Agent Motivation

Call Center Attrition: Why Agents Leave, and What You Can Do About It

Just imagine what you could accomplish if call center attrition were a non-issue.

  • Customer service agents would be careerists, loyal to the brand and enthusiastic about serving customers.
  • As you built out your team, established agents would help guide newer agents and keep them engaged.
  • The customer service organization would take on a life of its own, generating loyal customers and revenue with little effort.
  • The brand would solidify its reputation as a customer service leader, to its competitors’ dismay.

If the above scenario reads like pure fantasy, you might think call center attrition is out of your control. Agent burnout is inevitable, right?

Wrong. You have the power to slow that revolving door, reduce the high cost of hiring and onboarding, and build an outstanding front-line team. But first, you need to see attrition for what it is: a symptom of one or more underlying problems.

The Root Causes of Call Center Attrition

It’s not the nature of the customer service role that drives agents out the door. It’s the call center culture (which doesn’t happen by accident).

In a high-attrition culture, agents feel like cogs in the machine—disposable and easily replaceable. The brand invests too little in contact center operations, and it shows. Agents feel undervalued, wither on the vine, disengage, and leave. And the cycle starts anew.

Here are five of the most commonly overlooked morale killers.

Feelings of isolation

A cohesive team is stronger and happier than a room full of agents who don’t interact with and learn from each other. Camaraderie reduces agents’ stress, keeps them energized, helps them grow, and reinforces their shared sense of purpose. But it’s completely absent in many call centers.

Emotional disconnect from the brand

If corporate HQ is the beating heart of the organization, the call center is often treated like the appendix: a nonessential organ that usually goes unnoticed. Without a sense of brand pride to keep the spark lit, agents’ personal investment in the job quickly fades away.

A lack of empowerment

Rigid rules of engagement, inadequate resources, and lackluster customer service coaching and training leave agents feeling stymied and helpless. They want to solve problems on their own, but their hands are tied. The less capable they are of satisfying customers, the more deflated agents become.

Too little positive reinforcement

Many call centers focus on performance problems at the expense of recognizing outstanding service. The issue is either one of bandwidth (only so many team leaders and hours in the day), or one of tone deafness. Either way, great agents who hear nothing but criticism don’t stick around long.

Unfair QA reviews

QA reviews based on random, days-old, unrepresentative contacts—and a manager’s or QA leader’s subjective opinion on vague performance measures—neither benefit nor sit well with agents. They balk at negative feedback, dismiss their QA scores, and come to dread these encounters.  

Start Solving the Problem Today

“Our research shows that the publicly-held companies that appear on the Fortune 100 Best Companies [to Work for] list have delivered stock market returns two to three times greater than major stock indices. Compared to their competitors, great workplaces win when it comes to revenue growth, employee retention, productivity, innovation, resilience, agility, customer service, employee engagement, and more.”

Fortune magazine, 2/15/18

If you’re serious about strengthening your brand and growing your company, you need to get serious about reducing call center attrition. Starting today, you can begin building a culture that makes your agents feel capable, plugged in, and valued.

Focus on hiring the right people

The people you hire should be a good fit for your brand culture, personality, and values. They should also share important traits with your top-performing agents. And they should be career minded, with a genuine passion for customer service. If you focus on hiring well, you can scale your team without scrambling to replace lost agents.

Show them a career path

New agents may come aboard eager to serve customers. But if you want them to stay long term, you need to get them thinking long term. Show agents a career path in the contact center with clearly defined roles, and explain how agents can advance and how long they’ll likely hold each position.

Recalibrate coaching, training, and QA

Every coaching, training, and QA session should be a timely reflection of what agents experience on a daily basis. What types of scenarios are they encountering or likely to face in the near future? How well are they serving and satisfying customers?

If you have the internal and external data you need to answer these questions, you can build an effective performance management program that drives morale and progress. Here are just a few of the best practices we recommend.

  • When onboarding new agents, emphasize service priorities as well as the “why” behind them—the brand’s story, values, and larger goals. Keep agents a step ahead of launches, promotions, and other brand initiatives so they can better anticipate and meet customers’ needs. Make sure agents have direct, easy access to products so they can help customers make better buying decisions.
  • Micro-coach and communicate with agents throughout the day, aiming for a 5:1 praise-to-criticism ratio. Team leaders should be accessible at all times—if not in person, then by phone, email, or instant messaging.
  • Make sure your QA scorecard includes both objective data and subjective VoC data so agents understand their scores and what it will take to raise them. Reviews should center on recent interactions that relate to high-priority performance criteria.

Want to learn more about how leading brands such as Williams Sonoma and UncommonGoods keep agents sharp, engaged, and invested? Check out two of our recent eBooks, “How to Use Coaching and Training to Drive Contact Center Performance” and “Doing Contact Center QA the Right Way.”

Give agents “brand superhero” powers

Agents are happiest and most effective when they have everything they need to take ownership of the service experience. Give them easy access to customer data, product and policy information, and subject-matter experts across the organization. Encourage independent thought and action on customers’ behalf.

As fewer calls are escalated or transferred, and first call resolution becomes the norm (along with higher customer satisfaction and CLTV), agents will take pride in the unique contribution they’re making.

Recognize and reward great service

Spotlighting agents who go above and beyond is key to strengthening the call center culture. Public and private praise, along with material prizes and/or work-related incentives, encourages top performers to keep up the good work. It also reaffirms brand standards and values for agents who aspire to become A-players. Whatever your budget or team structure, you have everything you need to inspire your team.

Stop Settling for Call Center Attrition, and Start Reaping the Profits

Outstanding customer service is now the leading brand differentiator and surest path to market dominance. You can’t become a service leader if your front line is a mix of new, not-ready-for-prime-time agents and agents who’ve already checked out.

If you take the necessary steps to minimize call center attrition, you’ll have the keys to the kingdom: seasoned brand experts who love and excel at their jobs and create customers for life. As you build out your team of brand superheroes, you’ll continue lowering costs, driving revenue, and gaining on your competitors—an accelerating cycle that will make your brand unstoppable.