The Great Resignation is coming for your business. Since the start of the pandemic, resignation rates have jumped to anywhere from 30–100%, according to the Boston Consulting Group. But for support leaders, the surge in call center turnover rates is nothing new.
Inbound customer service reps consistently have one of the highest turnover rates in the world. Agents deal with emotional customers, stress to perform, and often low pay.
Even before the pandemic, only 38% of call center employees said they were satisfied with their jobs. And with the cost of hiring new agents costing anywhere from $10,000–$20,000, a high agent turnover rate can crush your organization’s profits.
As call center leaders, our focus is almost always on the customer experience. However, the employee experience is just as necessary when it comes to productivity and your bottom line.
If you’re worried about losing your best agents and spending too much time and money searching for new ones, read on.
- Why call center turnover rates matter
- How to calculate your agent attrition rate
- 9 ways to improve the employee experience
Why high call center turnover rates matter
Employee attrition is more than an annoyance. It’s the crux of every successful support team and a significant hurdle for growing companies.
Your agents are on the frontline of providing a fantastic customer experience. And when they move on, it adds stress to the entire system. Unfortunately, the pandemic has created a stress ‘doom loop’ in customer support.
Agent turnover leads to understaffed call centers, which leads to longer average hold times, which leads to angrier customers and more agents leaving.
A survey from NBC found that 75% of people believe customer service has gotten worse during the pandemic.
But what do they mean by ‘worse?’ To start, 78% say they’ve had to contact a company multiple times to address a single concern. But even worse, over 50% say their problems never get resolved.
It’s not hard to see how high turnover rates directly cause these complaints.
A drop in customer experience leads to upset customers, lost revenue, and higher churn. However, it can be challenging to quantify or even know how to measure customer experience in the short term.
The turnover costs that are easier to calculate are ‘hard’ costs, such as:
- Recruitment costs: Potential agents need to know you’re hiring before they’ll apply for a position. There are costs associated with posting to job boards and other mediums like radio or television ads.
- Hiring costs: Hiring is a labor-intensive process. Calculate the time spent by both human resources and leadership to screen and interview applicants.
- Training: Once an agent is hired, there are training costs associated with their initial setup. Consider time spent training as well as any new equipment they might need–phone, laptop, better internet connection.
- Supervision: New agents require additional supervision, which means managers are unavailable to do other things.
- Unproductive paid time: You start paying an agent’s wages well before they can handle calls on their own. This period can extend into weeks or even months as they learn the ins and outs of your organization and products.
- Overtime costs for current agents: Finally, don’t forget the rest of your agents who are picking up the slack while you fill empty seats. Either the calls aren’t handled, and customers get upset, or you need to pay your current agents to cover the additional workload.
Finally, understaffed call centers are almost guaranteed to impact revenue growth.
Here’s a basic example. If your call center receives 2000 calls a day and just 1% of them are abandoned due to long wait times, that’s 20 lost calls. If your customer lifetime value (CLV) is $100, those calls result in $2,000 in lost revenue per day or $60,000 every month.
How to calculate your agent attrition rate
Like a boat with a leak, the solution to a high call center turnover rate isn’t to keep bailing water but to plug the hole.
The first step is to understand just how bad of an issue you’re facing. Calculating your call center turnover rate is a relatively simple equation:
(Number of Employees that Left During A Given Period) ÷ (Average Number of Employees for the Period) × 100%
For example, if your call center averages 150 agents and 12 left in the last month, you would calculate: 40 ÷ 150 x 100 = 26.6%.
With call centers averaging 30–45% annual turnover rates, you’ll want to track these numbers monthly to catch staffing issues early.
But here’s the thing, just knowing the average call center turnover rate and how you stack up doesn’t help improve your business. Even being at the bottom of the industry benchmarks is a problem.
Instead, sticking with our sinking ship metaphor, you need to find all the holes and plug the largest ones first.
In practical terms, this means strategically investigating who is leaving and what is making them go.
Types of employee turnover
Here are a few ‘leaks’ in your employee experience that you can start looking for today.
Internal vs. external turnover
Sometimes agents move to other positions in your organization (internal turnover), while others leave for an entirely new job (external). The first path provides a net benefit to your company–even if it’s a temporary annoyance for you.
Track your internal turnover rates and work those into your hiring and training plan. Showing how agents are using the call center as an ‘entry point’ to your company can help you make a case for extra budget for hiring and training.
Voluntary vs. involuntary turnover
You can also track turnover based on how many agents are leaving on their own compared to those being terminated. For example, if you’re consistently firing a high number of agents, it could signal an issue with your hiring or training process.
Turnover rate by team
Calculating the turnover rate for your entire call center gives you a baseline. However, it doesn’t tell you why people are leaving. To pinpoint the exact issue, analyze turnover by department, team, or supervisor.
For example, you might find that agents are leaving due to a manager, not compensation or lack of training. Or, you might uncover specific teams with high employee retention rates and use those as models for training others.
Turnover rate by call type
There’s also the possibility that a specific call type or skill is leading to higher-than-average turnover rates. You might be putting agents on calls without sufficient training, causing burnout by understaffing your support teams, or not correctly utilizing skills-based routing.
Turnover rate by performance level
There are moments when losing support reps can benefit the overall performance of your team. For example, losing a low-performing agent might cause a scheduling headache, but that’s better than dealing with the fallout of them mishandling a customer.
To evaluate how your turnover rate impacts your overall performance, divide your staff into groups. Then, run the same calculation to see how well you’re retaining high-performing agents. If you’re going to lose reps no matter what, it’s best to lose those who aren’t bringing value.
Turnover rate by demographics or trends
Often, there are trends and factors outside your control that influence your turnover rates. The most obvious current example is the pandemic, which is causing employees to leave jobs of all types in droves.
However, there are also demographic-specific trends you should be aware of. For example, employees aged 20–24 are likely to stay for just one year, so don’t beat yourself up when they leave.
How to improve the employee experience and take control of call center turnover rates
Understanding the root causes of agent turnover is only half the battle. The ultimate goal is to create a company culture that fully engages, empowers, and satisfies agents. Because the truth is that happier agents = happier customers.
According to a recent McKinsey report on Boosting contact center performance through employee engagement, engaged and satisfied call center employees are:
- 8.5x more likely to stay than leave within a year
- 16x more likely to refer friends to their company
- 3.3x more likely to feel highly empowered to resolve customer issues
A fully satisfied agent becomes an asset for your support team. So what makes call center agents engaged and satisfied?
Wages are certainly a major factor. However, most reps understand that salaries and benefits are dictated mainly by industry and market. Instead, according to the Boston Consulting Group, employees look for four specific elements to decide when to invest in a job: value, purpose, certainty, and belonging.
Keep these ‘big four’ in mind as you go through the following steps and design an employee engagement plan that keeps agents happy, motivated, and productive.
1. Prioritize culture in your hiring practices
It’s tempting to lower your hiring standards when you’re struggling to fill seats. However, agent retention starts with bringing in the right people to begin with.
An analysis of studies found that employees that believe in your organization’s culture are less likely to leave. More and more, this means prioritizing cultural fit over experience, skill sets, and even resume gaps.
A classic example is from the online retailer Zappos. After their founder read a report that connected how lucky people saw themselves with higher problem-solving skills, they started asking applicants, “on a scale of 1–10, how lucky are you?”
So, where do you start? Define the traits and values your ideal agent should uphold.
Do you want them to be problem solvers always looking for creative solutions? Or hardcore call center veterans who know how to stick to a script and won’t budge when customers push back?
You can always train new agents on skills or processes but it’s almost impossible to change someone’s core values.
2. Elevate your purpose with a shared customer service philosophy
Agents want more than a job; they want a purpose.
Especially for younger generations who are more likely to apply for entry-level positions, a shared purpose is critical for extending your agent’s tenure.
Yet, while it’s somewhat easier to rally engineers behind a technical problem, call center reps don’t always share that same drive. Instead, a customer service philosophy is a way to build a sense of community.
A customer service philosophy is a short statement that defines your team’s mission, values, and guiding principles. For example, Disney’s philosophy is we create happiness. While Nintendo’s is putting smiles on the saves of everyone Nintendo touches.
However, it’s not enough to simply tell your reps about these values. They need to live them. Take time at the start of meetings to highlight customer interactions where a rep embodied your philosophy and work them into your training material.
Working your philosophy into your daily work creates a sense of belonging, which has been shown to lower employee turnover, increase customer loyalty, and even grow revenue.
At one 10,000-person company, a high sense of belonging resulted in more than $52 million in annual savings!
3. Spend more time on onboarding and training
Many new agents are entry-level with little training in handling customer calls and the specifics of your call center strategy. Yet, they must learn quickly to alleviate the pressure on the rest of your team and reduce the cost of unproductive time.
Without the right level of training, you’re throwing your agents in the deep end. Un- or under-trained support agents only further frustrate customers who want their issues solved now.
All this leads to is more stress and higher turnover. A study from IBM found that new hires will start planning their exit strategy right away if they don’t receive initial training.
Instead, fight the urge to move agents from the training room to the floor too quickly.
Training doesn’t start and end with memorizing scripts. A clear new agent onboarding and training process gives them the confidence and skills to help customers. It also reduces the cost of scaling up your support operation as agents become productive sooner.
Training programs should include several critical elements:
- Technical deep-dive on company products. Customers expect agents to know your products better than they do. Allow them enough time to get comfortable with the products you sell so they can speak on the same level.
- Call control best practices. No matter their experience level, new agents should also get training on your inbound call center solution. Focus on the simple errors that kill customer experience, like properly answering and transferring calls.
- Call monitoring and coaching. Training never really ends. Build a process for ‘integrated coaching’–where managers provide coaching in short bursts before, after, or even during customer calls. Research shows this type of coaching can improve team performance by 12%.
- Clear escalation procedures. During the pandemic, contact center escalations increased a staggering 68%. New agents especially need a clear process for handling complaints and issues beyond their training level or seniority.
- Up-to-date documentation. Changing times mean new policies and workflows. To reduce customer effort, agents need to know when and where to look up your latest processes on the fly and trust that they’re telling the truth.
Training is one aspect of your employee engagement plan that you can’t skip out on. A prepared agent is a productive agent.
4. Give agents flexibility with the right tools
Employee expectations have changed during the pandemic. Agents with children or other household responsibilities need to balance work and life more than ever.
In a recent hybrid working study published in Harvard Business Review, 59% of respondents said flexibility is more important than salary or other benefits. However, not everyone agrees on what a ‘flexible’ working situation is.
For some, flexibility means working whenever and from wherever you want. While for others, it means adopting a hybrid schedule and coming into the office a few times a week.
It doesn’t make sense for call centers to give agents full autonomy to ‘work whenever they want.’ You need coverage during peak hours. Allowing agents to come and go as they please makes it impossible to measure critical call center KPIs and metrics such as adherence to schedule or agent utilization rates.
However, you can give agents the flexibility to be in the work environment that suits them best. Not only are remote workers more satisfied, but they also lower your overall operational costs.
Your agents will be able to receive and make support calls, get access to your customer service CRM, and engage with customers across channels using the omnichannel contact center.
Related: 7 benefits of telecommuting that prove it’s here to stay.
5. Use data and technology to make their lives easier
Stress is one of the biggest contributors to agent turnover. But not all stress comes from dealing with unhappy customers.
Call complexity, confusing processes, and a lack of support all contribute to unsustainable stress levels.
First, at a bare minimum, agents need reliable call center technology to do their jobs properly.
One study of over 1 million support calls during the pandemic found a massive uptick in both customers and reps saying, “I can’t understand you.” With cloud-based VOIP solutions like Nextiva, unclear agent communication is unacceptable.
Remote-friendly tools like Nextiva ensure your agents don’t deal with poor call quality. However, there are several other features and tools that can make their lives easier.
- Call analytics and data: Your call center is full of powerful insights that can improve your agent’s workdays. Call analytics track agent performance and customer satisfaction so you can improve call center operations and understand where each rep thrives and empower them to do their best work.
2. Chatbots: Few customer questions or issues need to be dealt with by a live agent. Using an AI-powered chatbot on your homepage provides a first line of defense. Then, if a conversation goes beyond their abilities, you can always hand it over to a live agent.
3. Skills-based routing: There’s nothing more stressful for an agent than being put on a call they’re not trained for. Skills-based routing ensures that customers are put through to knowledgeable reps based on the answers they provide an IVR.
4. Service CRM and Call Pop: Customers expect agents to know about them and their history with your company as soon as they call. A service CRM collects and organizes all of your most important customer data. Then, a tool like Nextiva’s Call Pop provides the essential information–contact info, account details, sentiment trends–before your reps even answer the phone.
5. Collaboration tools: Being a support rep can be a lonely job, especially once you lose the connection of being in a shared workspace. Collaboration tools allow your team to share knowledge, ask questions, and build a human connection.
6. Provide clear paths for promotion
Call centers are an easy entry point for employees looking to get an ‘in’ at your company. However, if they don’t see a clear path forward, they will start looking elsewhere.
According to a McKinsey survey of contact center employees, promotional opportunities make up 14% of an employee’s satisfaction. That’s second only to wages.
Make sure agents know how to progress on their career path–whether on the care team or elsewhere. Establish goals you can check on regularly and show them the benefits that come with moving up.
7. Incentivize loyalty
Wages and benefits will always be a major factor in call center turnover. That’s a fact.
While it’s good practice to update your compensation packages to reflect the times and correct any pay inequalities, that’s not a sustainable option for the long term.
Instead, agents need regular positive affirmation with financial compensation to keep them motivated and loyal. These can be one-off bonuses for performance or even public processes for tying financial incentives to KPIs.
Whatever path you choose, make sure the goals and parameters are clear. For example, you might offer a bonus to any agent who lowers their First Contact Resolution rate to a certain level. In this case, everyone needs access to a KPI dashboard to see how they stack up.
If you’re especially strapped for staff, you might even consider the recent hiring trend of ‘boomerangs’–bringing back people who have recently departed by offering them long-term compensation packages.
8. Control managers’ negative habits
A company culture that reduces agent turnover needs to extend to management as well.
In a Gallup poll of over a million US workers, 75% of people who voluntarily left a position did so because of their boss, not the job itself.
The employee-manager relationship is critical to productivity, motivation, and morale. But with more agents working from home, that relationship has broken down.
Managers who once had visibility into who’s working and who’s free for coaching or mentorship have reverted to bad habits such as micromanaging or over-scheduling meetings.
One solution is to train your managers on tools like phone presence to create ‘virtual visibility’ in your call center. These provide an at-a-glance view of the line status and whether it’s busy, ringing, or unavailable.
9. Use exit interviews to learn from your employee churn
You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know why it’s happening in the first place. While it’s impossible to stop the outflow of agents completely, you can use employee churn to help uncover what’s making them go.
An exit interview is a simple way to discover why your agents are leaving. Plus, now that they already have one foot out the door, they’re more likely to speak openly and honestly. It’s not like they’re worried about getting fired at this point.
Keep the interview short and focus on a few essential questions, such as:
- Why are you leaving the position?
- Do you feel you were adequately equipped to do your job?
- What was your relationship like with your manager?
- What did you like/dislike most about the role?
- What skills do you think we need to look for in your replacement?
These questions will pinpoint where you need to improve and what to look for during the hiring process.
Turnover will always plague call centers, but technology can be your cure
Call center attrition is never going away. But with the right processes and tools, you can get it down to a manageable level and get back to what’s more important: making customers happy.
While process and culture changes take time, technology can be a quick fix for the most common agent complaints. Give them the freedom to work from where they want with the Nextiva App and then use advanced tools like call analytics, AI-powered chatbots, and Call Pop to lessen their load.
The more you show your reps that you care about their well-being and work-life balance, the more likely they’ll be to stick around for the long haul.