By Mark Melin. Originally published at ValueWalk.
Customer support is an industry with one of the highest churn rates in the United States. According to one estimate, nearly 30-45 percent of call center agents move out of an organization within a year.
This is not a good sign for an industry that requires its workers to be extensively trained in order to do a good job. Retaining customer support agents for a more extended period not only brings down your hiring and training costs but also provides your customers with a better support experience, thanks to an experienced workforce resolving their problems.
Why Raising Wages Is Not The Solution
The quick and dirty way to improve retention is to raise wages. But this is not always practical. For one, it increases overheads and is bound to get shot down at board meetings. While you might technically compensate for this with lower training costs, it’s not always a guarantee. So, organizations are often reluctant to make decisions that can permanently increase overheads without recourse.
Besides, if the total expenses from worker salaries and training costs are going to be the same, then why bother?
More importantly, the sustainable way to retain employees is by offering them a job that they enjoy. Customer support can be a stressful job where agents spend an entire shift going through the same conversation repeatedly and have to deal with angry and unappreciative customers.
Sure, the use of technology like chatbots can reduce workload significantly. But at the end of the day, what this means is that your agents deal exclusively with customer escalations that can be a stressful affair.
Offering them a workplace that they enjoy coming to can be a more effective way to deal with attrition.
Horses For Courses
A contact center job has a lot of elements to it. At a broad level, agents may be working on inbound, or outbound calls. In addition to this, an organization may offer multiple products and services, and each of these might require specialized knowledge.
Some agents are inquisitive and would love to learn about these different offerings. Others may be happy mastering their expertise with one product and sticking to it.
Assess skills while hiring your call center agents, and identify their skills and aspirations. This way, you can assign them responsibilities that they enjoy.
But the key here is to realize that people’s goals and aspirations change all the time. So, it is important to make these assessments a periodic affair and offer them a role that they enjoy at each stage.
Make Life Easy With Tools
One of the biggest reasons customer support agents quit is burnout. This is a job that can be monotonous, and repetitive. One way to ease the burden is by providing your agents with tools that can make life easier.
As annoying as they can be, auto-dialers are indeed a step towards making the life of outbound call agents easy. You may also invest in sophisticated software that can improve customer service processes. This includes automatically pulling in customer information, and their history so that the agent does not have to ask for this information from each caller. From a management perspective, such improvements can bring the average call handling time significantly as well.
If you have agents dealing with email and live chat support, you may consider investing in template managers, and AI writing tools – these applications bring down the monotonicity in the job and help agents converse more efficiently with customers.
Track Responsibilities And Satisfaction
Agents who enjoy continuity and predictability often tend to stick around longer at the job. These agents also typically tend to be older. For younger recruits, however, it is important to keep them excited at the job, and this will require you to assign them different responsibilities, and help them shape their profile.
One way to do this is by assigning them to different call groups every month. This way, your agents get a holistic view of the different products and services from your organization and are thus more rounded in terms of their knowledge.
You may also consider occasionally taking them off the agent roster, and instead assigning them to other aspects of running the business, including customer surveys, or sales. This helps break the routine and keeps them excited at work. The Employee NPS scores from such agents tend to be typically higher than agents who are not offered variety.
Exit interviews are often regarded as an important component of industries with typically high attrition rates. The reasoning behind this is that employers are already aware of the primary reasons why employees leave such roles. More importantly, employees in such roles are considered replaceable, and so no active efforts are actually undertaken to retain them.
But exit interviews can help an organization unravel emerging trends that are not yet apparent to an organization. For instance, if a lot of agents are quitting because of a toxic boss, or because their loo breaks are not long enough, you may remedy the situation at a fairly early stage with the right interventions.
Even organizations that do not care about high attrition in the call center workforce may not want to lose their workers because of a poorly trained manager.
Support Agents Are An Asset
Customer support is unfortunately often regarded as a part of an organization’s cost center. However, in reality, they are the first line of contact between your customers and the organizations. As such, a customer’s perception of your brand depends heavily on their experience with your agent. It is time to treat your agents as a profit center because this can determine how you view attrition in this industry and take steps to contain the loss.
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