres. The so called “Great Resignation” is here, and attrition levels are reaching unprecedented levels. Some companies are dealing with attrition levels of over 100% in some months and over 40% overall. This is not sustainable, especially given the current financial climate and the known costs of replacing staff.
Studies show that 1 in 3 agents are considering leaving within the next 12 months. We are seeing companies attempting to solve these challenges by embarking on a plan to replace agents with bots and customer self-service, without looking at tackling some of the root causes of this attrition. With these badly implemented bots largely failing to replace human agents effectively, the customer experience is suffering and high wait times, agent burnout and low customer satisfaction scores are becoming the norm. Below we look at some of the key areas that you need to focus on to tackle this problem.
If you were thinking that by simply paying your staff more you can halt this trend, you would be wrong. It is suggested that it would take a pay rise of 20% to lure someone from a business that engages them. Given the main reason behind agents leaving is dissatisfaction, your employee engagement strategy is key.
Employee engagement is often thought of in terms of the perks and benefits a company offers their staff. However, the reality of what underpins a strong engagement strategy is more aligned with cultural factors, rather than any monetary ones. Of course, given the current economic climate, an agent’s financial package is important, but areas such as employer flexibility and values are more important.
The pandemic has forced us to change agents’ working structures, and that continued flexibility will become key, with 75% of workers preferring their new remote or hybrid set up. So operations need to have a clear plan for how they deliver the work-life balance that agents prefer, as failure to do so will potentially lead to agents looking elsewhere. Working in a hybrid way also adds challenges to engagement that you need to consider. Agents can feel isolated or lacking in support or not engrained in the organisation. Having a supportive culture and clear values that agents buy into is important for all contact centres and essential for retention.
Preventing attrition starts at the very beginning of the agent journey. Having the right set of recruitment processes in place will ensure you are finding agents with the right skill set to do the job properly, and prevents them leaving your contact centre.
One of the biggest resource drains in a contact centre is agents leaving the operation during their probation, or even worse whilst still in training. There are many steps that you can take to help avoid this:
- Ensure the job specification is accurate and a clear reflection of the role the agent is signing up for
- Have a clear ideal agent profile that you are looking for, not just in terms of skill set, but in terms of cultural fit
- Hire for attitude over experience, you can train the skills
- Make the interview process robust enough to truly assess the skillset of the prospective employee
- With high attrition and recruitment difficulties, it can be easy to settle for a hire, avoid this.
Having this clearly defined and mapped out process will set your operation up for success and provide you with a balance of agents with the right skillset, the right understanding of the role, and people who buy in to and align with your contact centre’s goals and values.
Training & Development
A clear training roadmap for your agents, starting with their new hire onboarding programme, will set your new agents up for success in your operation. The training will need to be communicated to them clearly and be balanced, catering for different learning styles and have a good mix of classroom activity and more practical hands-on tasks.
You need to ensure that they have the right level of support throughout the process, with coaches, buddies and team leaders being available to prevent them from feeling overwhelmed. A common mistake in contact centres is that learning seems to stop after your new hire training. And, with the increasing complexity of issues agents are dealing with, training needs to be relevant and regular.
With lack of progression being the second biggest reason agents are leaving contact centres, your career development strategy needs to be clear for agents to see, right from the off. You should allow your agents clearly defined downtime where they can work on their development, plugging skill gaps that can help them in their future roles.
You should have pathways to roles mapped out with opportunities for agents to take on more responsibility, such as senior advisor, or coach. This will help you with a succession plan for the future middle management in your team.
Being an agent in a contact centre can be stressful -96% of agents reported feeling stressed at least once per week in 2021. Dealing with high volumes of difficult and emotive customers is far from easy. It can be an extremely high-pressure environment.
This pressure has been exacerbated by the pandemic with 96% of agents saying that during the pandemic queries had become more complex. To make matters even worse, all of this comes at a time where a lot of agents are working remotely, and they have potentially lost the ability to vent to their colleagues or get the reassurance they are doing well from their line manager.
Therefore, it may not be surprising to know, although extremely worrying, that agent anxiety levels in the UK are significantly higher than other countries. Despite this, only 35% of contact centres have a formal agent wellbeing strategy. It is essential that we all have a clear plan of how we support our most valuable asset, our people.
By giving your agents this support you will help prevent absenteeism, improve productivity and reduce potential employee turnover.
The attrition challenge is a complex problem to try to solve. You need to look holistically at all of the agent touchpoints from recruitment processes and training, onboarding and development. You need to immerse yourself in their experiences to review your processes, be present in leaver interviews, have meetings with agents and team leaders, and conduct data analysis to understand and formulate a plan of action in terms of reducing the agent attrition.
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