Interactions 2024 - Las Vegas

Having the right employee retention strategies in place has never been more important for contact centers.

There's no denying that the labor market the last couple of years has been - weird. Maybe “out of the norm” is a better term for it.

The pandemic gave us The Great Resignation in which a sizable portion of the labor pool left the workforce altogether, either taking early retirement or simply deciding that a job didn't fit into their current plans.

And now, despite low unemployment rates, many businesses are grappling with staffing shortages. We've all experienced the impact as consumers - stores that still have reduced hours, pharmacies that take longer to fill prescriptions, longer wait times in restaurants.

It's difficult to predict if this is a "new normal" for the labor market or if some of the workers who left the workforce will rejoin. Either way, contact centers need to do what they can to limit the impact of staffing shortages on the customer experience (CX).

Contact centers can attack this problem by becoming highly proficient at recruiting new talent, skilled at keeping the talent they already have, or, ideally, both.

This article will tackle the retention part of the equation by discussing several things contact centers can do to keep more of their agents. Organizations need to implement several employee retention strategies to maximize their retention efforts.

Let's get started by discussing why employees leave, and then we'll discuss several solutions that have been proven to decrease attrition rates.

Why do employees leave?

Every employee has their own reason for leaving a job, and every employer has unique characteristics that may cause workers to quit. But if you compile results of exit interviews and other sources of employee feedback, you'll find trends to guide your employee retention strategies.

This is why exit interviews are so important. You need to know what's causing attrition in order to address it. Otherwise, you might focus on enhancing employee benefits when it's really a toxic culture that needs to change.

Pew Research recently conducted a study to determine why people quit their jobs in 2021. Your own organization's attrition drivers would likely be similar, but with different weightings.

While Pew found that the top three reasons people quit their jobs in 2021 were:

  • Pay was too low
  • No opportunities for advancement
  • Felt disrespected at work

your own contact center might have a different top three, or the same ones but in a different order. Contact centers need to emulate Pew's research with their own exiting employees so they know what issues to target with their employee retention strategies.

It's worth mentioning a couple of other revelations from the research that are relevant to contact centers. People without college degrees were much more likely than degreed workers to cite "not having enough flexibility to decide when they put in their hours" as a reason for leaving a job (49% vs. 34%). Additionally, non-degreed employees cited working too few hours at a much higher rate than workers with degrees (35% vs. 17%).

Great food for thought as you're designing or refining your agent exit interview questionnaires!

5 employee retention strategies that can help contact centers reduce agent attrition

In the latest research from Salesforce, service professionals reported an average attrition rate of 19% for the previous year. Agent churn is expensive and negatively impacts CX, but keeping good customer service employees isn't easy. In fact, 67% of decision makers say retaining employees is a major or moderate challenge.

However, if contact centers take both a creative and data-driven approach to their employee retention strategies, they can keep more of their talented agents. The following are some proven ways to move the needle on employee retention.

Strategy 1 - Pay a competitive wage

This may not sound like a very creative solution, but as the Pew research illustrates, it's a very important one. You may be able to pay a slightly lower wage in exchange for attractive benefits such as flexible schedules or work/life balance, but at the end of the day, agents have bills to pay and many other employment options.

If low wages is one of the top reasons agents are leaving, contact centers need to do something about it, even though it may appear to be an insurmountable budgetary task. This is where the creativity comes in.

By investing in solutions that reduce demand for agent assistance or improve agent productivity, businesses can fund agent pay increases. For example, effective self-service tools can handle certain interactions at a much lower cost, and automation can greatly reduce handle times. These types of solutions streamline operations and can make higher wages possible.

Strategy 2 - Make career development a priority

According to one study, "94% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development."

High performing agents like to learn new skills that will help them be more effective at assisting customers and open up new career paths. Plus, an investment in their development is a signal that the company values them. Conversely, lack of career development can be perceived as apathy and negatively affect employee loyalty.

Contact centers have a range of options for agent development, ranging from formal to informal, and face-to-face to technology driven. Consider the following possibilities.

  • Peer mentor. Most of what an agent learns is from doing the job. This can be stressful for new agents if they don't have the right support structure. Assigning a competent peer mentor can ease the stress, ensure they're learning how to do things the right way, and ultimately make them successful at their jobs.
  • Microlearning. Microlearning uses bite-sized training content to help agents learn new concepts and keep their skills sharp. With a good learning management system, agents can access multimedia training on demand. Depending on the topic and the audience, microlearning can be more effective than traditional classroom training.
  • Real-time interaction guidance software. Soft skills are essential for agent success, but most people can use some extra development when it comes to skills such as empathy and active listening. Real-time interaction guidance solutions leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to measure customer sentiment and agent performance, and then coach agents in the moment about soft skills that can improve the interaction. Through this continuous feedback, agents can master a critical skill that will also result in better CX.

Strategy 3 - Develop strong, easily accessible supervisors

Common wisdom is that workers "don't leave companies, they leave managers." And that wisdom is backed up by research. For example, Udemy found that 51% of Millennial and Gen Z workers would quit because of a bad manager, highlighting the importance of actively developing contact center supervisors rather than just promoting good agents and hoping for the best.

But it isn't enough that supervisors are competent - they also need to be readily available. In a survey of customer service agents, McKinsey found, "Fifty-seven percent of respondents who reported being able to reach their supervisor within a couple minutes were extremely satisfied compared with just 9 percent who were not."

If this is one of your employee retention strategies, in addition to investing in supervisor development, consider implementing collaboration tools so that supervisors can stay in touch no matter where they and their agents are located.

Strategy 4 - Increase agent engagement

Contact centers that figure out how to increase employee engagement will also improve agent retention and CX. Engaged employees are committed to their employer's goals and put in extra effort to help the organization reach them. Additionally, McKinsey found that engaged employees are 8.5 times more likely to stay with their employer than leave within the upcoming year.

There are many tactics contact centers can use to engage their agents, beginning with clearly defining roles and responsibilities. In fact, one study found this simple act led to 23% of survey respondents saying they're more likely to stay at their jobs.

For more ideas about the best ways to engage your call center employees, read "How to Improve Employee Engagement."

Strategy 5 - Use modern contact center technology

Would people really quit a job because their employer's technology was bad? Definitely! In fact, Adobe research revealed that 32% of survey participants had left an employer because the technology was a barrier to doing a good job, and 49% of U.S. workers "say they are likely to leave their current job if they’re unhappy or frustrated with the technology they use at work."

Customer service these days is heavily driven by technology, and not having the right systems in place can be disastrous for both customer satisfaction and agent retention. We're expecting agents to personalize interactions, make meaningful connections with customers, and solve complex problems, all while keeping handle times low. These demands are impossible to meet when agents are forced to use outdated legacy systems.

To be successful at their jobs, agents need to use modern contact center technology that includes:

  • Unified agent desktop. A unified agent desktop puts all the systems an agent uses into a single user interface, which allows agents to focus more on customers and less on system navigation.
  • Omnichannel capabilities. Customers expect to be able to move seamlessly across support channels without the need to repeat information. This requires agents to have easy access to whatever happened in the previous channels.
  • Intelligent routing. Smart AI routing helps ensure agents are only sent interactions they're qualified to handle. Plus, this solution can match customers to agents based on personality and other factors to increase the odds that the two will "click." Both capabilities create a better agent experience and set agents up for success.
  • Smart knowledge management system. A good knowledge management system puts information at agents’ fingertips so they can quickly and accurately answer questions and solve problems.

Reducing agent turnover might seem like a Herculean task, but with the right employee retention strategies, positive results are within reach. Begin by understanding the root causes of agent churn and then identify the appropriate solutions. It's a formula for success!

If updating your contact center platform is one of your employee retention strategies, visit our product page to see what NICE CXone can do for both agent and customer experience.

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