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What Best Practices Do Organizations Use to Retain Contact-Center Staff?

What is the secret to curbing chronic churn in our call center? <i>&#8212;Answering the Call, training manager, health and fitness, Florida</i>

January 17, 2012

Dear Answering the Call:

Companies are undertaking numerous "better practices" to retain their top contact-center staff. It's probably easier to break out these practices into three categories: pre-hire, hired and post-hire.

For the pre-hire phase, companies have increased their level of sophistication and skill in understanding the traits of good call-center agents. The work within contact centers is diverse, and thus so are the traits required to be successful. Companies are trying hard to understand the type of person who is likely to do well, and then using this information in analyzing job candidates. The job of the contact-center agent is getting more complex each day. Finding the right candidate is no simple task. Computer systems are getting more complex as are the calls that make it into the queue. The contact center now competes for talent with accounting, marketing, finance, information technology and other departments. In other words, recruiting and retaining top talent are a strategic focus.

When They Are Hired

Several things have changed in the past couple of years for contact-center agents. If given a theme, it would be to "create a human capital asset." For many organizations, the contact center has taken on great strategic importance. The economy has changed the level of importance on customer retention, and social media has made "word of mouth" a large organizational risk. Service is now either an advantage or a weakness, and is not being ignored as it often was in the past. Over the past several years, the initial training time has increased quite significantly. It used to be: "Get them in and get them on the phone." Now, companies realize it's important that these people are adequately skilled before handling their first call.

Many are also implementing a transition phase, often referred to as "nesting." This occurs when a contact-center agent finishes classroom training and gets placed on a team designed to provide new hires with higher levels of support, in preparation for moving to their assigned team. This helps reduce the negative effects of "throwing agents into the fire" of everyday activity right away.

Post-Hire Activity

In addition to the changes in new-hire training, contact-center agents are receiving more incumbent training than ever. Incumbent training used to be very minimal or nonexistent. Now, to build their human-capital assets, organizations are investing in more educational opportunities for agents. Coaching efforts have improved, with more hands-on "call" coaching and development delivered than in the past.

Contact-center agents acquire knowledge of their company's products and customers, making them valuable additions to other parts of the business. Thus, organizations are also trying to provide clearer career paths for their employees.

The way agent performance is being measured is changing. Scorecards and quality reviews contain more customer-experience metrics.

A Career for the Future

The number of people employed at contact centers has not declined because of the poor economy. In fact, more companies are adding to contact-center staff. Companies that don't adopt better retention practices risk having their best people poached by competitors.

SOURCE: Jim Rembach, Customer Relationship Metrics, Sterling, Virginia

LEARN MORE: People management is moving up the priority list.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.