call center agent retention

5 Call Center Agent Retention Tactics Backed By Data

Miruna MitranescuLast updated on October 19, 2023
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Maximizing call center agent retention begins with hiring reliable employees. As easy as it sounds, is actually is quite difficult and requires good psychological capabilities from the hiring manager and also some predefined guidelines of the personality traits you are looking for.

Considering that call centers agents handle a steady stream of calls under demanding conditions, the communication skills and personal warmth of an employee’s supervisor are often crucial in determining the employee’s tenure and performance.

In fact, research shows that the quality of the supervisor may be more important than the experience and individual attributes of the workers themselves.

5 call center agent retention baked by data

New Research debunks old myths of call center agent retention

New research calls into question other beliefs. Employers often avoid hiring candidates with a history of job-hopping or those who have been unemployed for a while. There’s one problem, though: the data show that it isn’t so.

As counter intuitive as it may sound, an applicant’s work history is not a good predictor of future results.

Dr. David Ostberg, VP of Workforce Science at Evolv, a workforce probability firm explains:

“Analytics allows business operators to continuously challenge assumptions about how to expand and manage their workforces profitably,”

Yet one usual assumption managers make is believing that previous employment duration is a strong predictor of how long a new hire will stay on a job.

The data shows that a person’s creativity, curiosity and ability to multitask correlate more strongly with how long they might stay on the job. While call centers each have unique requirements, most traits identified as predictors of call center agent retention are relevant to all of them.

Common mistakes managers make

Both managers and employees win when objective data shapes the workplace, and that hiring in particular needs a data-driven make-over. After all, work is an elemental need too, and everybody agrees there’s room for improvement.

Many hiring managers end up hiring people who are similar to themselves instead of digging deep into the skills and potential the candidate can bring. But as organizations realize that skills, competencies, and values are what define the right hire, and use hiring platforms that replace gut reactions with data, they will move ahead of their competition. In a cooling economy, who can afford low call center agent retentin, poor performance, and team member disaffection — the frequent results of suboptimal hiring? This is not the time to settle for poor call center agent retention.

How does the psychologically-based hiring process work?

In order to assess whether candidates possess the predictive traits, managers must employ a more psychologically-based approach to hiring.
For instance a new screening process may gear toward finding candidates that possess traits strongly correlated to longer call center agent retention.
This involves:

  • giving candidates a realistic preview of the demanding nature of the position,

  • assessing their competency using actual job simulations.

Moreover asking “forced choice questions” that require more self-reflection from the candidates. For example, the answer to this forced question would tell recruiters whether the applicant is curious by nature:

Choose the statement that best describes you:

  • a. I am curious about new things.

  • b. I stay focused on the task at hand.

This kind of question will yield more honest answers than simply asking, “Are you curious?” and having a candidate choose yes or no. This approach overpasses the candidate’s own misrepresentation of themselves.

Motivate agents and enhance purpose

It has been well documented that work performance is closely tied to how much an employee feels they contribute to their work environment, be it by being part of a larger group and / or doing his bit towards the product or service the company’s providing.

Daniel Pink, best-selling business author of To Sell is Human explains:

“High performance is that unseen intrinsic drive, the drive to do things because they matter.This includes three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose.”

Pink suggests creating a “genius hour” as one method to make employees feel their work has greater purpose. Agents are asked to leave the phones for one hour every week to come up with improvements in processes, new ways to handle workflow or other ideas.

In an article on his blog, Pink points to Jen Shefner, assistant vice president at Columbia Credit Union, who implemented a genius hour in her company’s call center. During that time, agents have come up with many new ideas, including training tools for other branches. Agents thrive on the autonomy and purpose the genius hour provides, and Shefner ensures their best ideas are implemented.

Another strategy for generating purpose is to raise agents’ awareness of their impact on end customers.

Dr. Adam Grant, a management professor at Wharton and author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, conducted a series of call center experiments to uncover truths about motivation and work performance.

In one experiment at a university fundraising call center, a group of agents was introduced to a scholarship recipient. The recipient spent five minutes explaining the positive impact their work had made on his life. One month later, agents who had met the recipient increased their weekly phone time by an average of 142 percent and their funds raised increased by 171 percent. Agents who did not meet the recipient showed no change in performance.

In a second experiment, a group of agents was introduced to a scholarship recipient and then instructed to focus efforts on contacting alumni who donated frequently to the university. On average, agents in this group doubled the number of calls made per hour and increased weekly revenue by more than 400 percent. Dr. Grant’s conclusion? Contact with beneficiaries “appears to be a promising catalyst in the art of motivation maintenance.”

He suggests connecting agents directly with end customers, or “outsourcing inspiration,” as he calls it, to generate motivation. If that’s not possible, showcasing customer photos, sharing their stories and having agents describe their own positive experiences with customers can inspire productivity. This in turn increases call center agent retention.

Contact with end customers delivers a dose of motivation to agents to achieve higher performance than they would without contact, which often happens without them even realizing it.

Thanks to progress in data analysis technology and workforce psychology, call center operators now have intelligent tools to help them determine what type of people succeed in call center environments. By hiring the right people and engaging agents in meaningful ways, they can increase call center agent retention, reduce hiring and training costs and improve call center profitability.

Published on June 24, 2016.

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