A Recipe for Reduced Turnover: Find the Right Mix

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I saw something the other day that I haven't seen for a long time. It was a TV commercial featuring festive activities at a local contact center job fair. A few years ago TV commercials advertising contact center job opportunities were commonplace. After 2001 those commercials disappeared, and are only now cropping up anew. The Phoenix metropolitan area, where I live, is a hotbed of contact center activity, and competition for agents is fierce. The annual turnover of agents, currently averaging around 40 percent industry-wide, means that local companies often have to go the extra mile to get the attention of prospective CSRs. What this tells me is that the oversupply of available agents during 2002 and into 2004 has vanished and, once again, competition for agents is heating up. I suppose showing lots of people eating free hot dogs at job fairs on TV is a reasonable strategy to bring people through the front door, but I wonder: How much thought is given to ensuring the right people are the ones who end up in the available seats? Finding the best candidate for the agent job isn't as intuitive as many people think it is. For example, how many times have you heard someone say, "I wish we could hire more people like (insert the name of your best agent here)"? Although this sounds like a sensible goal, most often it is not. According to Luke McNally, president of the call center division at Select International, in Toronto, there are typically three types of agents in most call centers. He refers to these three agent types as builders, maintainers, and cutters. Builders are overachievers, looking toward being a team leader within six months of joining the contact center. These are the people who are driven to get ahead and are often considered the best agents. Maintainers are the worker bees who do what is required of them and are comfortable with the job. Cutters are those who basically undermine the fabric of the organization, spreading rumors and discontent. They are also bright people who do just enough to get by, so it is difficult to get rid of them. According to McNally, having the right blend of these workers is critically important, but often difficult to accomplish. For example, cutters are typically builders whose need for achievement or advancement is not being met and who are therefore unhappy. Although it is impossible to eliminate all cutters from the workforce, efforts should be made to minimize their number through effective recruitment of the right mix of builders and maintainers. Recent advancements in selection technologies now make it possible to identify various individual traits and attributes before job offers are made, including measuring an individual's competencies, motivational fit with the job, and reliability. Not only do these measurements offer a more accurate representation of an individual's propensity for success in a given job, the reduction in attrition that results from using these comprehensive selection technologies offers executives a means by which they can accurately measure the return on their technology investment. Rather than just another new solution coming down the pike, selection technologies have the potential to radically alter the agent turnover problem that has historically plagued the contact center industry. Finding the right mix of agents can be the key to creating stability in the workplace, as well as promoting an atmosphere of job satisfaction and longevity among agents. Not only will selection technologies help companies avoid wasting time and money on hiring and training the wrong employees, they have the potential to radically alter the turnover problems that have long hampered the contact center industry. Paul Stockford is chief analyst of Saddletree Research, which specializes in contact centers and customer service. Contact him at pstockford@saddletreeresearch.com
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