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The Right Path to High Agent Retention
Without setting career paths, call centers are heading down a dead end.

April 2003
By Kurt Ballard
Call Center Magazine

When asked why they quit a call center, agents often cite the absence of a career path. As long as managers see agents as dispensable, instead of individuals to reward and advance, they will continue to waste time and money replacing the ones who leave.

Career pathing not only rewards and retains the best agents, it also helps you identify the least productive agents - those who could cost you a client. Many call centers have ignored and alienated their best people because they never cared enough about career paths to even track agents after they left training. Call center executives with a "hamster-wheel" mentality are so busy worrying about lost clients and filling agent chairs that they don't examine and remedy the cause of their unstable workforce.

How to Keep Agents

Agent retention is a multifaceted process that includes hiring smart, ongoing training, tracking progress and rewarding those who excel. The longer agents are with you, the more significant the contribution you can expect them to make.

Don't let good agents get lost in the shuffle. A few months ago, we completed a pilot assessment program for a multi-site organization that provides outbound call center solutions. The program produced an all-star group of agents.

The organization assigned these agents to its most prominent clients. When I inquired with the head of recruitment to see how agents were doing, she couldn't tell me. That's because the call center didn't follow up with performance assessments, additional training or advancement opportunities. She didn't even know how many of these top agents were still with the pilot center. In short, these all-stars got lost in the system.

As I speak with call center executives worldwide, I hear the same excuses for maintaining mediocrity.

"We are a flat organization with little room for advancement." Granted, many call centers don't have opportunities for top agents to advance up the ranks. The solution for these centers is to reward agents with cross-departmental career paths and, thereby, fill operational positions with proven, loyal employees.

"We can't afford to reward agents." While money will always be a factor, never underestimate the value of recognition and the pride of taking on more responsibilities. When I managed a call center, I updated an Excel spreadsheet daily by posting red stars next to the names of top producers. Displaying that chart for all to see boosted agent morale and led to a 20% increase in productivity.

"Most of our agents don't want additional training." When training is a privilege, not an obligation, interest will be piqued. Allow your agents to "earn" their way towards advanced training. Agents who have been "awarded" the opportunity to increase their skills are more likely to attend, participate in and share what they've learned with other agents.

"We don't know why they left." Your most valuable feedback walks out the door each time a good agent chooses to leave. Surprisingly, many managers don't conduct exit interviews. But these interviews can alert you to factors impacting agent retention that need improvement.

Time for a Change

Reducing turnover and improving productivity hinges, too, on having an attractive company culture. That means, in addition to offering a competitive wage and a pleasant working environment, letting agents know that you value them and will reward them with advancements. It also means conducting ongoing training and assessments to identify who to move into a new position or to promote. Finally, train and encourage managers to identify those high potential candidates.

Now you're on the right path!

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Thursday, November 27, 2003
Location :: c_corporate/news