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The Evolution of Contact Centers & Employee Retention White Paper


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A major component to a business' success or failure is the relationship it has with its new and existing clientele. CEOs and business leaders, as a result, are putting a high value on contact centers and call centers like never before. Contact centers have evolved significantly in this digital age; once just phones ringing, contact centers have now become strategic communication hubs with a diverse number of channels for customer service - and the proof is in the numbers.

According to a recent Forrester report, over the course of the last three years, self-service web activities rose 12%, users utilizing online chat grew by 24%, and community usage increased by 25%. It's clear according to this report that the digital age is only going to further evolve contact centers, but how do we retain those talented Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) as the evolution continues?

Retention rates continue to be a major pain point for contact centers around the world. Due to high stress and low pay, turnover is extremely high at roughly 40%! This free white paper will tout the various ways to increase employee retention and save money while doing so. By implementing these white paper strategies, you may find yourself saving $2,000-$3,000 each month just by keeping those talented CSRs at your organization.

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The Evolution of Contact Centers & Employee Retention White Paper

  1. 1. Today, customers expect the same experience across all of a company’s communication channels. A company reinforces its brand perception every time a customer interacts with it, whether in-person at a store or over any of the communication channels that the company offers. These channels include voice, email, chat, web self-service as well as social channels such as forums and popular sites. As a result, with the advent of social computing technologies like blogs, online ratings and reviews, wikis, microblogs, and internet-based communities, customers are able to rapidly and widely share their opinions about products and service experiences. They wield influence over the reputation of corporate brands more than ever before. Customers now control your brand. Thus, no matter the size or industry, organizations with the most modern contact center tools, which meet customer preferences, are best positioned to achieve the gold standard — solid customer relationships. As contact centers evolve, so do retention methods. For most organizations, success begins and ends with the customer. Overall customer satisfaction can be improved simply by knowing customers — how they prefer to communicate with the organization, what they deem important in terms of service and product choice, and when and why they are dissatisfied.
  2. 2. 2 The call center industry has changed greatly in the past thirty years. Pioneered in America, it arose out of a need to centralize customer service operations to save money in the eighties. As the economy improved and business boomed, competition became fierce — and customers more demanding. Companies used call centers to differentiate themselves with excellent customer service, in the hope that handling customer concerns quickly and efficiently would encourage brand loyalty. Today, by interacting with customers at every communications touchpoint, contact centers are evolving to become the communications hub for brands. According to a 2013 Forrester report that spans all demographics, while voice is still the primary communication channel used, it is quickly followed by self-service channels, and digital channels such as chat and email. Channel usage rates are also quickly changing: there has been a 12 percent rise in web self-service usage, a 24 percent rise in chat usage, and a 25 percent increase in community usage for customer service in the past three years. For 2014, managing these multiple channels to improve the customer experience and strengthen their bonds of loyalty are among the top priorities of large consumer-brand organizations around the world. Expect customer service organizations to better align their channel strategy this year to support their company’s customers’ needs. Contact center customer support functions must evolve to become relationship platforms, with a focus on building personalized and collaborative customer interactions. The best contact centers provide a consistent, branded and contextual experience across all media and channels. In today’s “any- where, anytime” customer-focused business environment, operating a high-performance contact center is more important than ever. Contact centers connect with customers at every touchpoint. Channel usage rates are quickly changing. In the past three years: 2% rise in web self-service usage | 24% rise in chat usage | 25% increase in community usage
  3. 3. First call resolution (FCR) has become one of the most important metrics used today to measure the performance of the contact center, a seismic measurement shift in the customer care environment, for two very important reasons. First is basic economics. By reducing the number of repeat calls by only five percentage points, from 25 percent to 20 percent, an inbound contact center with 250 agents can save approximately $230,000 annually, or the equivalent of seven full-time agents. This analysis considers only direct labor costs. Factoring in network services costs, seat licenses, service contract fees, hardware, training, internal IT support costs, facilities, and supervision adds substantially to potential savings. In addition, repeat calls often require supervisor or subject matter expert intervention, at a substantially higher labor cost than agents. If the customer is happy, that is what companies care about most. Call resolution results are far more important than measure- ments such as average talk time, which today seem outdated. The second important reason for FCR is customer satisfaction. Callers do not like having to make repeated efforts to get answers to their questions. According to research conducted by the SQL Group, customer satisfaction drops 15 percent with each callback. And with today’s worldwide communications hub, what happens in contact centers can quickly go viral, demanding that issues be addressed quickly rather than be dragged through the social media mud, which costs a company valuable resources like time and reputation. First call resolution — the key performance metric. One great example of social media customer service gone right is the Cincinnati Metro. Mostly working through complaints via Twitter, the Cincinnati Metro is quick to respond, immediately focuses on conflict resolution, and is genuine in their apology. For example, a customer tweeted about a high-pitched tone continu- ously screeching throughout her bus ride due to a new fare box installa- tion. The Cincinnati Metro responded in a timely manner, asking questions — “What high pitch tone? Do you mean the beep when it accepts the fare or the noise it makes when it rejects a bill?” — and working with the woman to get additional details to solve the problem. In the end, the woman shared which bus was having the issue, then thanked the Cincinnati Metro for taking the time to address and fix it for her. This is only one example of many for Cincinnati Metro’s customer service success stories on social media, which gives them a very high approval rating with their customers. Just remember, the key to great customer service is respond- ing quickly. This doesn’t just mean picking up the phone, but also answering your patrons on social media and other review sites across the web. Social media: another outlet for great customer service.1 FCR 1 Boot Camp Digital, Boot Camp Case Study Metro. Media-Case-Study-How-Cincinnati-Metro-uses-Twitter-to-Handle-Complaints. Accessed Jan. 28, 2014.
  4. 4. 4 Look for creative thinkers. New assessment metrics show that the most important quality to look for in a call center employee is creativity. • Individuals with high creativity scores tend to stay around longer. • Creative people find unique ways to solve problems. • They are less likely to be frustrated by the daily issues of their callers and more likely to try to figure out ways to solve them. • They look at customer service issues as new challenges. • The variety of the calls, complaints and problems are exciting to them. It allows them to resolve problems and exceed customer expectations. Given the changes in contact centers, the role of the contact center agent is changing. As more mainstream customers adopt self-help, callers tend to have more challenging issues. Thus, the call for agents who can juggle several responsibilities at once is becoming louder. These days, clients have higher expectations, which means agents may have to answer an inbound phone call and provide service while doing a web chat and answering an email. Further complicating matters, some agents also must be prepared to act as Tier 1 technical support for the website itself. With first-call resolution taking center stage, customer support agents need to scale several notches up. If a question is routed to a support rep it is likely to be a compli- cated one, and they must be prepared to do heavy troubleshooting. As call centers work on guiding customers to the right channel based on the complexity and time sensitivity of interactions, how does a company hire the right person who will stay in the job and make an impact? In The Wall Street Journal’s “Meet the New Boss: Big Data,”2 writer Joseph Walker explains how Xerox is empha- sizing personality and creativity when making mass hiring decisions: “After a half-year trial that cut attrition by a fifth, Xerox now leaves all hiring for its 48,700 call-center jobs to software that asks applicants to choose between statements like: “I ask more questions than most people do” and “People tend to trust what I say.” Xerox discovered that personality was the most accurate indicator of who would remain working at their call centers. Because a high percentage of call center employees (relative to other professions) quit in the first six months, hiring for personality dramati- cally increased the ROI not only on their recruitment budget but also their $5,000 per employee training investment. Xerox finds personality and creativity are vital retention factors. Finding the long-term call center agent. 2 Joseph Walker, “Meet the New Boss: Big Data.” Wall Street Journal Online, September 12, 2012.
  5. 5. The costs of turnover. Low-cost methods to retain top talent. Identifying the right talent. Low retention rates start with hiring the right people. Of course, it’s difficult to ensure that every person that walks through the door is the right fit, but you can create a proactive strategy to hire someone with great skills and the right cultural mindset. Skill assessments. Creating an assessment for applicants or pre-employees to take that covers their competency and level of comfort in impor- tant areas of their role — such as customer service, phone etiquette, social skills, and data entry — may help weed out the “okay” fit from the “best” fit. Behavioral and work preference analysis. This analysis is the place to ask those “what if” questions based on real-life scenarios that could happen during the workday. This is a great tool to assess behavioral features like compassion, creativity, problem solving and empathy — all important qualities in the world of customer service. Cultural index analysis. To effectively manage talent, it is important to know their needs, motivation, personal goals and drive. It’s even more important to make sure that these things align with the needs and goals of your company’s contact center team. A cultural index analysis is a great way to find and analyze these things prior to hiring an applicant. Realistic job previews. As is with most situations in life, we feel the most comfortable going into something when we are prepared and aware of the expectations that will follow. Allow your pre-employees to get a feel for the job at hand — mock phone calls (both positive and negative), mock emails and even a day of shadowing one of your best CSRs could really help an applicant understand expectations and decided whether or not this is the perfect fit for them. To prevent attrition, many companies are turning to innovative hiring practices to keep agents on the job. Following are some of the most successful ways to retain valuable call agents without significantly driving up personnel costs. 3 Phillips, Jack and Natalie Petouhoff. Recruiting and Training Call Center Employees. Virginia: American Society for Training and Development, 2001. As quoted in, “Call Center Rep Attrition,” AnswerOn, Accessed Nov. 13, 2013. Staff turnover is one of the biggest problems that call center managers face today — it impacts both costs and quality of service. The Robert Francis Group Inc., an advisory firm, estimated that replacing a CSR costs between $10,000-$15,000, conservatively. That does not include the biggest costs — reduced customer satisfaction and business because of inexperienced reps. According to ContactBabel, a leading analyst firm for the contact center industry, the average agent turnover rate in the call center industry is close to 40 percent, making the total cost associated with turnover vast indeed. In an Inside CRM interview (April 8, 2008) held by writer Pam Baker with Matt Katz, vice president of business consulting at Merced Systems, now owned by NICE (NASDAQ: NICE), Mr. Katz says, “It costs $10,000 to $15,000 in hard expenses to replace a single call center worker. However, a company saves from $2,000 to $3,000 for every month a single staffer is retained.” With such high industry attrition rates, CSR replacement can be very costly for large contact centers. Another industry report3 gives an example of a 1,000-seat contact center with an annualized attrition rate of 120 percent. It gives a low estimate of recruiting, hiring and training costs at $4,000 per CSR, resulting in $4.8 million spent yearly on CSR replacement. In this scenario, if agent attrition could be decreased by only 10 percent, the contact center would save $480,000 annually. So, how do companies combat call-center churn? The Robert Francis Group report suggests ensuring salaries are at least in the 75th percentile for similar jobs in the area. However, money is far from the only consideration. Surveys have found that, while pay and location are usually the main reasons for taking a call center job, people decide to leave for many other reasons. Typically, voluntary turnover can come as a result of job monotony, lack of career advancement, poor management, over- supervision, lack of empowerment to solve customer issues, lack of control of personal schedules, frustration with the toolset, and the stress of dealing with irate customers.
  6. 6. 6 Recognize good work. Praise when a rep does a particularly good job is one of the most powerful motivators. An agent who handles a difficult caller well or who unravels a knotty problem for a customer deserves public recognition. Public, because it not only helps the agent, but encourages others to do likewise. Giving small positive reinforcements often is better than offering big praises infrequently. Agents should be constantly reminded that their personal contributions are valued. Little things mean a lot. Offer family perks. With workers putting in longer hours at the office, motivational rewards have more resonance if they can be shared with friends and family. Everything from inviting families to company picnics to offering free movie passes when the call agent works late are very popular, according to Jack McElaney, vice president of sales and client services at E Communication Advantage. Allow flextime. Burnout is a huge problem for underpaid and overworked call agents. To relieve the pressures that lead to burnout, consider being more lenient on time issues. Flexible schedules and added paid time off for excellent performance are great incentives for call agents to pull all those extra hours. Eliminate boredom. Boredom is deadly. A bored rep is an unproductive rep, and one who probably is not going to be around very long. Cross- training is one way to combat boredom. By teaching reps several different jobs and switching them around regularly, monotony is relieved and agents feel fresh. Incentives and rewards. Incentives and rewards can improve employee-retention rates by boosting agents’ morale and giving them a tangible reason to stay with an organization (other than a regular paycheck). Some ideas: bonuses for perfect attendance, compen- sation programs based on pay-for-perfor- mance and annual process-improvement programs that reward suggestions which lead to increased performance. Career pathways. Call-center jobs are often perceived to be career dead ends. Giving agents a defined promotion pathway that encourages them to increase their job grade and salaries by providing outstanding performance can dispel this notion. Employees who feel that they have a profitable future with their organization are less likely to jump ship. Team environment. Employees who work in teams are generally more loyal. Team spirit can be built through special events (such as picnics, awards ceremonies and training sessions), enhanced communication (including employee intra- nets and newsletters) and a positive work atmosphere (such as a clean facility, modern equipment, and fair work rules and practices). Having even a few of these processes in place may help nip turnover in the bud. Contact center retention strategies.
  7. 7. Eliminate stress at the root. Ask any call center agent what the most difficult part of his or her job is, and high stress levels will be the most likely response. Stress can be caused by management, fellow employees, policies, processes, or other conditions. Identify what is causing stress. Formal surveys, focus groups, and employee exit interviews are the most direct and best way to get honest feed- back. Ensure these are done anonymously to get the most accurate results. By actively dealing with these causes, engagement levels with agents are enhanced and a company shows it is thinking about them and trying to improve the environment in which they work. This makes reps feel more appreciated and, combined with lowering their stress, should lower turnover rates. Constructive personalized feedback. Providing constructive feedback on a one- to-one basis may be more costly initially, but it will provide the personal attention your agents’ desire, while improving their skills and effectiveness faster. The extra invest- ment in personalized feedback should pay off with improved call center efficiency and reduced agent turnover. Screening and testing A call center that is experiencing excessive personnel turnover should take a close look at its screening and testing procedures. Pre-hire screening can significantly reduce turnover by uncovering individuals with a history of flitting from job to job. Additionally, pre-hire testing can uncover candidates that are unsuitable to fill vacant agent positions and are not likely to last long on the job. The bottom line. Agents need to be empowered with the knowledge and abilities needed to fully satisfy customers. An agent’s advantage over IVR or self-service is his or her ability to “think like a customer” and adapt to the situation at hand. When agents can think critically — yet swiftly — through customer problems and deliver resolutions that strengthen the relationship for both the brand and the customer, company communications goals are met. For more information on hiring and retention strategies, contact your local Adecco representative or visit
  8. 8. ©2014 Adecco 877.8.adecco Adecco Staffing U.S. is the nation’s leading provider of recruiting and workforce solutions. We partner with small and mid-sized businesses, as well as Fortune 500 companies across all major industries. With over 450 career centers and 25,000 clients nationwide, we’re able to leverage the power of our network to connect more than 70,000 workers to the best job opportunities across the country, making us one of America’s largest employers. Reach out to us today to discuss a workforce solution for your organization.