Improving High Contact Center Attrition Rates – Not Easy, but Worth the Effort

Ken Landoline
Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • A recent Dimension Data survey report based on an annual contact center global benchmarking survey concluded that front-line customer service staff (contact center agents) are leaving their positions at a growing rate.
  • The cost of replacing a contact center agent can amount to a year’s salary when the direct and indirect costs of recruiting, interviewing, training, start-up times and the disruption of customer service and satisfaction are considered.

I recently reviewed the summary findings of Dimension Data’s “2013/14 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report,” which is based on an extensive survey of 817 contact center decision makers across 79 countries and 11 vertical markets and has been implemented each year for the last 16 years.  Given the rapidly changing technology in the contact center industry, it was somewhat surprising to me that the study reports customer satisfaction levels are down for the fourth consecutive year and first-contact resolution rates were still showing no improvement.  However, most disturbing to me is that the agent attrition rate is up 26% since last year’s survey.  As anyone who works in customer care knows, the human resource portion of a contact center budget typically represents anywhere from 65% to 75% of total contact center expenses.  Given that the direct and indirect costs of replacing an agent could in many cases amount to an agent’s annual salary, and the average annual agent ‘churn rate’ across contact centers is approximately 35%, this trend can cut into company profitability very quickly, if not reversed.

Therefore it is critical to take an objective look at your contact center and determine what is driving this high rate of churn among agents.  While this can vary by center, there are several common problems that may contribute to this situation.  First of all, contact centers have become more technological environments that require a higher skill-set than in the past.  This can make some longtime employees uncomfortable and prone to seek employment elsewhere.  In addition, closer monitoring of agent performance applies job pressure at a level never before seen in this environment.  These things are not necessarily bad, and can in fact be good for the company.  However, they do demand that agent training be scaled up a notch in order to allow agents who want to get better at their job to improve accordingly.  It is my observation that while many agents are eager to develop and add more value, supervisors have less time for coaching and training.  Consequently, centers need to begin exploring more effective ways to fit coaching/training into the work day.  This can include real-time delivery of customized e-learning modules when agent performance issues are detected, creating a peer review program, and most of all, empowering agents to make some decisions regarding customer care situations.

Most contact centers have failed to act on the fact that agents possess a great deal of insight and know their customers better than anyone else.  It is time to start empowering agents to use their customer knowledge to improve processes and develop new approaches.  A small example may be to allow agents to make the decision to waive a $35 late fee charge for a customer who is late on a payment for the first time, without escalating the decision to a supervisor.  In actuality, the ‘system’ can make this call, but simply giving the appearance that the agent does it can be good for both customer satisfaction and agent morale.  This type of simple change in a process will improve the center performance while making agents feel more valued.  In my experience, empowerment and a strong training program greatly increase engagement.  Making even these simple improvements should result in a reduction in agent attrition rates over time as well as improve financial performance.

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