Attrition Management

This document discusses a few of the factors that affect turnover and presents ideas and approaches that reduce turnover to more acceptable levels. These ideas and approaches are based on TRG’s experience and are a starting point for discussions of a specific strategy to deal with this issue. The specifics areas covered in this document are agent selection; training; employee satisfaction and quality assurance/monitoring.

To effectively manage staff turnover requires an assessment of all of the factors that influence turnover within a center or organization. The diagram below shows the ‘interconnectedness’ and some of the cause and effect relationships in operation in a call center.

Some of the factors are universal in that they affect the entire organization. These would include ‘Policies and Procedures’ as well as ‘Employee Satisfaction’. The remaining factors specifically impact staff retention and agent tenure for call centers.

Staff Selection:
In examining the process from the beginning, first assess the staff selection process. The staff selection process should identify and qualify staff that has the abilities, skills and competencies to complete the job functions as well as the personality and temperament to work in a call center environment. First review the job descriptions for the agent positions and compare and contrast these with the requirements of the role. To determine what are the desired attributes, examine the best performers in the call center, classify their skills and competencies and review other skills and competencies that are appropriate to a call center environment. This exercise develops a skills and competency map.

Before this map can be implemented and employed, suitable objective tests and assessments must be created. It is not always possible to develop objective assessments for certain skills or competencies. When an objective test is not possible, the skill must be reassessed for significance and a determination made as to whether it should be included in the absence of the ability to assess the skill objectively. Once we have determined which are the desired skills and competencies and how we can test for each objectively, the skills and competency map is completed.

With the skills and competency map completed review the job description and roles and responsibilities documents for accuracy and completeness. In most organizations, where TRG has supported the development of skills and competency maps, a finalized a list of 12-15 desired skills and competencies was the result. There is no single correct number of skills but the majority of skills and competency maps include many skills and competencies from the following list:

Ability to multi Task
Ability to take direction
Ability to work independently
Accepts responsibility/Ownership
Active Listening Skills
Completes projects begun
Conceptual thinker
Cooperative Learner
Customer Focus
Detail Oriented
Problem Solving Skills
Process Thinker
Product Knowledge
Results oriented
Schedule Adherence
Service Oriented
Stress Tolerance
Takes Responsibility
Team Focus
Telephone Etiquette
Voice Tone/Modulation

Staff recruitment can begin once the skills and competencies have been identified, the assessment tools sourced or developed and the job description aligned. Working with your HR team, identify appropriate sources for staff; such as job postings, job fairs, employee referral campaigns etc. Many of the initial staff assessments may be completed in advance of a formal interview and can be done at a job fair or on-line.

Assess the local job market in terms of wages paid for similar positions at other companies in your specific labor market. Identify the number of other companies operating call centers within your local labor marketplace. The total number of agent positions in a specific geographic market as a percentage of the total workforce will provide you with the ‘saturation level’ of the market. Generally speaking the lower the saturation percentage the easier it will be to recruit. Ideal markets have saturation levels of below 3%.

With the staff selection process completed, examine the training elements that impact on the retention and tenure of high quality agents.

Training is critical to the success of any call center operation. The staff selection process enables us to hire staff that has the potential to be successful in a call center role it is the training that will equip them to be successful. By taking the analytical approach to training we would examine the process as follows:

• What are the types of calls/contacts that a new agent is expected to be able to handle successfully?
• What knowledge and/or technical proficiency will they need to possess to handle these calls?
• What tools will they need to utilize and how do they get trained to operate these tools effectively and efficiently?
• How can we illustrate and demonstrate the overall processes that underlie the specific call types to provide greater context and comprehension for the agent?
• How can deficiencies in agent skills and competencies be improved?
• How can we develop a curriculum that allows the agent to employ their learning to most effectively gain retention?

The above questions plus many others frame the development of a training curriculum. As with staff selection it is important to work backwards from the outcomes desired, or in this case, the knowledge and capabilities wished for the agents to possess when they first begin working on the phones. By establishing training materials, employing role-playing exercises and written and oral tests you can assess the effectiveness of the training in meeting these goals and objectives.

Of course training is not a one time process, or a single training curriculum, but rather an ongoing exercise. We cannot train everything at once and we need to ensure that we don’t overwhelm the new staff with too much information.

By examining the calls and issues that the call center deals with it is possible to develop a hierarchy that can form the basis of a training outline with new staff being trained initially to handle the most frequent and easiest inquiries and receiving future training to deal with less common call/more complex or inquiry types. Over time the staff progresses from being new and inexperienced to becoming very experienced and knowledgeable.

Generally staff progress through three broad stages in the center. Those stages are Adequacy, Competency and Mastery, often referred to as ACM.

Adequacy is the first level at which most people in call centers can take calls with an excellent chance of achieving success for the company and the customer. While their delivery and skills may be rough they can get through without help most of the time. From time to time, they need help with uncommon transactions or questions and need to put the caller on hold to research for an answer.

Competency is where the agent has been through one complete business cycle and therefore is capable of understanding the business and customer requirements for all calls. Only a modest few need escalation or referral to supervisor. They are good at handling irate callers, difficult questions, uncommon requests, and have an understanding of the unique issues or practices that being part of the call center means. They would be asked to take part in a special project or two per year. Possible take the lead in a training session or work on a process evaluation. The Competent agent usually exhibits a level of involvement with the work and centre that is beyond the “just a job”.

Mastery level for most CSR’s requires experience and exposure to a wide variety of transactions and other work in the call center. They are very knowledgeable on all aspects of calls and transactions within center. Generally has training and exposure to business issues, process, cause and effect. A Mastery level agent has worked on a special project or social growth opportunity grooming for supervisor or lead functions. They have the theory and knowledge about the call center operations and supervisory skills. They are usually good candidates for promotion within company. A Mastery level agent can be offered an apprenticeship or secondment with other company’s sections or divisions. They often help with training other CSR’s, monitoring, initial hiring and intake functions.

Most call center managers would ask that all staff be at the Mastery level. This is neither realistic nor practical. There is turnover in a center. Turnover is good if kept in bounds. Experience shows that between 5 to 20% is an optimal range. This provides new blood in center with new ideas. It gives the average job life in the center about 5 plus years. In practice this means that on an average year a center with a 100 staff will have 20 to 25 new staff members.

An examination of the remaining staff will show that between 30 and 60 of them will be at the differing levels of competency. The skills and competency map along with the training curriculum for each person provides a clear means of evaluation and progression for their skills and knowledge. As each achieves levels of mastery they in turn provide training and guidance to the new and more junior staff.

The ACM model forms the basis of a career path for agents within a center with defined and specific tests, quality scores; first call resolution, customer satisfaction scores and productivity levels being established as minimum criteria for advancement to the next level.

The following is an example of an actual matrix developed for a TRG client.

Job Descriptions Matrix

As illustrated in the table above the role of quality assurance and call monitoring is an important aspect of measuring the performance of the agents and assessing their capability to move to a new level.

The link between what is hired and trained for and what is used to judge how well CSR’s perform once taking calls is clear in this the table. If these kinds of tools are developed and distributed to the supervisory staff (but most importantly, to the staff themselves) it builds trust and transparency in and for the next key factor.

Quality Assurance:
Quality Assurance (QA) is a method for assuring management, owners, customers or anyone that the organization is producing products or services at a predetermined level of quality. A Call Center QA program should include the following components:

• Customer Listening & Satisfaction
• Customer Relations
• Failure Analysis and Process Improvement
• Monitoring
• Mystery Calling

(insert Customer Relations circle diagram)

Typically QA is the gathering, analysis and reporting function of an overall approach to quality in an organization. Quality assurance is not primarily a performance management program, but rather an organization benchmarking and assessment process. Quality improvement efforts can be part of a QA program but are not necessarily a component.

For the purposes of this document we will discuss only a portion of quality assurance, the sub-process monitoring. This can be used as a coaching and staff development tool, but it must be aligned with both the staff selection and training components to deliver the desired results.

A recent ICMI and AC Nielsen study of 735 call centers showed that:

• 93 percent reported monitoring agent calls.
• There is a wide variance in the number of calls monitored per month per agent. The most popular frequencies are 4 to 5, and 10 or more.
• Apart from agent calls, other types of contacts are also monitored. Four out of 10 call centers monitor email responses, one in six monitor fax correspondence, and one in 14 monitor Web text-chat sessions
• More than one-third of call centers devote one to five hours per week to monitoring, and a quarter devoted six to 10 hours weekly. However, it is not surprising that the larger call centers (200 or more agents) devote significantly more time per week to monitoring and coaching than the smallest call centers (fewer than 50 agents).

Most centers only conduct monitoring for the voice channel and do not examine the transactional process that is underlying the call itself. It is important to examine the transactions to effectively map, communicate and revise call center processes.

Monitoring starts by assessing how each transaction is done. Is the transaction done according to the specifications process flow and standards defined by the organization? For each of the observed transactions, track the results to success or failure. Monitoring with this approach focuses first on what the system is producing and not whether or not an agent is performing.

Assessing the individuals’ performance in following the defined process, procedures and flow of the particular transaction provides an assessment of how well the agent performed, or adhered to the expected processes. Deficiencies identified in the course of this monitoring can then be shared with the training and coaching staff for individual coaching and training.

It must be kept in mind that any assessment of individual performance almost certainly lacks statistical validity. The majority of centers will only monitor their agents on 10- to 20 calls per month. If an average agent handles 50 calls a day then this represents only 1 – 2% of the agents’ calls. This is sufficient to identify significant issues but is unlikely to uncover minor issues or misinterpretations by the agent.

In most call centers monitoring provides a mini-performance review of the agent. The manner in which these monitors are tabled and presented can positively or negatively affect the employee’s morale and job satisfaction.

Employee Satisfaction:
The overwhelming majority of people who leave any company because of the way they are treated every day. Surveys consistently show that more than 40 percent of people who quit do so because they feel they weren’t appreciated for their contributions regardless of position. These surveys show that lack of appreciation, lack of teamwork and the perception that the company doesn’t care about employees are consistently the highest-rated reasons for low job satisfaction.

Management is often shocked when confronted with poor job satisfaction data or exit interview data. Few employers actually intend to mistreat anyone; many go to great lengths to have happy employees. There are several reasons for this discrepancy. First, lack of appreciation is itself a negative. There are many managers who are very nice people, but manage almost exclusively by negative reinforcement not because of what they do but because of what they don’t do. If you can’t identify times when you have overtly told individuals that you appreciate their contributions, then you can count on the fact that they think you don’t.

Second, when giving out positives, whether it is a pat on the back or a raise in pay, if you give them equally to all performers you end up punishing the best performers. Most employees think that it’s unfair that they work hard every day, while others do just enough to get by yet get the same pay and recognition. The lack of transparency to the rewards and recognition means that resentment builds and the perception of mistreatment grows. Treat people on the basis of merit, not seniority or position and make sure that the process for doing so is clear and communicated to all regularly and repeatedly.

A third reason that employee’s feel negative about the workplace is that even though managers think they are creating a positive environment, they frequently fail to deal effectively and efficiently with problems and problem performers. When poor performance is tolerated, other employees don’t understand it. When they try to figure out why, they often conclude that there is favoritism for some unknown reason or that the supervisor or manager is weak. Both reasons are problems for the organization.

Finally what is the intrinsic value of the work or is the employee just working for the pay check? Is the work itself satisfying and is that demonstrated and promoted by the organization? Is there enough challenge in the work or within the workplace to simulate and engage the employee? Too many fluffy parties, campaigns or puffery make the employee focus on the incentive, the prize and not on the value and pleasure of doing good work for its own sake. That professional pride in the quality of ones work is a powerful incentive to remain where one is so as to be able to do such work in the future.

We have reviewed most of the key components that will assist in the reduction of attrition in the call center. By identifying and addressing the underlying factors in agent selection, agent training, career path, employee satisfaction and quality assurance the organization can systematically reduce the turnover in the call centers. Review and align the policies and procedures within the call center to reflect the culture and performance desired. This needs combining with regular reviews of employee satisfaction. Employee satisfaction is a good benchmark for progress, the higher the level of employee satisfaction the lower the level of attrition. There is also a correlation between employee satisfaction and a company becoming an employer of choice and a destination career.

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