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Call Centre Profitability: People

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‘People in service of people’ is a robust statement. Inside a call centre, this means much the same thing as with a more strictly corporate office environment, excepting the fast, often brutally demanding pace of business inside a call centre. These hubs of activity service vast numbers of people, with technology putting agents in touch with thousands of unique lives, all seeking answers to particular, product-related problems and services. It is easy to imagine how uniformly these processes run, and how in step the agents move through the motions.

 

Staff are always a company’s greatest asset, hence the axiom above. The persistent problem for most call centre agents though, is that their work is at best challenging, rewarding, and a rush from start to finish. At worst, it is exhausting, demoralizing, and repetitive. Many quite often don’t see the reward of it all. On principle, the people that service the people – your call centre agents at their finest – will at some stage enter the psychological ‘cycle of deprivation’3. Simply put, they will start burning out. The repetitiveness of their daily workload, and having to mentally, emotionally, and psychologically juggle the demands of both their company’s product and success, and their service delivery to customers, accumulates more rapidly than, say, an administrative desk job. There are plateaus that follow: the repetitiveness will lead to feelings of lower self-worth, which translates to decreased efficiency in work. This demoralization also adds higher stress levels, which leads to emotional exhaustion. That’s high stress, low self-worth, and exhaustion equalling increasingly poor work quality, followed by an increasingly rebellious surge in the lapsing agent: tardiness, absenteeism, and eventually failing out the door.

 

Increasingly, call centres struggle to retain their agents beyond short-to-intermediate time periods. This fact is so consistent in most call centre operations that it is practically an industry standard, and also a well-noted industry challenge. A 3C Logic report in 20161 stated that, “the average call centre sees an annual [staff] turnover of 33%.” It continues with the impact of this percentage, versus the profitability of an agent’s employed-to-resigned ‘lifecycle’: “…incurring turnover costs of 25-30% of a full salary and benefits per employee.” The continuous cycling through agents translates to about a third of call centre profits, annually. This third does not include the cost of training new agents to replace the ones that depart and then statistically contribute to that high turnover rate, either, or the loss of further business that the departing agents will not bring in while their replacements are trained up and cultivated to the same level of competence. How then does one drive down the percentage of call centre staff that resign after only a short period of time?

 

Call centres thrive almost purely on their agents, though arguments can be made for the technology and the methodologies that underline the centre’s processes. These might be the theory, but any call centre needs people to put that theory into practice; no workforce, no centre. The logic is straightforward: you need to ensure that you can keep your workforce stimulated, as well as satisfied with their work, and the services they are called upon to deliver. Clichéd though it might be, ‘a happy employee is a productive employee’, and call centre processes lean heavily and consistently on the productivity of its staff. Is it possible to capitalize on this positive productivity, and still stick closely to that ultimate question: “How can my call centre provide the highest quality of service or product, using the most cost-effective means possible?”

 

If you wish to keep your service levels high, then you need to keep your staff consistently motivated. This might require business overheads that are not always easy to sustain, but that employees expect in general: benefits that might include medical coverage, or a supportive pension plan. Not all call centres can afford to factor in such benefits, although more moneyed centres might risk more of their cash flow on these staff boosts, and bank on the retention rewards that can follow, if handled efficiently. Barring that, there are things that can be done to improve short-to-mid-term productivity and morale in call centre staff, that don’t require additional monthly costs, as beneficial and valued by your staff though they may be:

 

1 – Goals and incentives
Sales targets and goals are the standard day-to-day requirements in a call centre. Often the most recent additions to a team can be the most driven and upbeat, especially once they have tasted that initial success of a satisfied customer leaving a great rating and feedback, or cinching that first, affirming sale. Set goals for your newcomers and long-running staff, and incentivize this in a meaningful and cost-effective way. This should motivate your floor workforce to really go the extra mile when you establish rewards and promotions2.

 

2 – The little things…
Small things can go long distances. A clean workspace, a nice desk, good vibes on the floor from good support people, and even a nice break room with vending machines, games, or a canteen can be the make or break in your agents’ productive daily rituals and routines. Caffeine might not be the wisest encouragement in the long run, but the promise of that and a snack can go a long way to motivating counter to those dips in productivity. It also helps to not work surrounded by clutter, and having support staff that grow agents through praise and constructive help. Speaking of:

 

3 – Recognition
One way of solving two problems with one solution, is promoting staff excellence in addition to incentivizing it. Set goals and recognize the effort that went into your agents achieving those goals, and reward them for it. In this day and age, money is a prime motivator, but prestige can go a long way, especially if agents are positively reminded of how their competence at the job reflects well on their importance as employees. Make sure to publically elevate the successes of your agents, and let them set the tone and example for the rest. If you can add ‘genuine’ and ‘generous’ into that equation, then there should be no reason for you to drop staff so consistently.

 

The hard line is that call centres are only as successful as the people that bring in the success. To ensure that you retain your staff, you will need to remember that they are people, speaking to people, in service to people, and often in challenging and exhausting environments: satisfy the human element; risk a little more on boosts and benefits, and retention rates won’t be the logistical headache it so often is.

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