Hiring and Retaining Call Centre Workers
14th June 2013 - Historically, companies have relied on gamification and other monetary incentives to keep call centre employees engaged at work. While these strategies increase productivity in the near term, they don't necessarily prevent employees from quitting. This significantly offsets any productivity benefits because the employer must constantly pay to replace lost workers.
So, it's time for out with the old and in with the new when it comes to addressing call centre retention and productivity. Recently, Software Advice (a website that publishes call centre reviews) researched two new, innovative strategies that appeal to the worker's mind, rather than their pocketbook. These psychologically-based approaches are explained here.
Give Them Purpose
Five years ago, Appletree Answers experienced some serious growing pains. They acquired 13 competitors and grew from a handful of call centre workers to more than 350. Unity among the team dissolved and the turnover rate climbed to 97 percent.
Then the company launched the Dream On program. The initiative gave employees a chance to help each other achieve dreams they never could without outside help. In one case, staff raised enough money to send a coworker’s terminally-ill spouse to meet an entire NFL football team.
One hundred dreams later, attrition fell to 33 percent and the company saved $1 million in hiring and training costs. It ended up being their two most profitable quarters ever. What changed? Workers felt like they had a greater purpose to their work.
“High performance is that unseen intrinsic drive, the drive to do things because they matter,” says Daniel Pink, best-selling business author of newly released To Sell is Human, a book about the changing world of work. This doesn't have to be a philanthropic purpose either.
Pink suggested one strategy that gives employees a sense of purpose in a different way – they feel like their efforts make changes that improve the operation of the business (rather than just being a cog in the machine). Create a “genius hour” where employees leave the phones for one hour every week to come up with improvements in processes, workflow and other ideas to improve the business. Make the process for reviewing these ideas extremely public, and verbalise when a worker's suggestion is executed to completion.
Another way to give employees purpose is to connect them with real end customers. This way they can actually see the fruits of their labor. Dr. Adam Grant, a management professor at Wharton and author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, conducted a series of call centre experiments that tested this theory. He said it's essentially “outsourcing inspiration.”
In one instance, agents who met end-consumers increased their weekly phone time by an average of 142 percent and the revenue generated jumped 171 percent. Agents who did not meet the customer showed no change in performance.
Grant said even if it's not possible for agents to actually meet end users, showcase the company's impact using customer photos. Agents can also write down stories about positive interactions and post those publicly.
Identify What Personality Traits Are Optimal for the Work
A second way to leverage psychology to increase worker retention and productivity is a little more literal – hire workers that are mentally predisposed to being successful in call centers. Then, make sure you ask interview questions in a way that prompt honest, thoughtful answers.
Workforce scientists have already crunched real behavioral data to identify personality traits that are common among the most successful call centre workers. San Francisco-based workforce probability firm Evolv analyzed data from 21,115 call centre agents and found that a person’s creativity, curiosity and ability to multitask correlate strongly with how long they might stay on the job. These factors were a stronger predicator of their propensity to stay in the role, even more than previous employment history.
Call centres must also ask interview questions that effectively screen for these traits if they want to be successful. Instead of asking questions where the candidate can probably guess the right answer, you should provide “forced choice questions.” These require self-reflection and produce more honest answers. For example, instead of asking “Are you curious?” (which they can probably guess you want a “yes” answer to) you might say:
Choose the statement that best describes you:
(a)I am curious about new things.
(b) I stay focused on the task at hand.
Thanks to progress in data analysis technology and workforce psychology, call centre operators now have intelligent tools to help them determine what type of people succeed in call centre environments. By hiring the right people and engaging agents in meaningful ways, you can increase retention, reduce hiring and training costs and improve call centre profitability.
About Ashley Verrill
Ashley Verrill is a market analyst at Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. She is a University of Texas graduate with a bachelor's degree in journalism.