Agent Attrition

Agent churn: It’s not you, it’s your employee engagement strategy

Jeff Gallino, CTO and founder of CallMiner

It’s no secret that contact centers are infamous for their high turnover rates, which average 45 percent year-over-year—more than double the average for all U.S. occupations. What most companies don’t realize, however, is that this doesn’t have to be the status quo. Identifying the signs an agent is about to check out and having solutions in place to change the outcome can dramatically reduce agent churn well before they decide to give their notice.

If retention isn’t motivation enough, research shows that an astonishing 77 percent of employees worldwide are not engaged, which, according to Gallup, can cost upwards of $605 billion in lost productivity per year. There’s incredible value in spotting non-engagement signs and addressing the lack of productivity that often lead to agent turnover early. This can ensure strong employee engagement and stop the turnover cycle. Not only will it save billions in lost revenue, it will promote better customer experiences through an organization’s No. 1 advocate—its employees.

Warning Sign 1: They go into silent mode

One of the primary indicators of an unengaged employee is silence. Silence is commonly caused by a lack of agent training, but this isn’t only applicable immediately after onboarding. Agents require extensive knowledge of your company’s products and services; however, many employees miss out on new product information because organizations neglect to offer continual education programs.

Employee silence can also happen outside of customer interactions, as managers of unengaged agents tend to notice an increase in the amount of time between each call. Although this doesn’t usually stem from a lack of company knowledge, it’s a telltale sign an employee is experiencing a lack of motivation. Distant employees are comfortable with doing the bare minimum to get by and will likely keep their heads down, and calls quietly recording, to purposely limit the number of customers they interact with.

Warning Sign 2: Under (but not terrible) performance

Decreased performance in areas such as average handle time (AHT), call volume, and following a script could all point to a lack of engagement that, if not fairly addressed, can lead to lower NPS scores, turnover, and even compliance risks.

Sometimes, however, quantifiable performance metrics aren’t the sole indicator of an agent’s performance—as agents aren’t at-fault for many of the disruptions that happen during the call. Companies need to take training, tools and technical factors into consideration when it comes to gaps in an agent’s performance and use contextualized scoring methods to accurately and thoroughly understand where performance issues are occurring and the root cause.
Warning Sign 3: Inconsistent feedback on their work

According to research by Gallup, less than 21 percent of employees strongly agree their employee implements fair evaluation processes. Contact center agents handle dozens of calls per day, but many outbound surveys and manual quality management reviews only account for three to five percent of an agent’s interactions—leading to ill-informed assessments of their overall performance.

In addition to being inaccurate and irregular, many legacy feedback systems are impersonal. Call center feedback usually only involves reprimanding, despite the employee’s desire to be recognized for exceptional service. The lack of effort put into celebrating successes usually causes agents to feel unappreciated and less likely to advocate for the business.

How to Stop the Cycle

Proper training—during and after onboarding: Before sending your agent out on their own, how do you know you’ve given them the proper training to handle the influx of problems they’ll face out on the floor? To keep up with the fast-paced environment of the contact center, they need to stay informed, especially if your products and services are constantly evolving. Each one of your employees is unique and despite what’s suggested by legacy employee education programs—their training processes should be as well. Speech analytics data can help managers offer personalized training programs in accordance with agents’ specific needs, even after onboarding.

Tools to optimize performance: Aside from training, contact center operators need to ask themselves whether their agents have the resources they need to succeed. While two-thirds of customers dial in with a problem, some caused by lack of self-serving options on other channels, they expect your agent to be able to solve, lack of resources is one of the biggest factors leading to job-related stress. It’s impossible to guide each of your representatives through every single interaction—but tools and customer engagement analytics software can take information in real time and apply historical data to provide your agent with better insight and guide them through the call based on the context of the conversation.

Real-time feedback: Agents should always know where they stand when it comes to their performance. A discussion a week, a month, or a year later about a specific interaction with a customer will not help anyone succeed. Having an analytics tool removes any sense of unfairness that’s usually associated with random selection by providing an inclusive and holistic view of your caller engagement data, ensuring a stronger voice of your employee. It also helps with coaching by automatically scoring 100 percent of your agents’ customer interactions to pinpoint the exact areas they need to both improve customer experiences in real-time and add business value in the long run.

While employee turnover is one of the biggest problems companies face today, employee engagement is just as impactful to your business’s bottom line, as those with highly-engaged workforces outperform their peers by nearly 150 percent. All problems associated with the warning signs of an unengaged employee point to a similar source—the company’s inability to fully understand the needs of their employees from both a personal and professional perspective. Similar to how analytics and artificial intelligence work to strengthen customer loyalty, these tools and concepts can help personalize your organization’s approach to agent management—offering a fully-developed employee engagement strategy that involves critical coaching and feedback procedures. In doing so, companies can foster a positive work culture and keep employees from feeling as though they are ‘just another number’.

Why Your Contact Center Needs Remote Agents

When agents are twiddling their thumbs because calls aren’t coming in, it costs the contact center money. When a barrage of calls come in and wait times skyrocket, the customer experience drops. Having the correct capacity of agents without over-staffing is a tug-of-war that every contact center has had to play.

Even with insightful analytics, you can’t perfectly predict how much activity your contact center is going to have. There will be unexpected lulls and spikes in activity regardless of what the numbers prepare you for.

The goal of flexible WFM is to increase the contact center’s agility while maintaining a high level of customer service.

Traditional vs. Flexible Workforces

One way to increase workforce flexibility is to have a number of remote agents who are able to work from home. Here’s how that can help:

Hold Times

Agents in a traditional contact center can easily get overloaded with calls, leaving a lot of customers on hold. Call abandon rates increase while service quality decreases. Remote agents are often able to deliver quicker call resolution.

Ramp-Up Time

Ramp-up time in a traditional contact center can take weeks, but on-demand remote agents are able to ramp up in just a few hours.

Scalability

If there’s an unexpected rush of communication or a shift has to be covered in an emergency, the resources at a traditional contact center can’t always scale as quickly as needed. With the support of a remote workforce, though, agents can cover gaps in even a non-standard schedule at the last minute.

Encourage Customers to Use Other Channels

Unexpected spikes are going to happen. As you continue managing spikes, particularly the ones you can predict, create a contingency plan for the spikes you don’t see coming. One way to do this is to encourage customers to use other channels, like chat, email, SMS and social media.

This can limit the number of incoming calls and may also lower the number of times a customer reaches out to customer service before being helped. For example, if you have a team of agents providing social media support, they can connect with a customer after the first complaint and possibly solve the issue before is escalates.

Even contact centers that have always had rigid staffing measures can see the benefits of a flexible model, which saves resources during downtime and allows for adjustments on-the-fly.

3 Ways to Prioritize Your Agents for a Better Customer Experience

A great customer experience isn’t coincidental. It’s carefully crafted, highly intentional and, most importantly, it’s hard.

A mere 8 percent of customers think they’re receiving an awesome customer experience, according to a study from Bain & Company. And of those who have a really great experience, 68 percent of them attribute it to a pleasant agent, according to another study from American Express. Furthermore, 62 percent said the agents’ knowledge and resourcefulness was key to their positive experience.

You know knowledgeable and empowered agents provide a better customer experience, yet you’re still plagued by insane turnover rates, frustrated workers, inefficient workflows and misaligned processes in the contact center. Why?! And what can you do to fix it?

Start prioritizing your agent experience.

Think about it, when your agents feel they’re working well – when they’re efficient, effective and aligned – they work harder. They know what your expectations are and how they’re impacting the greater vision of your company. Agents that are motivated, engaged, and empowered are happier and more satisfied with their jobs. And, they’ll provide better customer care.  They can see how their actions impact a real, live human by creating a better customer experience.

But if they’re stuck in a broken process, fumbling through outdated technology paired with a manager that has too much on their plate, their ability to drive positive experiences flounders into a sea of nothingness. And if they’re frustrated, the results on your team morale are toxic.

You’re searching high and low for coachable moments, without any time to actually coach, amplifying the negativity. And to top it off, the outdated tech stack your center’s using is mismatched with what your customers are using. For instance, your customers (and your agents, for that matter) are used to texting, sending pictures or videos, chatting on a live chat or using social media to communicate, switching from one place to another without losing context.

But your business is not.

It’s time for contact centers to put agents’ success at the top of the priority list. Start building your agents’ confidence and empowerment. But what exactly does agent success look like? Here are five ways to prioritize your agents and improve their (and your) success.

Three Ways to Prioritize Your Agents

  1. Start (and continue) coaching

The single most important thing you can do as a contact center manager is coach your team. But managers are struggling to train their people well. On average, managers are spending 53 percent of their week looking for coachable moments rather than actually coaching. Yet, studies show frequent touchpoints, with specific examples increase employee satisfaction, engagement and performance. And, it creates a culture of trust company-wide.

  1. Use the right tools

Efficient tools and processes increase agent productivity and satisfaction. Think about it: If your agents have to fumble through a messy process, touch eight different tools in under three minutes, just to find a clue to answer the customer’s problem, they’re going to get a little flustered. But offering up the right tools (with coachable moments built in), with processes meant to enhance the workflow, not stifle it, creates more effective and efficient agents – and happier customers.

  1. Empower them

Empowered agents work with more autonomy. They see more first contact resolutions and have clarity in where they’re impacting your company’s vision. Workers place a high value on employee empowerment, whether they’re in a contact center or somewhere else in the company. It’s simple, they want to feel supported and respected. They’re hungry to perform at or above your customers’ expectations, but they need the right tools to be successful and effective.

Sharpen has created a solution designed to remove the inefficiencies that are plaguing your agents, their quality of life and their ability to provide a positive customer experience every time. Join their webcast as they talk about key trends driving new opportunities for agent empowerment and how contact centers can take advantage ASAP to improve their agents’ experience.

3 Tips for Creating a Captivating Employee Culture

Employee culture has an enormous impact on the success of your company. When you’re able to create a stellar employee culture, your agents aren’t the only ones who will notice ­– your customers will love what they see, too, which will drive sales and business success.

Startups have it a bit easier because they can create their employee culture from the very beginning. If you have an established brand, it may be trickier to shake things up. It is possible, though. Here’s how:

Create a culture that reflects you.

You are your brand, and your brand is you. The elements that drove you to create your company are the same ones you should mark as most important for your company culture. Are you incredibly creative and innovative? Do you appreciate people who work hard and then play hard? Do you think that a relaxed workspace, where people are calm and centered, is the best way to accomplish tasks? Do you believe that collaboration is the best way to advance your company? Think about those questions when you’re hiring employees.

Take the lessons from the past and apply them now.

No matter where you are in your corporate journey ­– a first-time founder of a brand new startup or a seasoned entrepreneur in the middle of her tenth venture ­– you’ve learned something in the past that you can apply here. If you’ve only ever been an employee, think about what did and did not work for you at your previous jobs. If you’ve managed others in the past, think about the reactions you got when you launched new programs or instated certain rules.

Get everyone on board.

In order for an employee culture to truly permeate the entire company, everyone needs to be on board. Take a tip from JetBlue for getting everyone off on the right foot. When they hire new team members, they’re invited, along with their spouses, to orientation. Yes, they watch brand videos during orientation, but they also get to fly simulators and indulge in delicious meals. JetBlue introduces everyone to a specific, brand-centric culture, which sets the tone for their entire work experience.

Employee culture is the base for how everything functions in your company, from interactions between employees to customer service. No matter how long you’ve been in business, you can create and evolve your company culture starting now.

Is Gamification Right for Your Contact Center?

Gamification might be a contact center buzzword right now, but the fact that it’s trendy doesn’t make it right for your agents. In order for gamification to be successful, you have to have analytics, agents and management all on the same page, and your team members’ personalities have to be more cohesive than contrasting. Here are five factors to determine whether or not gamification is a good choice for you.

First Things First: What is Gamification?

Gamification refers to game mechanics in the contact center that are used to motivate employees. Agents compete to finish objectives before others. Competition can be based on practically anything, but should focus on the areas that need the most improvement. These could include hours worked, average speed to answer, first call resolution, total talk time, after-call work time, or percentage of calls segmented by type. Rewards are doled out, ranging from leaderboard ranking to badges, trophies and other physical prizes.

5 Gamification Considerations

  1. Everyone will have to see each other’s scores in order to benchmark their own score and spur on the competition. Agents will then know that the winner was fairly chosen, which instills confidence and trust in management. To do this, though, you’ll need a robust, reliable reporting system that includes the metrics you want to track.
  2. Several agents must participate, not just a select few, and they have to be agents who are able to engage in healthy rivalry. You may want to create a team building program before deciding if gamification is right for your contact center.
  3. You’ll need a system setup to detect and report cheating. Some agents may try to make it look like they’re doing more just for the sake of winning.
  4. New hires do well with gamification because it can help them learn faster and retain information better. However, they might be at the bottom of the scoreboard when learning because they’re competing against seasoned agents, and that could inhibit their confidence. Carefully choose the competitions that new hires are included in, and consider having them only compete against other new hires, which will level the playing field.
  5. Gamification usually requires some amount of supervision. Consider how realistic it is for management to get involved based on their availability.

Have you setup gamification in your contact center? We want to hear about your experience!

 

Customer Journey KPIs Every Contact Center Should Track

 

The customer journey can be a difficult thing to map and understand. With so many touchpoints along the journey, the map isn’t predictable and linear, yet it’s still necessary to monitor and analyze. These Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will help you gain insight from the customer journey and move on to improve it.

Customer Effort Score (CES)

Even if a customer prefers self-service to live agent support, they don’t necessarily want to put a ton of effort into solving their own issue. Self-service shouldn’t be a difficult-to-implement alternative to normal customer support. Instead, it should meet the needs of the type of customer who seeks out self-service via quick, easy-to-find answers and the ability to make changes sans agent assistance.

Customer Satisfaction (CSAT)

Some of the most important customer journey touchpoints will occur when the customer interacts with a support agent. CSAT is the measure of the customer’s satisfaction before, during and after they contact customer service. If CSAT scores are dropping, it may be time to look closely at agent productivity, ticket management and self-service options.

Net Promoter Score (NPS)

The NPS will tell you if your customers are going to recommend your products and services to others. You have to go deeper here, though – why will your customers recommend your products and services, or what it is that’s keeping them from doing so?

Customer Churn / Retention Rate

Customer support teams for subscription-based products and services have to pay special attention to retention rate. If you see a lot of customers leaving around renewal time, it’s necessary to figure out why you lost them. What part of the customer journey is causing customers to change their mind? There’s a snag somewhere.

Customer Success

Customer Success isn’t a single KPI, but instead a customized KPI program based on your specific business, customers and goals. A Customer Success strategy may include Up- and Cross-Sell Rates; Average Revenue per Customer; or Rate of Adoption, which starts with defining beginner, intermediate and advanced customers or users. You may also want to include Retention Rate, NPS and CES in your customer success KPIs. Think of Customer Success as an overarching customer journey strategy based on what success means for you.

Customer journey KPIs may be difficult to track, but they come with a big benefit – often, improving one will have a positive impact on another.

Fortifying the Career Path of the Contact Center Agent

Employers are experiencing a serious talent shortage, according to a 2016-2017 report from ManpowerGroup. Part of this could be because more and more employees want to work for an employer who will help them advance their career, and they’re happy to leave an employer who prevents them from doing so.

At the same time, contact centers are harnessing the power of AI and chatbots, eliminating the need for agents to perform repetitious, monotonous tasks. As a result, the agent’s role is becoming elevated. Customers want more adept service, too – when they have a complex issue, they want customized service from a knowledgeable, human agent who can creatively problem-solve and who is empowered to make important decisions. This circles right back to benefiting the contact center, because the way to stand out from the competition is to offer top-notch customer service.

Due to the changing workforce, smart contact centers are giving agents the opportunity to advance in their role as well as their career. As management puts trust and faith in their employees, agents feel that their long-term success is important to the company, which improves their performance and loyalty. Even if customer service agents move out of their current job and into a higher position, they bring with them in-depth customer knowledge that they gleaned during their time as an agent.

Even if an agent isn’t yet ready to move up and out of their position, they can become more essential to the contact center and more helpful to the customer by become an SME, or a subject matter expert. SMEs are the go-to agents who have deep understanding of a specific process or product. The SME can help train agents in the same field, deal with escalating calls, and enrich the self-service knowledge base. They may also be asked to work closely with other departments at the contact center, like marketing or product design.

If you’re unsure of where to start when it comes to elevating your workforce, start by asking agents what they’re most interested in. Let your employees shadow parts of the business that they want to know more about, then hold a meeting with the employee to learn about their experience. If your employee shows a strong interest in a different or more advanced area, speak with management to find out how to best accommodate the agent.

 

 

 

 

How to Measure the Costs of Agent Attrition: Inebriated Executives

ron.davis

Ron Davis, Founder, CEO: Tenacity

Call Center Managers Rarely Know the Actual Cost of Employee Attrition

As the CEO of a company that helps contact centers reduce employee turnover, I have a lot of conversations with executives about the cost of attrition. Their estimates are as random and dangerous as a game of drunk darts.

A Data Driven Industry?

I find this especially amazing, because year after year these leaders fill out surveys saying that agent turnover is their #1 problem. But after decades of hand wringing, they have no idea what it costs them. For an industry dedicated to painstaking measurement of employee performance, this is surprising. And for an industry suffering with razor thin margins whose biggest preventable costs come from agent turnover, it’s inexcusable.

It’s true that many of these senior managers think they know what it costs when employees leave. Perhaps they read an interesting article about agent retention online, or a consultant gave them a rule of thumb. Maybe they were a bit more ambitious and got someone from the finance team to try and model the cost of agent attrition in a particular call center four or five years ago. Or the executive herself sat down and did some back of the envelope calculations to figure out the hiring and training costs, and figured she had a pretty good grip on the total price of agent turnover. If only they knew.

In most cases, when I dig a little deeper, I learn that these call center bosses have very little idea of the actual, hard, measurable, bottom line costs of losing their employees. And unfortunately, just like in real drunk darts, ignoring your biggest money sink is a hazardous way to spend your time.

Off by 400%

As an example, we recently spoke with a very senior executive about employee retention at his North American contact centers. His thousands of agents go through six weeks of training and two weeks of heavily supervised calls afterward, and then have a nearly eight-month learning curve before becoming fully productive. He said the average cost per attrit is around $3,000. After asking a few more questions, it became obvious that the real, hard, measurable, tangible cost to his bottom line was a bit more than four times as much.

Why is Measurement So Poor?

The reason for this variance is twofold. The first is that the industry has no widely held best practices for measuring the cost of employee turnover, and none of the thought leaders seem to have dedicated enough mindshare to change the way the industry thinks. And fixing this requires more than careful intellectual work – it requires leadership. Unless someone drives the industry forward to embrace standard forms of measurement, the drunk dart “measurements” will continue.

The other reason is incentives. If 5% of your employees quit each month, and there is no standardized definition of the cost of attrition, would you rather report to your boss that this costs $3,000 per person, or $12,000? Mark Twain said there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Clearly, he had never seen a financial model designed by the person whose performance would be judged by its outputs.

Want to fix attrition? Start by getting honest with yourself about its costs.