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Is Call Centre high staff turnover an ever present necessary evil?

Any manager that has run or worked with a call centre knows that the recruitment treadmill is a constant grind that operates on an ongoing basis. It is a process that reviews CV’s, selects likely candidates, conducts various interviews and assessments and places the required number of people into the positions that have become available. Sadly, these positions are normally a reflection of experienced staff, that meet the required productivity and knowledge levels, leaving the organisation for greener pastures.

Many managers just accept that this churn is the norm and that nothing can be done about it, or done differently. The cost of recruiting staff, training them up, paying the costs of their learning mistakes and the subsequent teams constantly moving back into forming, storming or norming and never truly reaching performing stage, is just an accepted part of the modern call centre.

Is there another perspective on this issue? It is proposed that there are key causes, simple solutions, opportunities and perspective changes that could change the high volume of churn to a more moderate, manageable one.

What Would Cause Turnover Churn?

Let us start with the key causes of high churn:

  • The agent perspective of the role:
    Generally call centre agents choose to work in a call centre as they perceive the role as an entry to the type of organisation in which they would like to work. The role is a transitional role in which they will be placed for a short period before their idyllic role becomes available and they move into a “real” job. This “real” job is one that aligns with their dreams, provides career opportunities, uses their skills and leads to mental and emotional stimulation.
  • The management perspective of the role:
    Generally, management perceives the call centre role as a “necessity”. Staff that are recruited into the call centre are important as they communicate with the customer on a daily basis yet the role is often filled with newly qualified, well spoken (mostly) young people desperate for work and an opportunity to move into the corporate world. Although this approach is not fully flawed, often the well spoken agent has not been appropriately and fully matched to the true challenges that the role will present them with, and the company’s expectations regarding tenure and moves into other positions.They are recruited for the short term and are not well briefed to expect to remain in the call centre for an appropriate period of time. This leads to people arriving and (almost immediately) starting to look for other opportunities. The important question is, as a Manager, can you find people that want to work in the call centre as an agent for an extended period of time and gain value, motivation and satisfaction out of the role?
  • The requirements and complexities of the role:
    Too often the call centre role is perceived as a simple role. Each call centre is unique in its specific requirements but all call centres have key similarities. A few of these are:

    • Communication skills that are beyond the superficial ability to speak your language (for example, the ability to listen to what the real issues are, the ability to explain a complicated concept in a way that is simple, the skill to convince a person of something so they accept and even buy-into whatever is being discussed).
    • Evaluation and deductive reasoning where, whether a service query or sales opportunity is being addressed, the agent can evaluate the communication and either solve the problem or find an appropriate approach to convince the person to listen to their offer (this is a limitation of the current scripting approach taken in many call centres).
    • “Reading” people using tone of voice and the words they speak only. A telephone removes at least 50% of the face to face communicated message, by removing the body language. Call centres need people that LOVE the telephone, have an ear for interpreting the subtleties of a telephone conversation and are able to use their own voice for maximum effect in the returned conversation.
    • Tenacity and resilience to cope with the 80% of calls that are routine and predictable while successfully coping with the 20% of calls that are challenging and, often, quite aggressive and difficult. In all of these calls, the telephone removes an element of the humanity of the agent, often leading to the customer speaking to them with disrespect and rudeness. A good agent will shift the customer to recognise their value as a person and in solving their need.
    • The final similarity to be commented on is the constant change juxtaposed with the obvious repetitive nature of the call centre. A truly successful call centre agent is not only able to absorb, gather and learn new critical information that will assist them in providing accurate and effective advice or information to the customer but they must also be able to tenaciously sit through the 80% of the calls a day that are routine, boring and predictable.

What is being done in your call centre to ensure staff recruited have these talents? It is difficult and costly to teach people these skills, and if they do not have them, it is likely that they will not survive successfully in the challenging world of a call centre. This will lead to their inevitable move to something or somewhere different.

Can this be Changed?

In each call centre I have worked with, there is a core of dedicated, resilient, effective staff, that have been a crucial part of the call centre operations for a relatively “long” period of time. Even if this group is a small percentage of the whole, they are there, they are happy and they are often secret mentors and support structures for the new staff, supervisors and managers for whom they work. These stalwarts are Managements’ window to the ideal recruit.
Understanding these recruits could open this window and deliver the answers to reducing turnover, and increasing the selection of a larger and more powerful team of unique, highly motivated and successful call centre agents that would form the foundation of the organisation as a whole. Managers should be asking themselves:

  • What is being done to meet with these employees individually and as a group?
  • What are the similarities and differences between these people?
  • What are the values and talents they have in common that make them contented and successful call centre agents?
  • What is different about their perspective that makes each call a challenge and the 20% of “difficult” calls a thrill?
  • What are their dreams?
  • What do I need to do to reward them and remunerate them as experts in my organisation so they know that we recognise their value?

If call centre managers could understand their core group of call centre agents more effectively, they could begin the revolution of call centre recruitment and transformation of inappropriate staff turnover.

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