Think about the last time you had to contact a call center. After being forced to take time out of your busy schedule to solve an external problem, suffering an annoying automated phone menu, sitting on the line listening to crackly elevator music and being passed through multiple hands before you finally reach the person you require, would you describe yourself as A) Cool, calm and collected B) Mildly irritated, but polite and courteous C) Ready to explode?
Now put yourself in the person on the other end of the line’s shoes. From the second they walk in the door to when they go home, call center representatives deal with clients in the same state of exasperation. They are the defensive linebackers who get thumped day after day by people who are having a bad experience which they also want resolved this second.
However, unlike linebackers, call center customer service representatives are neither well paid nor well trained, and get none of the glory. Inbound customer service rep ranks as one of the highest turnover jobs, with many call centers recording staff turnovers of between 30 and 45 percent, more than double if not triple the average for other industries.
But just like any baptism of fire, there are lessons on management principles to be learned from those on the front line which can be applied to startups and Fortune 500 companies alike:
Many view call center representatives as an ‘unskilled’ role, however, the reality is that hiring the right talent as agents is extremely important. Call center reps become the face of a company for their time on a call, and one wrong hire can compromise customer relationships and potentially lose clients.
The job of a manager does not end by just building an outstanding team. Aside from having onboarding processes which filter out unsuitable candidates, they need to find a means for retaining the best ones. Research shows that employee retention is directly linked to employees feeling valued, and part of a team. Managers need to show employees how valuable their work is, and offer positive –and critical– feedback when required so that they can constantly improve.
Aside from the hypothetical value of individual members to the work of a team, there is a real financial value too. The cost of losing employees is considerable, with a recent Deloitte survey estimating around $12k to replace the average frontline employee and nearly three times that to replace a manager.
Managers who constantly train agents only to see them leave after a short period, end up back at square one. While there is no overnight solution to this issue, motivation, showing employees they are valued and having a developed training and onboarding system have proven to help reduce attrition.
Creating a workplace environment where your team develops as a community, socializes, communicates well, and shares successes and hard times is important for morale. This is especially important in high stress positions, as the team can lean on each other for support and counsel when tensions are high… which can be a daily occurrence in call centers.
Relationships of all kinds –with managers, with co-workers, and with the broader company culture– also have a major impact on retention. If an employee has a good relationship with colleagues and managers, and feels connected to the greater aims of the company as a whole, they are more likely to weather out hard times. However, when a company loses an employee, their peers are much more likely to leave too.
Managers should be aware of this when employees –especially team members who have been there for long periods– leave, and try to bring their team together to discuss any concerns or grievances.
By the time customers finally reach a representative, they are frustrated, which makes it a lot more likely for employees to deal with abusive behaviour and stressful interactions. Dealing with disruptive clients is draining, but also time-consuming, and can leave employees struggling to catch up with the rest of their work. According to a recent survey, team members who feel chronically overworked – tired and burned out – are 31% more likely to think about looking for a new job than their colleagues who feel comfortable with their workload.
If high stress situations are commonplace, managers need to have a system to defuse and de-stress in the aftermath. This could be in the form of paid breaks, or by having professionals on site who can help employees to relax such as therapists, or meditation experts. Alternatively, managers themselves should practice techniques to help employees relax, such as controlled breathing activities.
Short meditation sessions and yoga are proven to improve performance and reduce stress and anxiety. These types of activities are becoming more common in the corporate sphere focus, and aside from improving stress and anxiety are also linked to enhanced problem-solving skills and creativity.
With advances in technology, more roles are becoming automated across all industries. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates argues that for the first time in history, technology is eliminating jobs faster than it is creating new ones, and has even called for a robot tax to discourage employers from entirely removing human teams from workplaces.
In the field of customer service, new technologies like bots are increasingly taking over human roles. If employees feel they are on the brink of being replaced, they are likely to look for different opportunities, so it is important to motivate and encourage teams, and ensure them that their work is important and valued.
One of the main reasons employees feel undervalued is due to a lack of recognition, which a recent study claims motivates more than 2 million Americans to quit their jobs each month.
Regardless of the employee’s role, it is important that managers give regular feedback on their progress, including areas which they have excelled in, and areas which can be improved.
Employees like to be honored for their accomplishments, and receiving feedback –both positive and negative– reinforces that they are valued and appreciated. Genuine praise is a motivator, and celebrating achievements collectively as a team improves productivity and motivates people to work harder.
Taking a page out of the books of leading companies like Starbucks, which offers online university courses to employees, or adding perks and benefits such as health care, gym memberships, relaxation and meditation sessions, and flexible vacation times, could make employees think twice before changing jobs. High attrition is a vicious cycle, and managers need to recognize the value of their teams, and reinforce this value on a regular basis. By creating an environment where employees feel supported, valued, and have the opportunity to improve, managers can stop the revolving door of short-term employees, and create unified, efficient teams who support each other through hard times, and come out stronger on the other side.