Is your call center a revolving door for agents to enter and exit on a regular basis while you strive to maintain customer service levels and balance operating costs? Investment in recruiting and training agents is costly, and when agents leave for thirty cents more an hour at a center down the street, that investment becomes a wasted resource. The value of call center agents is indisputable; how to best retain your investment in them is more complex. Experts offer suggestions for improving agent retention that range from an agent recognition and awards program to soliciting their participation in community service projects. While these suggestions may solve short-term problems, a long-term solution is needed to create loyalty and job satisfaction.
Three approaches are suggested for improving agent retention. The first requires a larger commitment and restructuring of call center operations. The other two can be accomplished with a software solution. While software cannot solve all agent retention issues, it can provide part of the solution. Workforce management applications are useful for keeping agents informed, providing flexible scheduling options, and enabling one-click schedule modifications. The more control agents have over scheduling, the more empowered they become and job satisfaction increases.
Use at-home agents
The use of at-home agents provides an attractive alternative to traditional brick and mortar models and offers agents more flexibility and autonomy which translates to improving agent retenton. At-Home Agent Industry Leader, Michelle Rowan, states turnover is generally 35-50% lower for at-home agents versus in-house. While this is encouraging news for companies, not all agents fit into the at-home model. Call centers need to utilize all available options for ensuring agents are not unnecessarily lured away to another center. The at-home agent model offers more than just the benefit of improving agent retention. Other pluses include lower call center costs and improved customer service.
Companies experience bottom line savings through reduced call center operating costs. Reduced operating costs associated with at-home agents include lower starting wages and reduced benefits, less need for brick and mortar facilities and support staff, increased labor pool with flexible scheduling options, and reduced training costs associated with improving agent retention. Additional cost savings are found with part-time agents who receive reduced benefit packages required for full-time employees.
At-home agents bring a level of professionalism to their job that enhances the quality of service delivered and increases not only customer service, but improving agent retention as well. Experts suggest the average age of at-home agents is 38, compared to 23 for on-site agents. According to Michelle Rowan, more than 80% of at-home agents have a college education and management experience, compared to 35% of on-site agents. At-home agents are more likely to value their employment and view it as a profession as opposed to “just a job”.
Many companies are implementing the At-Home Agent Model for purposes of improving customer service and increasing customer loyalty, as well as improving retention through higher employee satisfaction. The At-Home Agent Model accomplishes these objectives.
Keep agents informed
Keeping agents informed is a good strategy for improving morale and conveying their importance to the company. Knowledge is power and agents who are kept informed regarding daily schedules, schedule changes, and adherence information are better equipped to perform their duties. Communication is critical in any organization. Tools that improve communication between supervisors and agents while reducing administrative burdens results in improved efficiency and productivity.
Sophisticated workforce management software offers real-time agent dashboards and notification tools that reduce administrative overhead and empower agents to perform many routine schedule related tasks while eliminating costly paper-bound schedule distribution methods. Creating a paperless environment frees supervisors from printing and distributing schedules or manually notifying hundreds of agents of schedule changes. Agents have easy access to important information in real-time.
Information is disseminated to agents in a variety of ways and can be sent to all agents or selected individuals. In a “ticket” mode, notifications are delivered to a multi-purpose docked window at the top or bottom of the user’s desktop. “Popup” mode allows notifications to be brought to the user’s attention through a popup screen. “Tray” mode notifications are displayed as a flashing icon in the tray, or as an unobtrusive momentary sliding popup. There are also numerous message delivery options, including immediate, queued, scheduled, recurring, automated, and expiring. When
agents know they will receive important information through one of the described methods, or they have immediate access on their desktop, it is easier to focus on customer service levels without worrying about administrative issues.
Flexible scheduling options
Do-it-yourself scheduling offers flexibility to agents and gives more control over life-work balance. An agent scheduling system should enable agents to:
- view their work schedules
- request modifications or vacations
- sign-up for overtime
- exchange schedules with other agents
- report absences over the corporate network or the Internet through a web browser
Agents should be able to: view their schedules by the day, week or month; request schedule modifications for partial days, full days or weeks; swap days or entire schedules with other agents; use the module’s vacation planner to check accrued and used time-off, view available vacation slots, submit vacation requests; and, add their names to wait lists. Built-in electronic bulletin board and messaging systems can be used to post trade requests and facilitate agent-to-agent and agent-to-supervisor communication.
Supervisors can approve or deny requests, make schedule changes, and record exceptions with a click. They can also manage the entire vacation planning process online, including establishing and managing vacation limits, wait lists, and blackout and non-operational days. Vacation limits and accrual hours information can be imported from Excel files.
A do-it-yourself agent schedule viewing and modification system dramatically reduces schedule-related overhead for call centers and frees supervisors of the need to print and distribute agent work schedules. The system eliminates hours of administrative phone calls every week and improving agent retention by giving them control over routine scheduling tasks.
Agent turnover is an inherent problem for call centers and replacing agents is a major cost consideration. Recruiting and training costs can significantly impact a company’s bottom-line profit margin. Experts agree that employee satisfaction contributes to improving agent retention. While improving agent retention will continue to be an issue for call centers, implementation of proven strategies can reduce high turnover rates and increase agent satisfaction. As with solving any complex problem, start with the simplest solution first. Help empower agents as well as supervisors by automating the process. This will help create a paperless environment, reduce the amount of administrative overhead, and empower agents to perform many of the routine schedule-related tasks.
Pipkins, Inc. is a leading supplier of workforce management software and services to the call center industry and offers tools to increase agent retention. @HomeVantage simplifies At-Home Agent implementation and offers an agent self-scheduling feature that gives agents control to manage their schedules with an easy-to-use checkout method. Pipkins’ Agent Notification tool offers easy to use automated notifications for scheduled activities and non-adherence conditions. Pipkins’ WebAccess empowers agents to manage day-to-day activities through online productivity tools that allow agents to view schedules on a real-time basis. Pipkins’ systems forecast and schedule more than 300,000 agents in over 500 locations across all industries worldwide.