Employee Attrition: The Silent Performance Killer

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It’s always interesting to look at the various areas that people focus on when determining how to improve the performance of their contact center. The usual suspects always seem to be some combination of: 1) technology improvements to make things more efficient and customer-friendly (Bots, AI, intelligent IVRs), 2) location and solution alignment (should we be offshore, nearshore, or domestic, and should we be in-site or virtual), and 3) process or solution components (how do we eliminate waste, re-work, or processes which gum up the system?).

All of these areas are critically important and should be constantly monitored and improved upon. Yet, in most cases, each of these areas tend to provide only incremental improvements to efficiency gains or customer experience. Then why do so much of our attention and so many of our resources go toward marginal improvements to the business?

Having spent thirty five years as both client and supplier in the BPO industry, it’s been amazing to witness and be part of so many advancements in the industry…from the advent of CRM systems and outbound dialers, to the progression of focus on customer experience metrics through CSAT, CE, and NPS, as well as the establishment of effective omnichannel solutions, social media response, intuitive technologies, and more. Before these technology advances, the only real way to be different than your competition was to hire the best people, train them well, and then manage them in a way to make them better and keep them as long as you could.

And through it all, one thing has remained the same. There is still a human being on the other end of the interaction, and that person’s job is still to reach a positive outcome with your customer as quickly and as effectively as possible. Now, don’t get me wrong. As much as we can, we’ve all tried to automate things, we’ve all tried to give customers self-help options, we’ve created Bots to look and feel like a human. That really just means that we’ve taken the simple things away from the agents.

But, let’s be honest. Those were never the problem anyway. The hard stuff is all still there. Those are the things that are really causing your customers to be unhappy. And those are the things that are too difficult to automate. They also require the most training for your agents. They require repetition for the agents to get good at handling those situations. And they require finesse to navigate choppy waters with your customers and turn a bad situation less bad. Or if you have really good agents, they turn a detractor into an promoter.

So now that agents are only getting the tough calls, their job has also gotten tougher. A stressful job now has the potential to being downright harrowing. And customers are more demanding than ever. It’s no wonder that agents are turning over at levels not typically seen in other industries, except maybe bomb detonators or toxic waste disposers. In fact, in July 2020, according to CareerAddict, telemarketer and customer service advisor were rated as two of the six worst jobs one could get.

The pandemic has helped to ease the rise in contact center attrition as agents, and practically everyone else, has held onto their job for fear of not being able to find another one. But that has really just masked the problems that exist for many companies, and when we get to the other side of this pandemic (and we will, and hopefully very soon!) there will likely come a day of reckoning as a surging economy and pent-up frustrations with current workplaces will cause agents to go looking for something better.

And so we’re left waiting for that day and the impacts that will have on your business. An attrition rate of 8% monthly means that you’re turning over your entire workforce every year. Even a 6% attrition rate means almost 3 out of 4 people leave every year. Among outsourced providers, those who do well may be at 5% monthly…congrats, you’ve found a partner who only turns over 60% of their workforce every year!

As I made a recent career change, I looked for a company who looked and felt different than other companies in the outsourced contact center space. And with the zealous approach to creating a positive work environment and treating their employees well, the company averages 3.5% monthly attrition, well below industry average. This approximates many companies’ in-house attrition rates without paying higher in-house wages or benefits. And that kind of a partner is what companies will be needing more and more as time goes on. That may be why this company continues to experience triple digit growth.

The costs of high attrition are out of this world! With 6% attrition and two weeks of training on a 100 FTE project, over the course of a year, a company will need to spend 5,760 hours just to re-train agents, not to mention the time and effort that goes into recruiting and hiring. And they’ll never get out of their own way in recovering from learning curves associated with constantly replacing agents. The first 90 days of an agent’s employment is most crucial to their achieving steady state performance, and that is also where the majority of agent turnover takes place. Those companies that can effectively address this early stage turnover are the difference-makers.

So, as the big leaps in technology and process enhancements have taken place over the past 3-5 years, and we’re now left with just incremental improvements, the big gains to be made are in employee retention. The imperative is to gain competency in agents and retain them for the long run. Get them engaged, get them to be your advocates and your evangelists. Don’t accept that high attrition is the norm. Work with your suppliers to solve the problem through agent investment (not just high wages – employees may come for the wages, but the wages won’t keep them) and eliminating other attrition drivers. That’s the single most important component to a program’s success.

It’s all about the people. And after 35 years, what was old is new again.